ProForma Forms vs. Custom Fields

We hear it all the time. Things have gotten out of control. There are too many custom fields, custom screens and custom workflows. Configurations have gotten complex and unwieldy. At the same time, you’re glad that more teams are using JIRA.  So where is the middle ground? How can you give business teams the flexibility and functionality of JIRA without gumming up the works with a spaghetti plate of custom fields?

Structure_Flexibility_ProForma_ThinkTilt.png

Benefits of ProForma

Addressing this problem was one of the principle motivations for creating ProForma.  ProForma lets individual business teams create and customize forms that can be attached to JIRA issues or request types. This means that any team can use JIRA to manage repeated processes without the need for custom fields.

Up until now you’ve really only had two options. Users making a request can try to guess what information will be needed and include it in the descriptions or comments field. The problem with this is that every business process is unique. If the user forgets or doesn’t know what details need to be included with their request, then fulfillment will be delayed by going back and forth with the service desk to get the right information. 

The other option has been to create the custom fields that teams will need. The challenge here is to give every team what they need without creating unmanageable jungle. Each business team’s processes are unique. Trying to force teams to conform to a given procedure or data set just because it’s what works for the technology will likely foster resistance to adoption. Worse yet, you run the risk of actually making teams less efficient because they can’t get what they need. 

Enter ProForma.  The ability to create and/or customize forms means that any team can collect exactly what they need without impacting your JIRA configuration. Forms structure the data so teams get the information they need, in the format they need it. Teams have complete flexibility and you don’t have to worry about how their fields will complicate your JIRA implementation.

Instead, you can let individual teams create the forms they need and save custom fields for data that is universally collected across the organization.

Limitations of ProForma

We think ProForma’s a pretty darn great product, but we know it’s not perfect. There are two limitations.

One is that JIRA does not support the use of tables or grids. When you’re collecting the same field level data across multiple factors, a table would seem to be the most logical way to go. Not being able to create tables definitely puts a damper on your formatting options. However, by using smart design and complying with UX form standards which recommend listing all fields in one column, you can collect all the information needed. 

The second limitation is that currently, you cannot run a query on specific fields of ProForma forms. Being able to pipe data from a form field into a JIRA custom field is one of the features we're working on, but for the moment, when deciding whether a specific piece of information is best collected through a form or a custom field you should consider:

1) Are likely to need to query that field?

2) If so, is the information collected somewhere else that can be queried?

Let’s look at a couple of examples. You might want to have a Travel Profile (this forms is currently available in the ProForma template library) to expedite booking arrangements for employees who make a lot of business trips. An employee could submit their profile to HR and HR could reference it (either by searching issues submitted by that employee or by searching all issues of that request type) when needed.  The form includes fields for preferred airline and frequent flyer number. You would not be able to query the system to ask, “How many employees prefer XYZ Airline?” (But why would you want that?)

In another example, Finance has a form allowing customers to request reimbursement for work-related travel in their private vehicle.  You could query the system to see how many requests for for mileage reimbursement were received and fulfilled during the year, but you would not be able to ask “How much did we pay Jane for mileage last year?” However, it’s likely that this information would be available in your accounting system. 

ProForma excels at letting teams collect all of the needed information at the time a request is made. This makes request management and resolution much more efficient. In many cases, as in the mileage example above, field specific information that needs to be queried can be accessed through another system. 

Designed with business teams and JIRA administrators in mind, ProForma offers an easy way to strike a balance between letting your teams get the information need and keeping your JIRA implementation from getting out of control.