As uncommon as it may be for technical writers, I’m a card-carrying JIRA/Confluence loyalist. Perhaps even a fanatic. The plethora of management tracking is nearly as instantaneous as instant replay during NFL games on TV.

Back in 2011, I was contacted by a small team of developers. 100% of their workflow was in JIRA/Confluence. So I had to commit to becoming a power user regardless of my former habit of writing in other tools. No problem I told them. Let’s roll.

Despite my technical writing friends razzing me, it was the perfect storm. At the time, I had a handful of upcoming projects and was desperate to discover a better method of managing the pile-sized workload of writing documentation. Nowhere is it written (I hope) we content creators can’t gain insight from the SDLC organizing our structural oddities throughout the creative process.

Old ways of managing projects are the perfect recipe to fast-tracking your writing career into the gutter. Change is good. Actually, it’s expected by thriving product teams.

Context Comparison

If you’re unfamiliar with agile workflows, you’re in for a treat. Let’s use an example. A project I collaborated on was for global software sales department.

Their painful approach collecting, updating and distributing internal content is on the left side. On the right is the new process I suggested…

  • Interview SMEs about new topic
  • Collect new materials from SMEs
  • Write the first draft content in MS Word
  • Email the draft to all collaborators
  • WebEx a few times discussing changes
  • Write the second draft (as a new document)
  • Email the second draft to all collaborators
  • Schedule another WebEx meeting
  • WebEx to discuss the second draft
  • Make final edits to the new document
  • Email the final second draft to everyone
  • WebEx yet again
  • Build Salesforce pages to support the final document
  • Embed links in the document to Salesforce pages
  • Embed WebEx video links in the document
  • Export the document as a PDF
  • Email the sales team the new PDF
  • Pray changes aren’t forthcoming
  • Provide all collaborators with Confluence user profile credentails
  • Write the draft in Confluence (automatically updating collaborators)
  • Comment about changes within Confluence
  • Update final subject matter
  • Craft intended Salesforce page content in Confluence
  • Embed WebEx video links into Confluence

What’s Missing?

Well, massive manpower costs wasting time in WebEx meetings. Don’t forget the closed-source output using a PDF is a tad clunky don’t you think?

Next, how certain can you be you have the most updated PDF? What if changes have been made to it and you haven’t been able to download the new document? Ouch.

The struggle is helping organizations capitalize on what is standard operating procedures for most programming teams. It’s not insurmountable but takes a commitment from senior management to infect all employees with the JIRA/Confluence bug.

Don’t forget, the above tab list is merely for one project. Now imagine hundreds of other documents and the time investment required to manage the drama of holding on to old ways of processing workflows.

The ABCs of JIRA

For those of you relying on 1990 workflows, JIRA is the industrial-strength 800 lb. gorilla solution of project management. It’s used for software development and bug tracking. Brilliantly designed, it’s hardwired to isolate needs such as:

  • Bug ticket tracking and elaboration
  • Task management of infinite steps
  • Sprint scheduling and team architecture
  • Burndown chart reporting of progress

Doubling Down

When bundled with Confluence, this dynamic duo tethers working environments with collaborators. The result is a sleek highway of production and notifications. Can you say agile?

My experience working in both JIRA/Confluence has been eye-opening. However, many technical writers resist coming over to our side because they associate the workflow with programmers. Unfortunately, they’re missing out on gaining access to the crystal ball of content development.

For example, watching sprint tasks in progress gives you a backstage pass to upcoming documentation needs. Rather than waiting for assignments, writers should be reviewing sprints and deadlines within JIRA.

Robust Authoring Tools Inside the UI

Worrying about your favorite authoring tool tab going MIA isn’t going to happen. It comes standard with a traditionally jam-packed text editor. Have media to include? No problem.

Tracking endless changes is simple. Permissions are easy to manage restricting access if needed.

It’s Like Facebook for Workplace Fanatics

From a project management perspective, streamlined communication and elaboration are two hot buttons all development teams require to achieve success.

The problem isn’t the tools. It’s the distribution of information to all stakeholders. The JIRA/Confluence combination packs a powerful punch by thrashing gatekeepers of critical information. Rather than teams working as isolated tribes, all user story backlogs are public.

In fact, every morsel of commenting and requirements are connected to tasks and sprints. Then stitched together with project team users.

Integration is elegant. Once connected as a user, you can watch and receive notifications central to your role for specific tasks. Long gone will be days when you resort to peddling thin air like Wiley Coyote desperate to locate SME content.

Training is the blocker. It’s hardly rocket science but does take time to convert yourself to a loyal user. In fact, many of the features may appear overkill until you get knee-deep into the bells and whistles.

Interlinking Freedom Factor

Another exceptional feature is connecting JIRA tasks and bugs to new content needs. Think of this way: every shred of collaboration and product feature can be intertwined.

For example, linking documentation content in Confluence to JIRA tickets takes a mere few clicks. Updates to existing content become new JIRA tickets (in some cases) allowing step-by-step task management.

The bonus is the syndication of your newly created tasks to others downstream. It’s as agile as it gets and the efficiencies are endless.