Jira for Test Management: Options, Challenges, and Solutions

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This is a guest post by Amy E Reichert

If your team uses Jira to manage software development, you may wonder if you can also use Jira to manage your testing processes. In this article, you will learn about the pros and cons of using Jira as a test management solution, some alternatives, and how most teams that use Jira ultimately manage their testing. 

What is Jira?

Jira Software is an Agile project management tool made by Atlassian that enables teams to plan sprints or projects using epics, stories, tasks, or issues. 

At its most basic, you can use Jira to create and assign tasks to your team. But Jira also comes with many more elaborate features like backlogs, roadmaps, and customizations that make it a popular tool for more complex software development tasks—like defining new product requirements or user stories, planning development work, and tracking progress towards new releases.

 Jira comes with many elaborate features like backlogs, roadmaps, and customizations that make it a popular tool for more complex software development tasks.
A Jira board displays your team’s work as cards you can move between columns

Test management functionality is not built into Jira, nor was Jira designed to be used for software testing. However, Jira’s flexibility and customizable fields attract users looking to use it for multiple tasks such as test case management. 

Using Jira as a test management tool is possible but comes with challenges — which may outweigh the advantages, depending on the size and structure of your unique testing team.

Advantages of using Jira for test management

For teams that don’t have sophisticated test requirements, Jira may be sufficient for tracking their testing. Here are three advantages of using Jira itself for your Jira test management needs:

Tool consolidation 

  • One tool means one source of truth for managing a software development project across various roles and functions. 
  • This reduces room for confusion, contradicting information, and duplication of efforts.
  • If you have already purchased Jira for your team to track your development efforts, you may not need to purchase additional licenses.

Simplicity and flexibility

  • Jira’s flexible platform makes it easy to customize for your team’s unique needs. 
  • Your QA team can create custom fields and manipulate existing issue types to create test cases and test execution suites.

Improved collaboration

  • Since your development team most likely uses Jira already, tracking test cases in Jira may improve collaboration between development and QA.
  • If your team tracks test cases in Jira issues, QA can leave comments for developers right within Jira and use Jira’s issue links to relate test cases with user stories or defects.

Challenges of using Jira for test management

With enough time and effort, Jira can be used for test management for software development teams. However, it comes with some major challenges.

1. Complex setup for test planning & organization

The first challenge of using Jira for test management is planning and organizing test cases, test plans, and creating test suites. 

There are two basic ways to approach Jira test management without any plugins, add-ons, or other tools. The first is working tests into your existing Jira workflow with additional issue description fields or sub-tasks, and the second is creating custom Jira issue types.

Using sub-tasks or checklists written into user stories or issue description fields can be a helpful way to start designing test cases. But this approach isn’t scalable, makes it hard to manage test data and preconditions, and doesn’t provide visibility into the overall status of testing.

Alternatively, creating custom Jira issue types for test cases may help differentiate between development tasks and tests. But these extra issue types can be confusing for the rest of the developers and product owners in your Jira project.

In general, Jira makes organizing test cases and test runs difficult. Using custom Jira issues will clutter your Jira board or force you to maintain a separate project just for testing. You can try grouping Jira issues into “test suites” using custom labels or fields, but there is no built-in way to organize your Jira issues in a hierarchical tree to make it easy to see all of your related tests at a glance. 

A team may choose to use epics to create test suites, but finding tests to re-use or to maintain becomes an intensive search and the amount of time spent looking or searching may be better spent on test execution.

Jira board view
Using custom Jira issues will clutter your Jira board or force you to maintain a separate project just for testing

2. Difficulty tracking test results over time

The second challenge of using Jira as a test management tool is tracking test execution over an extended period of time. 

In most testing methodologies, test cases tend to be re-used as regression tests after a test cycle is complete. Even agile teams perform some kind of regression testing. Re-using Jira issues, however, is very difficult. 

You can try cloning Jira issues from one release to the next, but it can be extremely time-consuming to try to clone an entire set of issues used for end-to-end regression testing, for example. Additionally, cloned issues don’t give you any way to analyze a test’s success or failure rate over time.

Finally, although the Jira Query Language (“JQL”) provides a robust method for searching past Jira issues, it can be extremely difficult to find the exact Jira issue you are looking for, especially if it was a sub-task for another issue or cloned from a previous test. Once Jira tasks are completed and marked as “done,” they are no longer displayed on the board. The only way to find them again is by combing through lists of historical issues with Jira’s search functionality or exporting your historical Jira issues to Excel to try and sort or filter them manually. Your team may find the process too time-consuming to be efficient. 

3. Little to no support for test automation

Although Jira’s REST API is extensive, Jira itself doesn’t come with any built-in support for test automation tools. 

Whether you are doing BDD testing with a tool like Cucumber or running automated tests with a framework like JUnit or Selenium, there is no easy way to integrate your test automation with the rest of your manual testing tracked in Jira. This causes silos between different functions within your QA team and makes it difficult to maintain real-time visibility into testing.

