How to Use Burndown Charts for Agile Product Development

by Sean Blake, Head of Marketing

06 Apr 2021

If one thing is certain in product development (or in life), it’s that time is always passing, and there are always tasks to be completed. There’s no more straightforward way to calculate both of these critical metrics than a simple burndown chart.

Burndown charts help agile teams visualize time vs. task completion, which means the amount of work left compared to the amount of time planned in the development of a product or a specific sprint.

In this post, we’ll explain what burndown charts are, the benefits of using them, and how they are used by development teams. We’ll also explain the difference between burndown vs. burnup charts, product burndown charts vs. sprint burndown charts, and share helpful tools for integrating critical metrics in Jira. Now let’s slide down that y-axis! 📉

What is a burndown chart?

A burndown chart is a visualization of how much work is left to do and how much time there is to complete it. Visible to everyone, this graphical representation predicts how much work the team plans to complete within the allotted time. Burndown charts are also used to measure how quickly an agile team is moving through and completing customer user stories. They are excellent for keeping the team aware of any scope creep.

Let’s look at what each part of the graph represents. The amount of work remaining is shown on the vertical axis. The time that has passed since starting the project or sprint is displayed on the horizontal axis. So, the x-axis is the timeline of the project or iteration, and the y-axis is the work that needs to be completed.

The total amount of work to be done on the project is at the top of the y-axis on the left, and the endpoint on the far right of the x-axis represents the final day of the project or specific iteration. The start and endpoints are connected by the ideal work line, a straight line that shows what the team hopes to accomplish within a predetermined time frame. Another line, the actual work line, shows the amount of work that remains and how quickly the team is actually performing.

Actual work line vs. ideal work line

A burndown chart shows both the actual work line and the ideal work line. Both lines begin at the start point at the top of the y-axis. As the project or iteration goes on, the actual work line will oscillate around the ideal work line, depending on how the team is progressing.

If the team stays on schedule, the actual work line won’t deviate much from the ideal work line and remain decently straight. If the team hits a lot of time-sucking roadblocks during the project or sprint, the actual work line will be more of a wild squiggle, and it may not reach the x-axis endpoint before time is up.

The benefits of using burndown charts

Burndown charts are helpful in a few key ways. These charts:

  • Provide a visual representation of the progression of work completed over time.
  • Keep product owners informed of development progress for a product or specific sprint.
  • Keep the whole development team on the same page about how far along a product is.
  • Are regularly updated as work is completed and as time passes to show product progress in real-time.
  • Provide advance notice if a product is not progressing fast enough.
  • Capture clear metrics that can be reviewed during retrospectives.

Burndown chart vs. burnup chart

A burndown chart tracks how much work remains by starting at the tip of the y-axis and tracking downward toward where the endpoint meets the x-axis as time goes on and work is completed.

A burnup chart does the opposite. The start point is at the bottom corner of the graph to the left most of the x-axis. A burnup chart’s ideal work line and actual work line track upward as work is completed and time passes. Toward the top of the y-axis is another horizontal line representing the scope of the project, such as the number of story points needed to complete. If the scope becomes larger, say if story points or sprint backlog items are added, the scope line rises to account for the elevated goal.

If the scope of a sprint or project changes due to unexpected developments or stakeholder insight, which is bound to happen over the course of development, these changes are represented by the scope line. This can make burnup charts a slightly more adaptable tool.

Both burndown and burnup charts track a team’s velocity, workflow, and progress. A burnup chart’s scope line takes into account the evolving nature of software development and how the goalposts can move over the course of a project, which makes them ideal for tracking a project as a whole. While they are both effective tools, a burndown chart could be better utilized during a sprint because the number of tasks in a sprint is less likely to change.

Product burndown vs. sprint burndown chart

There are two different kinds of burndown charts. A product burndown chart shows how much work remains for the entire project, whereas a sprint burndown chart shows how much work remains in a specific iteration.

A product burndown chart collects a larger amount of data. It represents everything that needs to be completed on a product during the specific time requirement agreed upon at the beginning of the project.

A sprint burndown chart helps Scrum masters visualize how fast the agile team gets the work done and how much work is left to do during a sprint. It shows the Scrum team’s progress by displaying how much work actually remains instead of time spent. Over the course of a sprint, the chart will slope downward across the completed story points.

If the burndown line on a sprint burndown chart is not tracking downwards by the time you reach the middle of the sprint, it’s a sign that the sprint is not going well, and it’s up to the Scrum master to get the team back on track.

Working on your next product plan? Learn about common agile planning mistakes and how your team can avoid these common pitfalls.

Burndown charts in Jira

Broken Build’s Agile Reports and Gadgets include burndown and burnup charts for both Scrum and Kanban.

The application is designed for Jira, so you can integrate reporting in real-time. Having access to immediate metrics helps teams spot bottlenecks and dependencies, so they can be addressed sooner rather than later. The application lets you export charts and customizable reports to share with team members and stakeholders or to review during retrospectives.

How Easy Agile can help your team

We’re passionate about helping agile teams work more efficiently and effectively while always putting the needs of the customer first. We create products specifically designed for Jira users, including User Story Maps, Programs, Personas, and Roadmaps.

Try our Easy Agile User Story Maps to build simple and collaborative story maps in Jira. Our tool will help you transform your product backlogs into an impactful visual representation of the customer journey. It’s the highest-rated story mapping app for Jira, trusted by over 120,000 users at companies like Amazon, Twitter, Starbucks, Rolex, and Adobe.

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