One of the primary responsibilities of the product management role is to organize a team’s backlog. The more organized the backlog is, and the more detailed the tasks are, the more productive your refinement and planning meetings will be. Having a well-structured set of task templates is a great way to maintain consistency in your tasks, streamlining the foundational step of the team’s way of working.
Every team is organized differently, and so these tasks, their structure, and their labels will likely need to be tweaked to best fit your team’s way of working. In fact, with my primary team, we use the hierarchical structure described here but frequently deviate from the task content.
The value in these templates is two-fold. First, they establish a set of questions that should be considered every time a task is written. Secondly, by pre-formatting some of the repetitive sections of common tasks, they establish a higher degree of readability and consistency across the tasks that your team will work with. Both of these points lead to clearer communication, freeing up everyone involved to focus on what matters most: delivering user value.
The templates are plain-text files written in the Jira syntax (a flavor of Markdown). Simply copy and paste the content of each file into the description field of a new task, and Jira will set the formatting when you save the task. If you see syntax fragments in the new task, especially any extra
* characters, then just re-paste into the description field and save again. This should fix any formatting issues.
Click these links to download the Jira Task Templates:
I’ve also spun up a Jira project with all of these tasks laid out, as well as some real-world examples of how multiple epics and stories at various states of progress look in the backlog and the Kanban board. You can log in to that project using these credentials:
See screenshots from this Jira project and learn more about how the Jira task templates will help you stay organized by reading this article about streamlining your backlog and Kanban board in Jira.
In Jira’s task structure, hierarchy is everything. Hierarchy, task types, labels, and versions are important task elements that allow you to organize your backlog and Kanban board easily.
I typically work with cross-functional teams, so I like to have technical subtasks for each function. This way, it is easy to track the various states of progress for each function.
To complete a user story, you will likely need some design files, backend work, and then client work across web and apps. It will never be the case that design and client teams deliver results at the same time, as the design is an engineering dependency. Therefore, it makes sense to have separate sub-tasks for each function. This might also help mapping work to pull requests, depending on how your CI is built.
Here is an overview of my default hierarchy of Jira tasks. The labels are especially important, as will be explained later in the section about Kanban boards:
labeledwith the offending platform
labeledwith the offending platform
Epic tasks contain stories, and stories contain design and technical sub-tasks. Bug and improvement tasks are reported on their own but are labeled with their corresponding platform where the issue was observed.
Now that you’ve had a chance to look at the templates and their hierarchy, I’ll go a little more in-depth regarding the logic behind the contents of each of these Jira task templates.
Teams appreciate knowing why they are doing the work they are being asked to perform. Epics are a great place to document the bigger picture, background information, and any relevant data which explains the why of the attached stories. Beyond team members appreciating that their efforts are delivering real, measurable value, it is also critical that the product manager understands why the product is moving in this direction and can explain it to stakeholders.
There are many ways to document product decisions. Many organizations have a wiki, such as Confluence, for such things. I prefer to document with epics, as they are where the work is performed, and to repeat this information elsewhere creates an inefficiency (I firmly believe that every copy/paste action is a red flag of inefficiency).
Here are the sections of the epic task that I focus my attention on:
Request and Value Generation
This is the most basic information of any task: what is being asked, and what is the expected outcome?
Use the “Problem, Solution, Result” framework to explain how the outcome of this epic is expected to generate value for your users and business.
Notice how the outcome should be written to include both user and business value of this effort? Product managers spend a lot of time learning about the business requirements and thinking about how to shape that in product delivery. Still, often this can get muddied as we like to champion delivering user value. The two can go hand in hand, for sure, but at this point in the epic, I find that it is helpful to split out the expected user value and business value.
Not to lose my sense of altruism, I always write the user value first.
It is common to make some assumptions. What are they? Do they lead to constraints? Risks? Is there a plan to mitigate any negative outcomes of these assumptions?
Background & Strategic Fit
How does the scope of this epic fit into the longer-term strategy of the product and organization? What research was done to inform the decisions of this epic? What has other background work contributed to this epic coming to fruition? Link to all sources of background materials, especially to user research, other tasks, and to any corporate-level communication that led to this being the direction the product needs to move.
Goals & Success Metrics
How will you know that the impact of this epic is worthwhile? What are the metrics you are trying to move? Is there an NPS or CES score? Is it revenue-driven? Adoption of new functionality? Engagement or other metrics? Define that upfront the best you can.
You don’t work in a silo. There are other teams, stakeholders, and interested parties (think about the marketing opportunities) that will feel the impact of this work. Who are they, and have they been informed? This section of the epic task template serves as a reminder to those other entities that you might easily forget about in your rush to get the epic written. Use this opportunity to
@mention them or shoot them a message with your intent.
Some questions to ask yourself when writing an epic:
Once you’ve answered each of these questions to the best of your ability, you will be well-positioned to prepare all of the stories required to meet the goals of this epic.
User stories are the heart of product development. These tasks are where the final product decisions, the scope of work, and acceptance criteria are defined, from which the delivery team can clearly understand the functionality they are required to deliver.
The traditional user story follows a format like:
As a user purchasing an item,
I want to provide my credit card details,
So that I can pay with a credit card.
To be honest, I rarely use this format when I write stories, but sometimes I start with a statement like this and then remove it from the final version. This has been a trend amongst the teams I’ve worked with, who do not perceive this format of a user story as useful. If your team does like this format, then, by all means, do use it. You can learn more about writing user stories like this from Mountain Goat Software.
