Analyze team focus and time allocation with the Investment Distribution view

Are you spending enough time on the most important priorities? Do you keep a healthy balance between roadmap work, maintenance, and unplanned ad hoc tasks?

The purpose of prioritization is to identify which problems and their solutions have the potential to successfully drive the most important outcomes. Whatever the planning or prioritization process behind this, for development teams this ultimately manifests in the form of some unit of work (Epics & Stories, Projects, Initiatives etc.). Simply put, teams should spend enough time on the highly prioritized activities in order to realize the positive outcome in a timely manner.

However, there are some common obstacles teams (and organizations) face when trying to make this seemingly simple thing a reality. There are always multiple priorities to juggle, with planned roadmap work, discovery work (often invisible), unplanned work and interruptions, as well as bugs and other types of maintenance work. How a team manages their focus between this mix of work can be a great indication of the health of the team.

The best teams understand where their time is going and are able to balance between the most impactful work and housekeeping. This ensures they can reach the high-impact business objectives and solve the right problems in the short term, without compromising the capability to do so in the long term.

The Investment Distribution view introduces transparency to different categories of work. It help teams understand how much of their time they are allocating to their biggest priorities. It also provides a feedback loop for teams that enables them to stick to their target work allocation (eg. “we want to spend 20% of our time on fixing bugs”), or course-correct when they see an alarming trend (eg. "we've spent 30% less on roadmap work than in previous quarter").

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Common problems with focus on high priorities

When organizations mature and grow there tends to be an ever-increasing number of problems and issues competing for the attention of individual teams. This can result in teams spreading their focus too thin, and not being able to spend enough time on their most important priority.

It's not difficult to imagine what the difference is between a team that's spending 20% of their time towards a goal, versus one that spends 40%: the time to deliver a solution most likely at least doubles. This isn't good news for the team or the organization – but there's a huge opportunity on the flip side: teams who can improve roadmap focus can drastically improve their impact.

Follow-up on high-priority work

⚠️ Note: Getting the full benefits of Investment Distribution depends on reliably linking Pull Requests with Issues. This is something you should discuss and agree to do as a team.

It can be easy to get lost in the sea of problems and day-to-day work, especially without a proper way to measure what kind of work a team is spending their days and weeks on. The Investment Distribution view brings transparency to this data, and especially the trend over time.

The view can be used to track the amount of time spent on the important categories of work. For instance, if the most important outcomes are the result of finishing certain Jira Epics, following the investment in them (week over week, month over month) can be eye-opening:

  • Look out for decreasing trends in the most important work. This increases your odds of catching a problem early and correcting course before it becomes a real problem.
  • Are you spending less than 50% of your time on high priorities? Low numbers in the absolute time spent on the most important category might mean your team has too many items to focus on, or that it's not clear how to progress further with the important projects.
  • Is a majority of your time going to bug fixing and maintenance work? An increasing trend in the amount of bug fixing and maintenance work can indicate a problem with the team health. This might require an action such as investing into infrastructure, or addressing some of the technical debt the team has accrued.
  • Are you spending an increasing amount of time with ad hoc tasks? When organizations and systems grow, complexity grows with them. It's sometimes easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of goals, opportunities and the difficulty of getting complex problems solved. This can cause teams and individuals to fall back to simple, reactive tasks which are easy to complete, but time spent on them might not maximize the impact of the team. 
  • Do you have a lot of unlinked work? Drawing good conclusions without transparency to a major share of the work can be difficult. Creating routines to link issues and pull requests, and categorizing ad hoc work pays off and enables the team to make well-informed decisions to improve their performance.

In the real world, there are rarely any silver-bullet solutions for the potential problems indicated by the Investment Distribution. They should be used as discussion starters to improve the focus and speed of delivery as a team.

Configuring Investment Categories

You can customize how you categorize issues to ensure the grouping is relevant to your organization. There are several filters you can choose from, including:

  • Projects
  • Issue types
  • Issue keys
  • Team ownership
  • Issue tracker labels

You could approach investment categories from different angles, depending on what's most relevant to measure for your organization. Besides just the type of engineering work, you could try grouping for measuring:

  • Company initiatives
  • Product focus areas
  • R&D Capitalization / R&D expenditure
  • Releases, or a company level roadmap (eg. "Q3")

The categories are configured on the Organization settings.

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Understanding Investment Distribution data

Investment distribution shows activity on pull requests and child issues grouped by investment category.

The work is measured in terms of issues completed and pull requests merged. We do this in order to account for both invisible work that might not be connected to pull requests (eg. some DevOps work, or work spent on compliance or security) as well as the deployment of new code.

Activity is grouped by highest-level issue. So if a pull request is linked to a story that’s part of an epic, it will appear as epic activity.

💁‍♀️ Interested on what really went on during a week on the Investment Distribution chart? Simply click on the bar to drill-down into the Work Log view.