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Tracking a project’s progress and ensuring all team members play their part in completing said project on time is one of your primary responsibilities as a project manager. However, it’s not always easy to keep track of everything.
If you’re wondering how to stay on top of all your projects, then you need a burndown chart.
A burndown chart is a simple data visualization tool you can use with your existing agile framework to ensure all their projects go according to plan.
What is a burndown chart?
A burndown chart is a simple graph that shows how quickly your project team is working by plotting customers’ user stories against the time it takes for each iteration (or to complete each user story point).
Aside from measuring your team’s pace (or velocity), you can also use a burndown chart to predict your team’s performance on specific projects and ensure all your projects are within budget.
Burndown charts are especially common with Scrum Masters, agile teams, and product owners who handle agile software development projects.
Types of burndown charts
There are two different types of burndown charts used on agile projects: sprint and product burndown charts.
While these charts can both be used to monitor scope creep, they have specific purposes they fulfill.
Sprint burndown chart
A sprint burndown chart tracks the total work remaining in a specific sprint or iteration (usually under three weeks). The sprint burndown chart helps software development teams identify “micro” issues that can cause delays in bigger projects.
Product burndown chart
On the other hand, a product burndown chart helps teams estimate how much work remains for an entire project.
How to read a burndown chart: understanding its components
Like most graphs, a burndown chart has a basic layout with a horizontal and vertical axis. Once plotted, the graph shows how much work is left and the time to complete said work.
Horizontal axis: Iterations & timeline
The horizontal or X-axis of a burndown chart displays the iteration timeline (usually in days) for a project or sprint.
Vertical axis: story points & team effort
The vertical Y-axis of a burndown chart represents the story points and team efforts. This axis indicates the remaining work that needs to be completed in a sprint or project.
The project/sprint end is the rightmost point of your burndown chart that indicates whether you completed a project/sprint on time, behind, or ahead of schedule.
Ideal work line
An ideal work line is a straight line that connects your graph’s starting point to its project/sprint end (in the chart above it’s represented by the Ideal # Tasks Remaining line). This line shows how much time it would take your team to complete a project depending on your team’s recent performances, meaning it’s not always accurate or absolute.
Most burndown charts use a color different from those of other elements on the graph to help you quickly identify the ideal work line.
Actual work line
The actual work line shows the real-life progress you and your team accomplish on a project.
Unlike the ideal work line, the actual work line does not follow a straight path, even though they both start from the same point. Instead, the actual work line can either go above or below the ideal line, depending on how efficient your team is.
If the actual work line is below the ideal line, it means you’re ahead of schedule. But if the actual work line is above the ideal line, then you’re running behind schedule.
Why a burndown chart is so beneficial for Agile project management
Managers who use burndown charts for their agile projects can expect to enjoy the following benefits:
Real-time overview of the entire project
A real-time overview of the entire project is one of the most significant benefits that burndown charts provide.
With this chart, you can quickly tell whether you can complete a project on time and within budget. A real-time project overview also keeps everyone on the same page and can serve as extra motivation.
Insight into actual & estimated team speed
The actual and ideal work lines plotted on the burndown chart help managers quickly identify their team’s speed when completing sprints and the project as a whole.
Effective client & stakeholder communication
The simple visual nature of the burndown chart makes it easy to collaborate with clients and stakeholders concerning a project’s progress.
Accurate status report
Since burndown charts are easy to read, your team members can quickly get accurate status reports with a single glance at the graph.
Quick reaction to scope creep
Burn down charts can help you manage and quickly react to any scope creep before it gets out of hand.
👉 Get started with this burndown chart template.
After you copy this template, you can utilize this free burndown chart template for your agile and scrum projects. This way you can better visualize how to scope your project sprints and organize your team and resources.
Create a Burn Down Chart with this Coda template
Step 1: Define Project Sprints and Tasks
On the page, you can add your Project Sprints and Tasks for each sprint by clicking the Add Sprint and Add Task buttons, respectively. This will create a new row in the table that you can plan for. The table will show tasks for a filtered Sprint and the Date Range for the tasks, ideally it would be best to view tasks for the present week (7 days) to keep track of the team.
Step 2: Scoping Workload and Estimated Complete Dates
The Ideal # Tasks Remaining is the estimated amount of tasks that are yet to be completed in a Sprint at the end of each day in a Sprint (the default amount is 15 tasks for 15 days of a sprint). The ideal # tasks remaining is the set goal of tasks that you plan for your team to complete within a given time frame. Ideally, one task should be completed per day, which is shown in the .
By adding a task to a sprint, you can add Details, the Date is to be completed, the person it is Assigned To, and its Status. As tasks are marked as Completed, they are highlighted in Green and the sprint is closer to being completed.
Step 3: Visualizing Burn Down Chart
On the page, you’ll be able to see a chart of the Ideal Work Line vs Actual Work Line in the current sprint that you are looking at in the . This will allow you to visualize the traction you have made on your current sprint, and how much work is left to finish before the sprint ends. The closer the Actual Number of Tasks Remaining is to the Ideal Number of Tasks Remaining, the more efficient each Sprint is.
Extra Steps: People & Teams
In the page you can manage people in your organization, their contact information, and which teams they are a part of.
Burndown chart FAQs
What are the benefits of using a burndown chart?
The main benefit of using a burndown chart is that it allows you and your team to track a project’s daily progress easily. After plotting the ideal and actual work lines, you can quickly tell if your project is ahead of schedule or not.
The burndown chart shows the amount of work left for your team to complete, and in terms of collaboration, it provides status reports that keep team members and clients on the same page.
What are the limitations of a burndown chart?
Although valuable, a burndown chart comes with certain limitations.
A burndown chart is significantly affected by the accuracy of the ideal work line estimates. So, if the estimates are wrong, then your whole burndown chart would be displaying inaccurate data, meaning you could be well behind schedule even though the chart says you’re on schedule to complete a project.
Another limitation is that burndown charts don’t usually account for product backlog items. So, it’s often difficult to tell if the changes on the burndown chart are because of completed story points or backlog size.
How is the burndown chart calculated?
To calculate the burndown chart or (burndown velocity), divide the actual number of hours worked by the ideal work hours estimate. If your answer is greater than 1, then you’re behind schedule.
For example, let’s assume your team has worked 400 actual hours against your ideal work hour estimate of 500 hours. Then by using the burndown velocity formula, you’ll have:
Burndown velocity = 400 ÷ 500 = 0.8
Since the result (0.8) is less than 1, you’re still ahead of time on your project.
What are burnup and burndown charts in Agile?
Agile project managers use burnup charts to show the total scope of a project and how much work (out of the whole scope) has been completed.
On the other hand, managers use burndown charts to track or monitor how much work and time is remaining to complete a project.
You can use both burnup and burndown charts in scrum projects and agile software development methodologies.
It’s preferable to use a burndown chart when you have fixed-scope projects. However, a burnup chart helps to uncover and visualize a scope change whenever such a change occurs.
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