The important thing is that the Story Task describes the functionality of the request. For more great insight about writing good user stories, and when that means to use alternative tools for defining user value, check out Roman Pichler’s article, 10 Tips for Writing Good User Stories. By the way, Roman is incredible. I did my CSPO course with him in London and found his way of thinking very insightful.
To that end, here are some elements that you should include in your stories:
In 1-2 sentences, describe what is being requested in this task. If it is a followup task, you can include a link to the previous task.
The acceptance criteria lead to the “definition of done.” Like with user stories, there is a traditional format, looking like
Given that I want to pay with Visa,
When I am purchasing an item,
Then provide me with input fields for my card information.
Notice the symmetry between this format of acceptance criteria and the user story? Again, some teams like it formatted this way, but I find it quite repetitive and usually just provide a list of things that need to happen for the story to be complete.
The design must be defined before a story can be ready for development if there is any UI work to be performed. I like to provide mobile and desktop screenshots in the story and a link to Abstract / Figma / Sketch / etc.
Screenshots will likely become out-of-date after refinement or in a copywriting revision, and that is ok. It is enough for the screenshots to depict the general scope of the task, and then the linked design project should be the single source of truth. Including screenshots within the task description is helpful as a quick reference to team members and external parties who might find this task and be curious about its scope.
What is the other information relevant to keep in mind while implementing this story? Is there background information? Is there previous work conducted? User research? A/B test results?
Documenting questions is often overlooked, but I believe that this is one of the most critical elements to include in a story’s description. As I outlined in further detail in my article titled, A Sensible Definition of “Ready for Dev,” no story can be ready until all questions have been addressed.
Jira task comments are a suitable place for questions to appear, but I like to pull questions from the comments and from 1:1 meetings with team members, and the questions that come from refinement meetings, into the description of the story so that we don’t lose track of them.
I’ve always worked on cross-functional teams and find that creating subtasks for each function is useful for tracking the progress of stories at a more granular level. UX work likely needs to be done well before the rest of the functions can begin, and the backend might also need to be completed before other functions are entirely done as well.
There are added benefits for mapping individual tasks to pull requests, which helps keep the team’s repository and CI organized.
99% of the time, these tasks are empty. They only have a title and a label that help to identify them on the Kanban board. A good title the technical subtasks can be just a repeat of the story task, prefixed with the function, like so:
Ask the user if they like this modal <– This is the story title
ux: ask the user if they like this modal
be: ask the user if they like this modal
web: ask the user if they like this modal
ios: ask the user if they like this modal
android: ask the user if they like this modal
I will show you a screenshot later in this article of how this looks in the backlog and on the Kanban board to better illustrate how this helps track various states of progress.
For prioritization purposes, it is useful to have two levels of reporting tasks: bugs and improvements (more in the next section). Bugs are reports of failing functionality that blocks the user from getting the job done. Bugs should clearly describe the error and how to reproduce it. They do not need to propose a solution to the problem, though they should describe the expected behavior.
What device, OS, build, and production environment was the bug discovered on?
In 1-2 sentences, describe what the bug is and on what screen or view it occurred. Provide your expectation of what you expected to happen and a description of what actually happened.
Steps to reproduce
Use bullet points to define the steps you took to produce the bug so that someone else can do the same. Don’t forget to mention if a user needs to be logged in (or logged-out) or meet some other prerequisite before starting these steps.
Be sure to include the URL or name of the screen where the bug was observed.
Attach a screenshot of the bug. Consider overlaying the screenshot with some annotation to highlight where on the screen the bug is located. This helps if the person who picks up the bug task is entirely unfamiliar with the functionality.
If there are any logged data of the bug, copy/paste it or provide a link to those logs.
Improvement tasks are special. They may or may not fit into a story or an epic, and they might not require refinement by the whole team. Improvement tasks are reports of sub-optimal functionality that was not caught before the feature was released, but which do not block the user from getting the job done.
Depending on the nature of the improvement, it might qualify for immediate action or be something that stays in your backlog for quite some time.
As for the content of the improvement task, consider some mix of a story task and a bug task. What you are describing in this is unexpected functionality (like a bug), but you might also propose a solution (via acceptance criteria). Discuss with your team to find the mix that works best for you.
Because improvement tasks often report the experience from one function, I recommend that you include the
label of the offending function and title the task like:
function: I am the name of the task
For the same reason that the technical tasks are named with this convention, the improvement tasks will simply be easier to identify in the backlog and Kanban boards.
Remember that there are many ways of working with your team and organizing your work. The principles behind the Agile Manifesto says it best, “The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.”
No template should be adhered to rigidly. These tools and shared learnings are merely a guideline for one way of working that has proven to be of great value under certain conditions. It is up to the team to determine the best way to work for them, and whatever is agreed upon today should be challenged tomorrow in a never-ending pursuit for optimization.
The most important thing is that your tasks are organized and easily accessible to those who need to use them. To that end, check out this article about backlog organization to see how these Jira task templates streamline the backlog and Kanban boards in Jira.
I hope that you found these Jira task templates useful, and I welcome your comments and feedback below. What did you like most about them? Where can they be improved? What other ideas do you have for structuring your tasks?
I look forward to hearing from you!
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