JIRA SAFe setup

The Simple JIRA SAFe setup – Part 1

A small competition has started in the agile community of how to setup the most simple SAFe-based setup in one of the most used agile tools, JIRA. How simple can we get it – let’s have a challenge!

If you don’t know SAFe, then it’s one of the many frameworks for applying agile in larger setups with multiple teams working on the same software. SAFe = Scaled Agile Framework for enterprises – https://www.scaledagileframework.com/.

Here is our take on setting it up. It has been used in a few companies over the years and the way we always advice people to set it up – getting the maximum out of JIRA and Portfolio without making tons of changes to workflows, issue types, custom fields and so on. There are no secrets in this, it’s really simple and it’s just a recap of some of the tips and tricks found in manuals and guides around the internet. We will also use a bit simplified requirements model here – as we really don’t need more than the basics in 95% of the cases.

Please note that this was originally written in 2018 (revamped from an article from 2016), so some changes to JIRA has happened since, however the principles still aplies.

Now – this is a practical guide on how to actually set it up – there will be a large amount of screenshots showing every step and it shows you exactly how to do it. It requires that you understand the 3 primary levels of SAFe and how they stick together. The example is with 2 teams, but can easily be expanded to any amount of teams. The setup took less than 30 minutes from start to end – using no magic.

So let’s start with a complete fresh install.

Setting up JIRA for Scaled Agile

JIRA - create project

Let’s add a project. One for each team. We will start with an A and B team. On the team level we are running Scrum to be sure to select that. You can also use Kanban if that works better or you have a system/devops team.

JIRA - Create project

Do it again with Team B and we got two nice simple projects for our teams to use.

JIRA - Project overview

Now it’s time to create our “Program Board”. This is where our features live. We will go with all the defaults for now and a Kanban template.

JIRA - Create program board

The default board looks like this. Not up to SAFe standards, but we will fix that shortly.

JIRA - Kanban program board

We have now got 3 projects. Team level and feature/program level.

JIRA - Project overview teams and program board

So let’s get the Portfolio board in place so we have a place to throw our SAFe epics.

JIRA - Create portfolio board

Now we are talking. 4 boards. 2 teams and 3 level SAFe. 

JIRA - Full Agile Release Train project overview

Normally we usually always start at the team level and get that right, but for this guides sake let’s get our SAFe epics in place first and our Portfolio kanban board. Let’s go to that board.

JIRA - Kanban portfolio board

Go to settings for the Portfolio project…

JIRA - Settings for portfolio board

And now we need to look at the issue types. JIRA per default only supports two levels, so we need to add support for SAFe epics. We do that by selecting “Edit issue types”.

JIRA - Portfolio issue types

Simply just add an issue type called “SAFe epic”.

JIRA - Create SAFe epic

And then we remove all other issue types from that project. In that way people don’t even need to know anything about issue types when working on the portfolio level – they simply can’t select anything wrong.

Portfolio Kanban setup

Let’s go back to our Portfolio Kanban board and go into settings to fix the workflow / columns and make it SAFe compatible.

JIRA - Simple initial kanban board

Add the columns you need to support your workflow (not everybody needs it exactly like SAFe proposes). You might need to make yourself part of the “Admin” group for the project to add new workflow states (it’s a bug somewhere in JIRA that I’ve seen, you might not experience it).

JIRA - Portfolio kanban columns

 Swimlanes has no place here, so always turn them off. It has a tendency to mess up the overview. Others might disagree.

JIRA - Swimlanes

And we are left with a nice SAFe portfolio board here. I just added an SAFe epic for fun to use for the examples. We are building an iOS newsletter app here.

JIRA - Portfolio epic board

That’s all for the Portfolio. Now let’s move onto our Program Board where the features live. It looks a little unSAFe right now in its default state.

JIRA - Program board with removed issue types

Again we just head to the settings to fix the issue types. Just remove everything BUT the Epic type. Due to the way JIRA is made – we need to use this type for the SAFe features. Users can’t even see it as we removed other issue types, but using epics for “SAFe features” enables a bunch of stuff in JIRA that your teams and your PO’s can’t live without. 

Next article we will look at how to setup the default SAFe steps for the kanban board for our Program.

The Simple JIRA SAFe setup – Part 2

Posted in Atlassian JIRA, Scaled Agile Framework for enterprises.

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