Founded in 2002, Atlassian has quickly grown to be one of the most popular project management software vendors on the market. They have over 40,000 customers, offices in six countries, and a net worth of $3.3 billion, according to a recent valuation.
Their success is due, in large part, to the quality of their software. Atlassian has received countless awards and, most recently, ranked as a top “leader” in Gartner’s 2015 Magic Quadrant for Application Development Life Cycle Management.
One of their best selling products is JIRA — a project management and issue tracking tool for software developers (although it can also be used for projects outside of IT). If you’re in the market for a project management tool, you’ve probably come across the name, and JIRA may even be on your shortlist.
JIRA is an excellent piece of software, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. There are reasons you might love it, and reasons you might not. Before you sign a contract, make sure you look at some JIRA alternatives — solutions targeted to similar customers, but perhaps with different features, different deployment options, or a different price tag.
What is JIRA?
Atlassian calls it “issue and project tracking” software — “issue,” of course, referring to the many bugs, defects, and problems that can arise during a development project. JIRA, at its core, is designed to help teams work together to solve these problems and deliver a smooth finished product. Typically, the teams involved include developers, help desk agents, and quality assurance.
JIRA is available on-demand through a monthly subscription (software-as-a-service), or it can be deployed on your own servers for an upfront license. Here are some of the features you’ll find in the core product (sans add-ons):
- Custom workflows and dashboards
- Bugs and defect management
- Requirements management
- Source and issue integration
- Search engine with filters
- Native mobile apps
Why might you consider an alternative?
Well, JIRA does have a few drawbacks. For one thing, a lot of the functions some teams might consider essential to their workflow are not included in the basic JIRA product; they require add-ons. Knowledge base management requires the Confluence add-on; code repositories require Stash; agile development requires JIRA Agile; and so on.
When you add up all the costs for these separate tools, JIRA can start to look pretty expensive (although they do offer bundled pricing for JIRA + Agile and JIRA + Service Desk).
Secondly, some users find the software a little unwieldy because it takes a lot of configuration to set up and (finally) use. Consider this comment from a JIRA user in a Y Combinator forum:
“I strongly dislike JIRA . . . It’s like a car with a top speed of 30mph, with a lever for each and every moving part of the car. Too many pieces of it are customizable, and all of the things which can be customized must be customized for anything to work. The amount of effort it takes to use JIRA is almost enough to write your own issue tracker.”
A valid point.
But then again, your experience will largely depend on whether you use JIRA’s default workflows or take the time to customize your own. If you like the idea of JIRA but aren’t sold on its complexity, it may not be the best project management software for your team.
With no further ado, let’s take a look at four of JIRA’s most obvious competitors.
Note: If you’re looking for a platform that let’s you receive a wider variety of issue reports directly from customers, you might compare some of our popular help desk solutions, like Freshdesk vs Zendesk.
Assembla is a younger platform than JIRA but offers a broader range of functionality in its core product. It is designed to help software teams manage tasks, collaborate and share resources, “squash bugs,” and ship code. The “Workspaces” edition is geared toward agile and distributed teams. It uses tickets, Kanban cards, and milestones to keep teams move through the development and issue tracking process.
Assembla offers many functions right out-of-the-box that JIRA requires as an add-on, including subversion and git hosting, code deployment, agile tools, time tracking, and social media-style collaboration (message boards, @mentions, activity stream). The greatest irony is that Assembla is actually less expensive.
Potential drawback: Does not offer a help desk software module
- Unlimited SVN and Git Repositories
- Wiki Tool / Knowledgebase
- Built-in time tracking
- Kanban cards
- Social-style collaboration
- Search tool
- Git workflows (fork, merge, peer review)
Axosoft is specifically marketed as an agile/scrum project management tool for software development teams. Where Assembla and JIRA place an emphasis on issue tracking, Axosoft focuses more on building software and getting it out on time through release planning and project analytics (burndown charts, velocity measurement). In “daily standup” mode, Axosoft can even predict a ship date for your project based on current progress and velocity.
Axosoft also distinguishes itself from competitors by providing built-in customer service features and a customer portal. This helps developers and quality assurance reps stay accountable to customer demands, bug reports, and feature requests. You can also set up external dashboards for project stakeholders, so they can keep tabs on progress through a private link.
Potential drawback: No built-in source code management
- Wiki pages
- Customer portal/help desk
- Standup mode
- Kanban cards
- Burndown charts
- Release planning
Gemini, by Countersoft, is an agile project management tool with built-in helpdesk and issue tracking. It’s available in a per user license as “Gemini express,” or for larger teams through “Gemini Enterprise,” which can be installed on-premises.
Gemini has a unique model for collaboration: team members work from their own, private workspaces, but they can also come together to track progress and share information in custom team workspaces. Additionally, users can subscribe to email alerts, daily digest notifications, and other co-workers to stay in the loop on tasks and requirements. Similar to Axosoft, Gemini includes help desk ticketing, bug tracking, and agile tools in its core product.
Potential drawback: No built-in source code management
- Test management
- Requirements capture
- Private and shared workspaces
- Issue/bug tracking
- Help desk
- Agile and scrum tools
- Time tracking
- Subscription-based notifications
Jixee is run by a small team of IT pros in Los Angeles, whose mission is “To help developers build great software. No frills, gimmicks, or bloatware.” Compared to some of the options we’ve looked at so far, their solution is a bit more basic, but it’s also more affordable and offers a straightforward user experience.
You can choose between a Kanban view or a “plan view” to organize work and drag and drop tasks between different boards in a workflow. Jixee offers epics, milestones, and sprints for tracking productivity, and project reporting tools for high-level analysis. Jixee is missing some important functions that other project tracking tools offer, such as help desk ticketing, time tracking, and knowledge management. But it’s not meant to be an end-to-end solution, which is why it integrates with other apps like HipChat, Slack, GitHub, JIRA, and Rally through webhooks and an API.
Potential drawbacks: No source code repository; no built-in chat feature
- Kanban cards
- Burndown and velocity charts
- Desktop app
* * *
There are literally hundreds of project management tools on the market, and these four are by no means the only viable JIRA alternatives. Using custom fields and workflows, you can make just about any project tracker conform to the needs of a dev team.
That said, some solutions are better optimized than others, and if you make the right choice for your team, you shouldn’t have to do that much configuration on the front end. To read more about issue tracking and agile project management or to get free personalized recommendations, visit our project management product selection tool, or give us a call to chat with a technology advisor about your specific software requirements.
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