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5 min read

How to create a custom Jira issue hierarchy

Two people on a ladder stacking large blocks on top of each other

Experienced Jira cloud users will already be familiar with the benefits–and limitations–of Jira’s built-in issue hierarchy. While work hierarchy is a key component of any successful development lifecycle, the out-of-the-box functionality doesn’t allow for additional hierarchy levels, which can be restricting for users who want a more customised, detailed view of their Jira issues.

Luckily, there are things you can do to overcome this. Find out which problems you can solve with a more comprehensive and personalised Jira cloud issue view, and what tools you need to get started.

What’s wrong with the native Jira issue hierarchy?

For many users, there’s nothing wrong with the existing hierarchy! As standard, Jira cloud comes with a built-in hierarchy of epic>story>sub-task. Higher-level product specifications are filled in at the epic level, which can then be broken down into lower-level stories, and even further to sub-tasks. All Jira’s built-in reports are supported by default, and you can create roadmaps at the epic level and add stories to sprints in the way Jira was intended to be used.

That’s enough functionality and hierarchical levels for many teams. But what if your product specs need to be broken down further? Or if you’re working in a big organisation where a new feature can impact many different departments?

When you need to go beyond the standard Jira functionality

There are many reasons why project managers, product managers and development teams want extra hierarchy levels. Two of the most common are:

  • Wanting to add an initiative or feature issue type for high-level product specs which can be broken down into multiple epics.
  • Wanting to add tasks to stories instead of sub-tasks so teams can add them to their sprints. Some teams may prefer to use epics as the highest level and create a new feature issue type between epics and stories.

In situations like these where your product specs or organisation structure don’t fit neatly into Jira’s default issue hierarchy, there are two great options: Advanced Roadmaps and Hierarchy for Jira.

Using Advanced Roadmaps to create issue types above epics

The most common way to add an extra level of hierarchy above epics is to use Advanced Roadmaps. As part of Jira cloud Premium, this feature lets you configure issue types to use above epics and create roadmaps at a higher level.

Issue list within Jira

To get started, create a new issue type and configure it to sit above epics in your issue hierarchy.

Hierarchy levels within Advanced Roadmaps

Once you’ve configured your hierarchy you’ll be able to link epics to your new issue type (in this case, features) and bring them up in your plans. Advanced Roadmaps lets you link epics to parent issues through the 'parent link' field. Once linked, you’ll see child epics displayed inside parent features, similar to the way you see child stories displayed in epics.

Viewing child issues within Jira

What are the limitations of using Advanced Roadmaps for your Jira hierarchy?

For many teams, Advanced Roadmaps provides an extremely useful way to structure Jira issue hierarchy. You get to extend your issue hierarchy, visualise it, and create roadmaps at a higher level. However, if you want to add extra levels of hierarchy below epics or use a flexible issue hierarchy instead of a fixed one, you’ll need a different tool. 

Advanced Roadmaps doesn’t support creating new issue types below epics. You can extend your issue hierarchy up, but not down. Similarly, if you’re looking to use the epic>story>task>sub-task hierarchy or epic>feature>story>task>sub-task hierarchy, Advanced Roadmaps won’t be able to meet your needs. What’s more, Advanced Roadmaps can become expensive if you’re working in a large team and have many users on your Jira instance.

Finally, if you link up your issues but later decide Advanced Roadmaps isn’t for you, you’ll lose all the links between your epics and their parent issues. This can be problematic for teams that want to retain their issue hierarchy but don’t necessarily need to be able to visualise it in Advanced Roadmaps.

Using Hierarchy for Jira to extend your Jira issue hierarchy above or below epics

Another option is to use Hierarchy for Jira to create extra levels of hierarchy in your Jira instance.

Screenshot of Custom Jira issue hierarchy In Hierarchy for Jira

Like Advanced Roadmaps, Hierarchy for Jira lets you create extra levels of hierarchy such as features or initiatives above epics. Unlike Advanced Roadmaps, you can also add levels of hierarchy below epics and use a flexible hierarchy instead of a fixed one.

To extend your issue hierarchy with Hierarchy for Jira, create an issue link type called 'Agile Docs Parent'.

Screenshot of the back end of Hierarchy for Jira

This link type lets you specify if an issue is a 'parent of' or 'child of' another issue. When inside an issue, you’ll be able to link it to any other issue.

Screenshot showing linked issues in Jira

When you open the app, you’ll be able to view the hierarchy you’ve created in extension to Jira’s default hierarchy.

Linked issues in Jira

This functionality makes it possible to create an epic>story>task>sub-task issue hierarchy, or an epic>feature>story>sub-task hierarchy.

You get complete freedom to create any kind of issue hierarchy you like. You can use a different issue hierarchy in every project, because Hierarchy for Jira doesn’t require you to stick to any specific structure.

The app also lets you visualise your extended issue hierarchy, display any project, release, or filter at any level of granularity, and display any field you like. It gives you a mechanism to export your issues to a CSV while retaining their hierarchy, and track the story point or time progress of each level.

If you ever decide to stop using Hierarchy for Jira, you’ll retain the parent-child relationships between issues. You won’t be able to visualise your complete issue hierarchy in the app anymore, but inside issues you’ll still be able to see the 'parent of' and 'child of' links.

Screenshot showing linked issues in Jira

Note: Hierarchy for Jira doesn’t currently support roadmap creation, so users who need this feature may want to use Advanced Roadmaps as well.

Hierarchy for Jira also works with initiatives or features created in Advanced Roadmaps, so you can use Advanced Roadmaps to add levels above epics and to create your roadmap, then use Hierarchy for Jira to extend your issue hierarchy further by creating levels of hierarchy below epics.

Choosing the right Jira issue hierarchy

Whether it’s Jira’s built-in issue hierarchy, Advanced Roadmaps, Hierarchy for Jira, or a combination of all three, it’s important to use the issue hierarchy which best meets the needs of your team. Get started with a free trial of Hierarchy for Jira now and level up your Jira hierarchy.

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