How I use JIRA tickets

Written 1 June 2023

In my work I have noticed that my fellow developers' opinions about JIRA tickets (or Kanban cards, etc.) vary widely - but many view them as a form of admin drudgery.

When I was starting out, I had this view too - but I've since come to view tickets as a vital part of my workflow. In fact I'd put them at a similar weight to my IDE in terms of value (seriously). Here I'll show you how I use them in the hopes that it will give you some ideas.

Tickets as a blueprint

When I pick up a ticket, I'll start by making a series of TODOs on it, and then continue to refine it down into the finest detail I can. For simple tasks, this is a 10 minute procedure - for more complex ones, it can easily take an hour (or more).

I usually start by making bullet points which list the high level elements involved (e.g. this db table, this service, this util, etc). Then I will turn this into a series of explicit steps (e.g. migrate the column for this table, delete this code, create a new service class, etc).

The rule I have in mind when doing this is to get to the point where there is no ambiguity about what needs to be done. I will look through the codebase and talk to people while I do this.

Some notes on this:

  1. Planning upfront like this inevitably leads to better design and less rework. I'll see that steps conflict and rewrite the plan before rewriting the code.
  2. Since I've done the thinking upfront, when I do get to coding, I can get into "flow" more easily and hold on to it for longer.
  3. And since I'm in flow for longer, I find that I complete my work more quickly (even with the added planning time).
  4. As I progress through my TODOs, I mark the individual pieces as [DONE]. This keeps me motivated, and gives me an accurate indication of progress.
  5. I think this has made me better at seeing what is involved in a ticket off the cuff. This helps immensely during stand up and sprint planning.
  6. My ability to estimate tasks has improved. And if the task does go over, this TODO list serves as a good resource for me to explain why I need to go over.
  7. If I see any tasks that need to be done first, I'll action those upfront. For example, I might talk with another team to update their API so they can do that while I am busy. This obviously helps avoid blocks/stucks.
  8. TODOs help immensely with context switching. When I switch tickets, I can read my TODOs and jump back in to coding. Also if I am waiting on something (e.g. a deployment), then I can easily find something small from these lists to action.
  9. I am hoping that these TODOs act as a historical artifact for future devs (they can see my reasons for writing such bad code. 😉)
  10. I've gotten feedback from my manager and colleagues that these TODOs help a lot to get a sense of my progress (particularly when there are tasks dependent on my work). This pre-sight helps them to plan and for me to explain my work.

Note that this does not stop unexpected things from coming up during coding, but it does help reduce them. And when those moments do come up I try to go and plan again before coding.

Tickets as a second brain

I often say (only half joking) that I have the memory of a goldfish. I treat my brain as an ephemeral cache: any value could fall away at any time. My tickets serve as a backing database for my brain.

Extending this cache-db analogy: I'll write to that persistent storage regularly. If, while coding, a disparate question pops into my brain - I'll note the question down in the ticket and then carry on coding. This keeps me in flow. Later I will look through the ticket and ensure all items are actioned before submitting for review.

This practice serves to enable a kind of agile Plan-Do-Reflect mode of working. Instead of just barraging through code, uncertain of where I am going, I am making steady steps with a clear path ahead. It leads to more inner peace (I think).

Tickets as asynchronous communication

I work at a fully remote company, and so good asynchronous communication is vital. If I have a ticket-related question then I will sometimes ping colleagues on a ticket rather than slack them. My rationale being:

  • They get the notification via email and so are not interrupted (by a slack notification bell).
  • The context for the question is on the ticket itself.
  • That conversation, and all other relevant conversations, are all available on the ticket.

Although having said that, people's preferences differ, and one should respect the communication channels others prefer (especially when asking them for help).


Anyway, I hope I've given you something to think about. I'm curious if you have found other good uses for tickets - if so, please do email me.