Book review – JIRA 4 Essentials
I have just finished reading the book JIRA 4 Essentials by Patrick Li. It is a very useful quick-start guide to Atlassian JIRA for administrators. I think you will also find it interesting if you are a JIRA user without administrative powers, because it shows you how to set up your own JIRA site. You can even run JIRA on your PC. Imagine using your own tame JIRA to learn what goes on behind the scenes and see what power those administrators really have!
Patrick Li is co-founder of AppFusions, an engineering consultancy specialising in connectors, solutions and the integration of Atlassian applications with other products. As well as being co-founder, Patrick is a senior engineer at AppFusions and has worked with Atlassian applications over the last four years. I’m impressed that he has managed so successfully to distill his extensive knowledge into this step-by-step guide to JIRA administration.
What is JIRA?
JIRA is Atlassian’s tool for issue tracking and project management. It is a web application that you can download and install on your own server. If you prefer, you can use Atlassian’s software-as-a-service offering of JIRA, which means that you get a JIRA site hosted on Atlassian’s servers. Whichever way you do it, your team can use JIRA to manage their tasks, issues and projects. People use JIRA for various types of project, including software development, disaster management and help desks, to name just a few.
First impressions of the book
The book has a pleasing format and a professional layout. I like the strong contrast in the size of the headings in comparison with the text. There’s more good contrast in the serif typeface for the text and a nice clear sans serif for the headings. The many screenshots, tables and “how to” sections break up the content nicely. The layout gave me a feeling of confidence that this book knows what it’s talking about.
The picture on the front cover caught my eye. It shows a set of large metal rings on a playground. The ring in the foreground has a number of balls hovering over it, surrounding a smaller ring. It reminds me of the JIRA logo. I guess that’s intentional.
Exploring the book and learning about JIRA screens
While browsing through the overview (pages 1-2) I learned something new immediately: You can design your own screens in JIRA. It’s obvious now I know about it, but as a JIRA user I have never had to do that. It is something the administrators do. So I hopped directly into chapter 5 (Screen Management) and learned all about it.
The chapter starts with a good introduction, telling me exactly what a screen is and why I would want to create one in JIRA. I liked the turn of phrase on page 137:
Creating a new screen is like getting a blank piece of paper, the fun part is to add and arrange the fields on the screen.
There is an interesting tip on page 139, about removing required fields. Evidently JIRA does not prevent you from deleting fields that it may need later on, such as the issue summary. This sort of tip is invaluable to administrators just starting out with the product.
The instructions and screenshots focus on JIRA 4.2. The team at Packt Publishing are planning an update towards the end of this year.
There are a few typographical errors scattered here and there that spoil the flow a bit. Even so, this book is a very good read. Patrick takes you by the hand and leads you through the concepts you need to understand and the tasks you need to complete.
There are many many useful sections in the book. These are just a few of the highlights.
Installation: Pages 13-30 give a very thorough, authoritative and clear guide to installing and configuring JIRA. As you go through the book, you will follow the instructions in each chapter to set up your own JIRA site. By the end of the book, you will have a sample “help desk” project. For example, pages 59-65 lead you through the essential parts of setting up the project in JIRA.
JIRA data hierarchy: Pages 31-2 contain a useful analysis of key parts in the JIRA data model: Projects, issues and fields.
Schemes: Take a look at pages 56-9 for an overview of JIRA’s schemes. Patrick provides a neat description of what a scheme is:
A scheme can be thought of as a template or collection of configurations. Once we have created a set of configurations such as permissions, we can save that as a scheme (known as Permission Scheme) and this can be reused and applied to multiple projects.
Screen schemes: After telling you about the simpler parts of screen creation, Patrick introduces screen schemes (page 143). There is a good explanation of why you would use different screens for each operation on an issue (create, edit, view).
Workflows: There is a solid chapter on workflows, one of JIRA’s most powerful and flexible features. See the useful tips about importing and exporting workflows on pages 168-70.
Gadget colours: Did you know that administrators can define the set of colours that users can choose for their gadgets? I didn’t know that. On page 299, Patrick describes the “Gadget Colours” part of JIRA’s “Look and Feel Configuration” screen.
As a JIRA user I’m well used to creating issues, searching the issues in a project, having issues assigned to me and working on them. I have not played much at designing my own JIRA project or JIRA site. Reading Patrick’s book has given me a good insight into the power and flexibility of the application. I recommend it if you want to know more about what goes on behind the scenes and the way that your JIRA administrators can customise the projects, issues and screens.
For JIRA administrators I think the book does a great job of leading you through the configuration of a project, reducing the complexity to a series of easy-to-follow steps.
Another book has recently appeared: Matt Doar’s Practical JIRA Administration. I have not read it yet, but I have seen snippets in reviews. I think the two books will complement each other very well. Patrick’s book leads you through the initial setup of your JIRA site and project. Then Matt’s gives more advanced tips and techniques.
The details of Patrick Li’s book
Congratulations on a job well done, Patrick.