RUSSIAN HILL, SAN FRANCISCO — Gazing intensely into a project dashboard on her laptop screen, local product manager Erica Nguyen attempted to organize her entire life using JIRA.
Ms. Nguyen, who was used to meticulously tracking the progress of engineering teams at her workplace, decided to resort to JIRA after experimenting with other productivity tracking methods. “One summer, I was keeping track of my side projects with a sprint board of post-it notes on my wall. I was having a hard time linking dependencies to each other with string and tape,” she said. “Later on, I tracked my Tinder dates in an Excel spreadsheet with descriptions of each person, their status in the pipeline, and other romantic metadata.”
Despite its clunky interface and uninspiring design, JIRA’s powerful enterprise-grade features allowed Ms. Nguyen to model the complexity of her own life. “I can zoom in and do day-to-day planning,” she said as she pulled up a sprint board filled with tasks like taking out the trash and doing the laundry.
“For bigger projects, I can zoom out and get a good picture of where things are at,” she explained, switching to a JIRA structure called “Relationship with Patrick.”
“Take for example, the ‘Get Married’ epic, which contains tasks like buying a wedding ring, finding a wedding venue, and compiling a list of who to invite. You can also see that this project is currently blocked by the ‘Convince Patrick We Should Get Married’ task, which I’ve assigned 8 story points to.”
Ms. Nguyen acknowledges that JIRA is not easily accessible to a normal person — she was only able to use the tool thanks to having read a 400 page how-to book and through daily practice as a product manager. While new users spend hours exploring the confusing panels of menus and dropdowns that define the JIRA experience, she can fly through her project management by utilizing obscure hotkeys and a compendium of scripts she has compiled over the years.
However, despite these usability hiccups, Ms. Nguyen’s favorite aspect of using JIRA is the amount of time it’s saved for her. “Previously, I had to call my parents every week to give them status updates on my life. Now, I can just point them to my life dashboard and they can track the progress I’m making towards career, hobbies, and grandchildren.”