November 28, 2022

Performing bottom-up planning with BigPicture in Jira

Agnieszka Sienkiewicz

Planning is one of the most important aspects of a successful management process. But it is becoming increasingly difficult as the complexity of the undertaking grows. Consequently, project leaders often face multiple issues they need to solve simultaneously. This is where the choice of the right planning comes into play. The two popular ones include the top-down and the bottom-up planning methods.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the bottom-up planning method and see how you can use BigPicture for Jira in the bottom-up planning process.

(If you are not ready to start the 30-day trial yet, we encourage you to visit our demo page, where you can try all the BigPicture features. The demo app runs inside the browser, so you do not need to install anything or create an account).

What is bottom-up planning?

In essence, bottom-up planning, or progressive planning, means starting planning from a lower but more meaningful level (activities). And then gradually move up toward higher project levels (work packages and deliverables). 

For example, with the bottom-up planning method, you would focus on a particular functionality of a mobile application and base the entire build around it. In other words, you have a general idea of a project goal but still need to figure out how to achieve it.

On the one hand, the main goal of bottom-up planning is to build a structure for your project, starting with fine detail and ending with the main goal of your project. And on the other, it is to accurately estimate the costs, duration of the entire undertaking and its constituent parts, and the resources needs.

The outcome of bottom-up planning is a project work breakdown structure or product roadmap.

A visualization of bottom-up direction for building a work breakdown structure. The right arrow indicates the direction of estimation, which is from bottom to top.

Bottom-up planning—advantages and disadvantages

Bottom-up planning starts with project team members. Together, they brainstorm estimates for individual parts of your project on a granular level. In turn, you aggregate those estimates into a total estimate for the entire project. As a result, you get a more detailed (and realistic) schedule for your project. This planning method also helps identify skills you need for a given work package and project phases, as well as potential risks and task dependencies.

And since your team gets to interact during the brainstorming sessions, you have a great opportunity to work on team building.

On the other hand, bottom-up planning takes more time and resources and requires a high degree of coordination. Furthermore, there is a risk that the work packages of your project structure contradict other packages.

Building Jira projects from the bottom up

A typical Jira hierarchy consists of epic issues, standard issues (bugs or stories), and subtask issues. Keeping the bottom-up direction in mind, you would start with subtasks (the smallest activities) and work your way up through the epics (respective work packages) until you reach Project. This approach works well if you are starting your planning and have nothing but a blank page in front of you. In Jira, however, you will not be able to readily build your WBS from the bottom up.

From a technical point of view, you must create a parent element (e.g., epic, issue, or story) first. Only then can you decompose it into the children elements (e.g., subtasks). That is why you need to know what you want to achieve before creating your project. The top-down direction is the only way to create elements and sub-elements in Jira. However, the level above a subtask (e.g., a story) is often enough to carry out bottom-up planning. You may notice that subtasks are too detailed components, and you do not need to include them in your planning.

Hint: You can use BigPicture’s basic tasks to create a general structure for your project. Then, following the bottom-up approach, you decompose and fine-tune your WBS according to the estimates, schedule, and resources you have planned. When you are happy with the results, you can convert basic tasks to regular Jira issues.

Create a work breakdown structure

In classic project management, you decompose the work of a project into manageable pieces. This activity is a work breakdown, whereas the result is a work breakdown structure (WBS). The work breakdown structure’s lowest clearly defined element of the WBS is the work package level (or level 2).

You can visualize all WBS levels (the entire WBS) using BigPicture’s Scope or Gantt chart feature (see screenshot below).

A scope (a work breakdown structure) for the Hybrid project.

Building a WBS, either from the top or bottom, is easy. That is because you can add new issues/tasks directly in the Scope or Gantt chart view and then
drag and drop to move them. Moreover, BigPicture supports unlimited levels of nesting. Thanks to this, you can get as granular in defining your activities as you see fit.

Estimate activities (tasks)

Each task should take a definite amount of time (and cost), so you can aggregate the overall for each work package, phase, and the entire project. Based on the estimates your team has identified, you can add an estimate to each task in hours, man-days, or story points.

BigPicture supports inline editing, so you can add or edit values for your estimates (Original and Remaining), no matter the unit you choose to follow (hour, story points).

Start with low-level items (activities) and work your way up. The app will
automatically sum up the total estimate for each larger unit (epic or phase) according to your chosen aggregation method. It also offers multiple ways to track your project’s progress throughout its entire lifecycle.

Create project schedule

A project schedule communicates what tasks need to be done for successful project completion. It also defines who will perform the work and within what timeframe. To establish a project schedule, you need a work breakdown structure which you have already done earlier.

Depending on when you want your team members to tackle individual tasks, the dates you assign them will create a sequential order of work to do. The Gantt chart visually represents those tasks as taskbars against the timeline. In BigPicture, you can perform a wide range of actions to keep your project schedule up to date. This includes moving, stretching, and shortening taskbars to change their start/end dates and period, respectively.

A Gantt chart in BigPicture.

You can
schedule your tasks manually or let the app do it automatically through several period mode options.

Identify resources

When you have built your WBS, it is time to identify the project’s resources. At this point, you want to determine the number of people and type of skills (roles) you will need to execute each task in the respective work package. The same goes for non-human resources, such as equipment and supplies.

BigPicture will aid you in the process of resource allocation, including planning their (un)availabilities and managing capacity. The app will let you add estimates your team has come up with and keep and indicate whether someone has a healthy or unhealthy workload.

BigPicture gives you a highly-visual insight into your resources – you can allocate them and check their capacities and tasks on the fly.

Visualize risks

This step does not need to be necessarily the last one as it is equally important as the previous ones. In the beginning, we mentioned that in a bottom-up approach, your team brainstorms the smallest components first. While doing so, they also identify the risks associated with activities or other uncertainties that could impact task completion.

When you assess your project risks, you can add and visualize them on the risk matrix in BigPicture. It will help you keep track of every risk, especially the ones with the highest risk score.

A risk matrix in BigPicture.

Bottom-up planning: summary

We presented a general approach toward bottom-up planning. The key takeaway is that you start small and estimate the smallest WBS components first and build a project work package around them. When you aggregate the activities together, they will give you a total sum of work for each package or phase.

Bottom-up planning is arguably the most precise method for planning but also the most time and resource-intensive. But once you and your team are in the planning process, BigPicture will help you build and schedule your WBS, assign and estimate each task, and keep an eye on project risks.