If your work is related to information technology, you must have heard about two great products from Atlassian – Jira and Confluence. But it might not always be clear what they are used for, how their functionality overlaps (if at all), and how they complement each other.
In this article, I will explain each application’s main concepts and features and how to connect them to work together.
After reading this, you will fully understand what Jira is, what Confluence is, what they do individually, and how they complement each other when connected.
Using Jira and Confluence
JIRA and Confluence are different products from Atlassian and serve different purposes. Both can be successfully used without the other but also complement each other. Sometimes they are viewed as one product or even as the same product. We will review and clarify what Confluence should be used for, what Jira should be used for, and how they work together.
JIRA is a software platform for organizing work and teams doing the work around tasks and projects. Jira is very good at managing the scope of the work, priorities, and task assignments. It is primarily used in software development, but it is in no way limited to that.
Confluence, on the other hand, is also a software platform but with a different purpose. It is used to manage online content such as reference documentation, knowledge base, wikis, meeting minutes, reports, or similar. It efficiently enables multiple users to collaborate and contribute to the same content and provides complete version control and access control.
Confluence and Jira do not need each other to do everything I just mentioned. However, they can do much more when connected and tremendously improve the efficiency of the teams working on projects. For instance, someone viewing a project report in confluence can have real-time information about the progress of project tasks managed in Jira.
It goes the other way as well. Someone working on a development task in Jira can view a solution design document created and managed in Confluence without switching between two applications.
Let’s spend the next few minutes reviewing the main Jira features, and then we will do the same with Confluence. After that, we will look into how they work together.
In Jira, work tasks are defined using Jira issues. Several predefined issue types exist, such as epics, stories, tasks, and bugs. Jira is very Agile-centric, which is where these specific task types originate. But Jira is not limited to these types only; custom types can also be defined.
Issues are organized in projects. Out of the box, Jira provides many ready-to-use project templates, such as Scrum or Kanban, for software projects and quite a few for business projects, for example, document approval or recruitment.
Issues are processed from creation to completion through pre-defined and customizable workflows.
At any point in time, the status of any issue can be conveniently viewed on project boards that are also customizable.
Team members can be assigned issues, and work effort can be estimated for each. Many other issue attributes, such as priority and dependencies, can be set, and an entire history of issues is preserved. Users who are in any way associated with an issue can be notified any time something with the issue is changed.
Many project reports are available out of the box. Most of them are related to Scrum concepts such as velocity, burndown, and burnup chart for project, release, or sprint, while others are generic, like time tracking or user workload.
Those are the main Jira features, and let’s look into Confluence now.
Similar to how Jira uses issues as a building block for everything, Confluence uses ‘page’ as the smallest unit of functionality. Confluence users create and read content that is captured and organized in pages.
Users creating content have at their disposal full-featured text formatting tools, including different styles, colors, font sizes, etcetera. Images can be embedded, sized, and aligned.
Many macros are available to do many different things, including creating a table of content, image galleries, charts, embedding documents from other applications, and many more.
Confluence pages fully support multiple users working concurrently on the same content. A reliable publishing workflow with full version control gives content creators complete control over what and when it is published and the ability to revert any changes quickly.
Pages can be created starting from a blank page or from numerous templates such as meeting notes, business plans, employee handbooks, and many more. Confluence comes with more than 80 templates, and custom ones can also be created.
Users collaborate during content creation with contextual comments embedded in the text and by getting alerts when content is changed.
Users who are reading documents in Confluence can find the content they need in several ways.
If they know where content is located, they can navigate to it through a customizable site structure. If they don’t know where to look, they can browse content by topic of interest defined by labeled content, for example, viewing the list of all marketing or finance documents. Users can also utilize advanced search functionality, which allows scanning through a defined set of documents and looking for specific search terms.
Confluence organizes pages in something called Spaces, which can be perceived as file cabinets or drawers where related content is stored in the same drawer with controlled access to who can read or edit those documents. Examples of ‘spaces’ are documentation for a specific project or a help desk knowledge base.
Spaces can be created from predefined blueprints, which include a set of templates and some helpful pages created when space is created. For example, knowledge base and documentation spaces come with different home pages optimized for their specific purpose. In contrast, project space comes with already created integration with Jira and provides a direct view of the Jira tickets.
Jira and Confluence Integration
That brings us to a point where we want to review how Jira and Confluence work together. In the beginning, I mentioned that this integration can be set from either Jira or Confluence and that it can be customized to suit a particular need best, so there is no single right way to do it. Here are some common examples to demonstrate the general concepts which can be modified for a specific case.
Jira provides a place in the left-side navigation to connect to a Confluence Space.
Once connected, an entire structure of connected space is displayed on this Jira screen, pages are available for browsing, and new pages can be created. Users can also search across both Jira and Confluence and see in search results both Confluence pages and Jira issues that match search terms.
For additional convenience, Jira and Confluence share the same user authentication system, allowing users to seamlessly transfer between screens belonging to different applications.
An example of a situation when this integration is beneficial is when Confluence is used to create and manage project documentation, such as solution design or functional requirements for a project managed in Jira. Users who spent the most time working on Jira tasks don’t have to leave Jira to access this solution design or functional requirements.
On the opposite side, it is common to include Jira reports or specific sets of Jira issues, for example, top priority tasks, in a Confluence page. That is easily achieved using a couple of macros that come with Confluence, where you just need to specify the Jira project and specific report or a filter, and in no time up to date, information originating in Jira becomes available to users who work in Confluence.
Once the connection is established on the Confluence side, it becomes possible to create Jira issues directly from Confluence. But there is also a more straightforward way to make this connection, and that is the creation of project space. During the space setup, a Jira project needs to be specified, which will initiate and complete the creation of all necessary connections.
We have now covered the fundamentals of Jira and Confluence, their features, what each application aims to accomplish, and a few scenarios where tighter integration between the two is beneficial.
To summarize the main points, Jira and Confluence are two different applications with different purposes and features. Each one can be successfully used without the other, but there are many cases when connecting them to work together creates a lot of benefits.
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