You realize you need a specialized cable in your home office. You do a quick search on Amazon, find it, press “Order” and a few days later it arrives. How did that happen?
It wasn’t magic. One central component was Amazon’s warehouse operation. Your order was first routed to the warehouse which had your cable on a shelf. Once at that warehouse, software issued a pick ticket which sat in a queue, its position in the queue tied to the promised delivery date and the lead time required to pick and pack it.
At the right time, your pick ticket was pulled by a qualified merchandise handler, which directed them to the shelf holding your cable. Tagged with your information, they put the cable in an envelope to send to your door. Amazon’s warehouse software got the correct ticket to a qualified person at the right time, sequencing your cable order just after someone else’s book order and right before another person’s request for coffee filters.
Amazing. But not magic. The automation of this basic task picking is foundational to Amazon’s success story. It has enabled Amazon to turn retail sales upside down and allowed them to become the acknowledged market leader and scale their business model into thousands of warehouses around the world.
The essential element of Skills for Jira mirrors the warehouse software. Skills for Jira automates the interaction between the needs of the software project and your team members who possess the qualifications, certifications and skills to fulfill that very need. It eliminates the time and decision-making friction which can delay and distort allocating the next project task. Just as the warehouse software automates the connection between your order and the person picking it off the shelf, Skills for Jira automates the connection between the next task in the software project and the person capable of fulfilling that task.
In Waterfall and some Agile implementations tasks on the Sprint backlog may be distributed by the central authority, be it manager or Scrum Master. These tasks can vary from interviewing product customers to learning the User Needs, to writing User Stories, to writing code, to designing user interfaces, to testing code already written, to planning the end-of-sprint presentation to Product Owners.
Oftentimes, the person who is qualified and skilled at listening to the user does not have skills to write clean code. The person who can test code may not be qualified to develop a user interface. The Scrum Master thus becomes the human hub of knowing, at any point in time, what is the next step, what skills are required to do that step, the readiness of the team to take that step and who is qualified to do that task.
In other, probably more common and encouraged Agile practices, team members will select the items they will work on themselves during sprint planning, avoiding the managerial bottleneck and biases. And it’s not as straightforward as one might imagine (check out How agile teams make self-assignment work: a grounded theory study), taking into account individual bias. Findings indicate clearly that successful self-assignment does not simply imply picking whatever tasks team members want. Instead, in order for it to be successful, development team members are bound to choose tasks based on their business needs.
So if that’s the case, why do it manually? By automating task assignments, Skills for Jira enables the team leader to actually lead, paying attention to delivering on the Sprint and the Project and reclaiming the capacity that can be used to define better tasks, monitor the success of the team, look for bottlenecks or coach for good performance. Team members fetch their own assignments through self-service and the team leader defines the priorities and manages the exceptions.
Think of the warehouse manager in our Amazon example. The manager does not spend their day running around, sending merchandise pickers this way and that, frantically urging them to keep up. Instead, the manager monitors the length of the picking queue, figuring out how to size the team to meet the needs, all the while helping team members do great work and progress in their careers. The software allows planning and leadership to replace chaos.
Skills for Jira provides a similar pathway from chaos to great leadership, allowing you to:
- Scale your team at will. When you have software handling the allocation of tasks, you get to add or remove people from your team dynamically or shift them around, “throwing resources at the problem”. You maintain performance while assigning people to multiple projects or sharing tasks between teams.
- Lower your overhead costs. Why pay a qualified project manager to be an administrator of task handouts when that person’s skills could be better allocated to reviewing the bigger matters on the project?
- Slash manager bias. All managers have preferences. Project managers, especially stressed PMs, can default to “I steer all my key tasks to my rock-star worker”. Wouldn’t it be better if some of those tasks were pulled by another team member, even if it took some coaching to bring that person along?
- Decrease worker bias. All team members have preferences. Some tasks are more attractive than others to each member. Skills for Jira ensures the next task available is the most important one. “Cherry picking” the sweet tasks goes away.
- Engage all skills of all employees. In many companies, an employee’s opportunities are constrained by their role. If they are in the SaaS Ops department, they can’t contribute to a problem in the Engineering department even if they have extensive coding background and deep knowledge of the product. Skills for Jira has the capability to tag skills of all employees in the company, increasing each person’s value, giving them opportunities for contributions beyond their departmental role and expanding your overall skill capacity.
- Make objective performance measurements. Since each qualified person on the team has an equal chance to take on tasks, the outcomes of task completions, over time, become comparable. With manager and team member bias reduced, outcome data become a reliable basis for professional development and feedback.
- Improve employee satisfaction. Each member of the team becomes responsible for their own success. Tasks for which they are qualified present themselves. They control the outcome by repeatedly completing tasks well. We’ve known for decades employees welcome controlling their own destiny.
Sounds good. But does this really work?
We asked hard questions of a group of 27 early users of Skills for Jira, individuals already skilled in software management using an Agile approach. These people were used to and skilled in the human-centered assignment process. Yet, after using Skills for Jira, 19 of them (69%) said they preferred to let their team pull their own next assignments. Don’t take our word for it, check out their answers — we are happy to share both good and bad feedback to give you a 360 view.
Yes, it works. And it can work for you as well.
Find out more at Skills for Jira.