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AI / DevOps

Why Developers Hate Jira — and What Atlassian Is Doing About It

Counterintuitively, Jira’s critics say that one of the biggest problems with the software is that it’s too flexible. Jira administrators have an almost bottomless well of options to customize it to their particular needs. 
Jul 3rd, 2023 6:43am by
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For those who work in tech, there are three certainties: Death, taxes, and grumbles about working with Jira.

First arriving on the scene in 2002, Jira — short for “Gojira,” the original Japanese name of Godzilla — quickly became the de facto standard for helping programmers and product managers track bugs in their software. Australia-based Atlassian saw its star rise alongside Jira’s, leading its growth into the $45 billion publicly-traded juggernaut it is today.

But familiarity breeds contempt, as the saying goes, and you don’t have to go very far to find unhappy Jira users. A quick Twitter search for “hate Jira” turns up a steady stream of programmers venting their frustrations with the tool. A more blatant example is the website, a collection of anonymous gripes with the platform.

“I fucking hate Jira. I think it’s coming to become a job app filter for me. Do you use Jira? Yes? No Thanks,” reads one testimony on the site. “I avoid doing any kind of work with Jira besides what’s absolutely necessary — and even then I pull my hair out in frustration,” reads another.

And yet, it remains ubiquitous, despite all of that vocal discontent: Data firm 6sense estimates that Jira has over 86% market share in the bug-tracking space. Whether people like or not, Jira is still the tool of choice for the entire industry. Atlassian’s official figures peg Jira as having over 100,000 corporate customers, at companies large and small. As a Redditor once put it, “Jira sucks but it’s the best at what it does.”

Critics Say Jira Is Too Flexible for Its Own Good

Counterintuitively, Jira’s critics say that one of the biggest problems with the software is that it’s too flexible. Jira administrators have an almost bottomless well of options to customize it to their particular needs.

That may sound like a positive on paper, but in practice, its critics say that it’s way too easy for a Jira deployment to quickly become an unwieldy, unintuitive mess of fields to fill out, drop-downs to thumb through, and toggles to toggle. Detractors also point at the Java-based Jira’s speed, or lack thereof, especially compared to more modern alternatives.

To be sure, while Jira’s critics can sometimes be the loudest voices in the room, it has its fans, too. The tool’s defenders say that many of its issues can be solved with proper planning and maintenance — if Jira is set up correctly in the first place by a true expert, using a modern version of the software, it will be exactly as fast and as intuitive as you need it to be. The danger sets in, they say, when you let a Jira deployment get out of hand.

That hasn’t stopped plenty of others from throwing their hat in the ring, though. Per 6sense’s data, Jira’s most direct competitor is BugHerd, a bug-tracking tool for web developers that promises a focus on speed and simplicity. A slew of other products, including ClickUp, Trello, and Notion all promise a more modern way to keep projects organized, while Microsoft’s Azure DevOps presents a direct competitor to Jira’s appeal to software teams.

Most recently, a newer open source tool called Plane has been gaining ground with developers, winning them over with promises that its Node.js and Django-based architecture, combined with its flexibility and extensibility, make it the Jira alternative they’ve been looking for. It even boasts integration with OpenAI’s trendy GPT generative AI models, by way of the LangChain web framework.

Atlassian Isn’t Sitting Still

For its part, Atlassian is very familiar with the negativity around Jira.

Every single employee at the company, from engineering to legal, gets an email every week with selected feedback from its customers — both positive and negative. Its product managers, too, review feedback as it comes in from social media and customer support, and schedule follow-up interviews to debrief with customers with complaints or suggestions.

“We try to make swimming in customer feedback the easy thing to do,” said Megan Cook, head of product for Jira Software, Agile Solutions, in an interview with the New Stack this week.

Cook says that this feedback has resulted in vast improvements to Jira, particularly over the last few years of updates. She says that many of its customers are still running outdated versions of Jira, meaning that their experience doesn’t reflect the current state of Jira’s development.

She says that those newer versions of Jira are 1.5 times faster than the versions of two years ago, and that the company is investing in helping make the tool easier to set up the right way out of the box.

“Flexibility can be a problem” in certain circumstances, Cook acknowledges, so Atlassian is looking for ways to improve the product’s “ease of use.” Along those lines, Jira now lets administrators delegate the process of customizing the tool to the teams that will actually be using it – cutting down on productivity-hampering bloat.

Looking at the competitive landscape, Cook says that one of Atlassian’s key advantages against its more upstart rivals is the maturity and scale of its ecosystem. With thousands of integrations available in the Atlassian Marketplace, it’s easy to find whatever you need to make Jira useful for you, whether or not you’re a software engineering team, she says.

“Some of the newer companies haven’t gotten there yet,” she says.

Cook also suggests that ecosystem will give Atlassian an edge in the coming era of generative AI. All of the data flowing into and around Jira can and will be used to make the software better and more useful, Cook says, with plans to use AI to help users help themselves with summarizing trends in support tickets, finding exactly the information they’re looking for, and otherwise make them more productive.

“It gives us a good understanding of the world’s work,” Cook says.

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