4. No way to report on test coverage or traceability

Another major challenge of using Jira as a test management tool is creating effective and practical traceability. Traceability is critical for companies in regulated industries or applications that must pass certain regulatory audits for compliance. It can also be helpful for when your team wants to find documentation or test cases for a requirement quickly.

While Jira makes it easy to link between user stories, defects, epics, and other Jira issue types, Jira doesn’t come with any kind of coverage reports or traceability reports. It’s time-consuming to search one by one through linked issues, and without any built-in workflows to link issues or ready-made reports to check if links have been established, it’s easy to fall out of compliance. 

Using Jira add-ons for test management

Another option is using a Jira test management app or add-on available through the Atlassian Marketplace

There are two different types of test management apps in Jira:

  1. Apps that are built on top of and managed through Jira (like Xray)
  2. Apps that integrate Jira with dedicated test management platforms (like TestRail)

Most of the development team will still use the same tool for tracking tasks, but the QA testing team members will also use the add-on for test case management. 

Jira-based add-ons can be a good option because all team members can still access test deliverables, reports, and test cases as if they’re using Jira. Plus, they are billed as part of your existing Atlassian subscription, if the app you choose is paid. The downsides of Jira-native apps is that they tend to be harder to customize and can cause performance issues for all of the users in your Jira instance as you try to scale. 

On the other hand, using a Jira app that syncs with a dedicated test management platform tends to: 

  • make it easier to manage your QA workflows, 
  • allows you to integrate more easily with test automation and other DevOps processes, and 
  • gives you more customizability, scalability, and control. 

The downside is that you typically must purchase separate licensing for platforms like this (even if their Jira app itself is free).

Pros of Jira test management add-ons 

  • Improved test case organization and planning
  • Enhanced visibility and reporting
  • Better defect tracking and traceability

Cons of Jira-based add-ons 

  • Some can be expensive (especially if you have to buy a license for every Jira user)
  • Some add-ons may be very complex to use, making it difficult for team members to adopt and use them effectively
  • Lack of customization means your team will oftentimes need to “fit the mold” of the tool rather than having the tool work for you and meet your needs. Some tools are more flexible than others, so make sure you choose a tool with the customization options that are right for your team

Tips for choosing the right Jira  test management solution

Like choosing the right tool for any job, you will first want to understand and identify your team’s needs and goals. Make sure you clearly understand your goals, whether that is to identify coverage gaps, optimize QA’s productivity, or see exactly what has happened during the testing process. 

Organizations may weigh the importance of QA goals differently. This should help you narrow your focus to research options that are appropriate for your team. You will, of course, want to consider the available features, pricing, and support as well as user reviews or case studies to compare and contrast tools.

To take your research a step further and provide robust justification for your decision, here are tips for choosing the “right” test management tool if your team uses Jira:

Improve workflow

A good test management tool should provide a robust set of features for organizing and planning your testing efforts. These should include features for creating and managing (and reusing) test cases, tracking testing progress, and reporting to help ensure what should be tested gets tested. A tester should be able to streamline their workflow by living in one tool that still allows them to quickly and efficiently communicate with Jira.

Low learning curve

If the tool is too cumbersome or hard to learn, you’ll find the transition to using it is an uphill battle. Evaluate the user experience through a trial. Look for a tool that has an intuitive interface and helpful documentation.

Scale as the company grows

As a company grows you often grow your toolset. You’ll want to ensure the test management tool you choose can integrate with your toolset to help streamline your processes, improve efficiency, and manage ALL testing activities in one place. In addition to flexible integrations, you will want to understand how customizable the add-on is to meet the changing needs of growing teams.

Increase test coverage

Test coverage is a key metric for many QA teams. You must be able to evaluate whether you have tested enough or if there’s room for improvement. A test management tool should give you the capability to ensure what needs to be tested gets tested every time. This is how your team starts to produce a robust QA program.

Gain visibility into the testing lifecycle

Traceability improves the quality and reliability of your organization’s service or product by ensuring that all relevant requirements have been tested. A test management tool should allow you to see and maintain the history of test cases and bugs so that you have a clear record of what has been tested and what needs to be tested in the future. Give your QA team improved insight into the logic behind each test and requirement pairing so that the development and engineering team can more easily identify issues discovered during testing.

Communicate QA metrics

Many teams have multiple stakeholders that want to easily understand testing progress not to mention your team should also want to track progress. Communicating QA metrics like test coverage, test completion status, or test reliability should be easy or even automatic on a set schedule. A Jira test management add-on should improve transparency with your stakeholders and the rest of the organization, whether the add-on is built on top of Jira or syncs to a dedicated test management platform outside of Jira.

Choosing the right tool for your team’s needs is essential — by investing some time in comparing your team’s needs with the tools available on the market, you’ll be on your way to managing your testing smoothly and efficiently in no time!

Amy E Reichert – Freelance writer for various topics focused mainly on QA testing, Agile, and technology trends. Amy has 23 years of professional experience as a QA Engineer/Analyst within the ERP, healthcare, and business management sectors. Amy also has many years of experience developing test cases and test processes, leading diverse teams, and testing on mobile and web applications.

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