Basic Issue Type Hierarchies in JIRA

In this post, I’ll describe a basic yet reasonable hierarchy of JIRA issue types for software development, based on a little bit of reading, observation, and thinking.

The very basic object (or document) in JIRA is an Issue. I’m not a JIRA admin, and have never configured JIRA. It is my understanding that you can define any number of issue types of whatever name and pick one of the types for the issue you are creating; there is no set meaning to or relationship between the issue types. It’s all up to your design.

So far I’ve found it useful to have only three issue types: Epic, Task, and Bug.

An important reference is a sprint. This is basically the team planning cycle. I’ll think of two weeks as the default length.


Project is not an issue type.

Admin defines a number of “Projects”. An Issue must belong to exactly one Project; this is selected when creating a new Issue, and should be changeable for an existing Issue.

Project is on a very high level. It’s some undertaking that definitely lasts for months, if not years. It is not unreasonable to just use a team’s identity as a “Project” designation.

Project is a tool for organization, not planning. The number of Projects should be small. While creating a new Issue, you don’t want to choose from a long list of “Projects”, and only minutes later choose from another long list of “Epics”,


Epic is an issue type.

An Epic is an initiative that can not be finished within a single sprint. Think at least a few weeks.

An Epic’s description should be mainly in product language rather than technical language. It does not need to be long or detailed.

When an Epic is created, most likely one does not yet have a clear idea how much work will be involved, and exactly what work needs to be done. In other words, the scope and actual content of work for an Epic will evolve over time. As ideas materialize, specific pieces of work will be defined in Tasks.

Do not do much actual work against an Epic directly. Use an Epic as a catalog of Tasks.


Task is an Issue type.

A Task is technically specific, ready to be implemented, and finished within a single sprint, like days.

A Task should describe exactly what needs to be done in reasonable detail, in technical language.

A Task may be linked to an Epic, if applicable. But it does not have to—there are standing alone Tasks.

Do not evolve much of a Task’s content during the execution. Finish it, close it, and move to the next one.


Subtask is not an Issue type chosen when creating an Issue. Rather, it is created under an existing Task.

A Subtask is one step or component of a Task that can be finished within a day.

Do break down a multi-day Task into Subtasks. This is a useful way for prioritizing various steps or components of a large Task and providing a very fulfilling feedback of steady progress. It is also useful when certain components need to be done by another developer.


Bug is an Issue type.

It is the same as a Task except that the nature of the work is bug fixing. Like a Task, a Bug can be broken down into Subtasks.

Story (optional)

Agile posts talk about “stories”. This Issue type may be needed if a product manager has close involvement in the planning of the development work.

A Story should be finishable within a single sprint. It is described in product language. Its actual work is delegated to one or more Tasks, which contain technical specifics.


  • Epic: weeks or months, multiple sprints; in product language; evolving scope; decomposed into Tasks.
  • Task: up to days, one sprint; technical specifics; fixed scope; decomposed into Subtasks.
  • Subtask: hours; the smallest piece of logically self-contained technical work that can be done within a day.

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