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Using JIRA to Track Writing Assignments

by Tom Johnson on Jan 18, 2012
categories: technical-writing

We had a couple of writing interns join our group this month. To track writing assignments for the technology blog, I've been using JIRA. JIRA is a bug tracking tool from Atlassian (the same company that makes Confluence). It's typically used by software teams to track bugs during software development projects. You can add comments to items, assign items to team members, assign the items to sprints, create advanced viewing filters for the items, and more.

Since I'm using JIRA to track writing assignments, I have to live with a few compromises in terminology, but so far I like the system. Here are some details of how I'm using it.

Each item in JIRA is an article. I add only articles that we're really going to write. (For general ideas that may one day be something we write, I put the ideas elsewhere.)

I assign the JIRA items to the writers who will write the article. If there is no writer, I leave the article unassigned.

I give each article a story point weight of about 10 points. Another section of JIRA allows me to define specific sprint release windows, and I organize sprints (based on weeks) to accept no more than 70 story points. This means that each sprint can only have 7 articles, assuming each article is 10 story points. However, I can also adjust the story points for each article. For example, short articles might be 3 story points, while longer articles might be 15 story points. Adjusting for the appropriate number of story points helps us avoid over-allocating work for the week.

In the JIRA item, I try to outline the general ideas the article should cover. I also add comments about each item, and the assignee  receives an email notification with each comment and edit.

When an article is completely finished and published, I change its status to Resolved. Or if we decide to not do the article, I resolve or delete the article. The resolution statuses include Fixed, Will Not Fix, Duplicate, and some others.

I can assign different priorities to the articles -- 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. A priority 1 is called a "blocker." Priority 2 is called "critical." Priority 3 is "major," and so on. (Here's where the terminology doesn't quite fit for writing assignments.)

JIRA's filters are robust, but I am using them in a simple manner. I create a filter to show all items assigned to each intern, and then I save those filters as bookmarks. When I review and plan articles with the writers, we just select the JIRA filter and go down the list of what they're working on.

I've tried various ways to organize and track writing assignments, and so far this one seems to work well. Of course no system works if you don't actually use the system, and no system is perfect. I used to have little slips of paper pinned all around my cube. I've also tried Excel spreadsheets, as well as SharePoint.

But using JIRA to track writing assignments is particularly beneficial because familiarity with JIRA helps out with our involvement in project teams. In our IT department, many project teams use JIRA, and familiarity with JIRA makes it much easier to stay abreast of project news, releases, bugs, issues, and other details. Often the lifeblood of a software project is captured in JIRA, since this asynchronous sharing of information helps everyone on the team remain aware of what's going on.

One thing I'm not using JIRA for is to manage the actual documents. While I could upload file attachments, I find that Dropbox is much easier. Dropbox is almost like a net file share drive. I could spend an entirely separate post describing how much I love Dropbox, but so that I stay on track, I'll just say that I try to name the Dropbox folders the same as the JIRA item titles.

One other shortcoming of JIRA is that it doesn't allow me to change the statuses of items in a customizable way (at least I haven't figure out how to do it yet). I'd like to indicate various states of the article as they pass through the approval processes, but alas, the issues in JIRA are either Open, In Progress, or Resolved. (Perhaps it's best to keep it simple.)

I'd be interested to hear what system you use to manage and track writing assignments.

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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