Track Your Agile Projects with a Project Burndown Chart

Agile project management often needs more than the practices provided as standard by agile methods. Tracking project status is one area where I think that’s true.

Scrum includes the concept of a Sprint Burndown Chart.  For those that aren’t familiar with it, it’s a simple yet very powerful concept. Here’s how it works…

At the start of each Sprint, the team has estimated the work they plan to complete in the Sprint, either in hours or in points.  The burndown chart has the days of the Sprint across the bottom axis.  On the first day of the Sprint, the number plotted on the chart is the total planned time or points for the Sprint.  Each day, this total is reduced for any items that are completed, so the total gradually reduces, hopefully until it reaches zero at the end of the Sprint.

You can also draw a target line from the top left of the chart to the bottom right, assuming that every day the same number of points or hours are ‘burnt down’.  If your actual line is below the target, you’re on track.  If it’s above, you’re falling behind.

And that’s the beauty of the burndown chart.  You can see very clearly – literally at a glance – how the team is doing against their Sprint plan.

Extreme Programming, by the way, has the same concept, but in XP you burn up rather than down.

So what’s a *Project* Burndown Chart?

Well it’s simple really…

It’s an adaptation of the Sprint burndown chart, designed to give you the same sort of clarity, but at a project level, rather than for an individual Sprint.

Use a similar format to the daily Sprint burndown chart, but instead of days along the bottom, put Sprints.  At the start of the chart, plot the total size of the Product Backlog for the entire project.  For your target line, reduce the number for each Sprint by your target or forecast Velocity (the number of points or hours you expect to burn down in each Sprint).  As you complete each Sprint, reduce your actual number by your Velocity and the actual line will start to come down, hopefully as fast as your target line!

Here’s an example of a project that hasn’t gone to plan:

Agile Project Burndown ChartAnd that’s it!  It’s as simple as that.

When you have a project that spans multiple Sprints, it can be hard to keep track of where you really are.  With a Project Burndown Chart, it’s easy.  And best of all, it hardly takes any time at all to produce and doesn’t require you to do any additional planning.

I’ve never seen a Gantt chart and traditional status report provide the same incredible clarity that a Project Burndown Chart does.  It’s brilliantly simple, and it’s quantitative, rather than a matter of opinion.

If you have multiple projects on the go, across several teams, there is no quicker way to know which projects are on track and which are struggling, and with a fraction of the paperwork and effort of a traditional PMO (Project Management Office).


3 Responses to “Track Your Agile Projects with a Project Burndown Chart”

  1. I recommend using a project burnup chart, instead. A project is not a known size. In fact, if you don’t learn something that alters the scope along the way, it’s arguably not an Agile project. We should always be learning.

    A burndown chart does not gracefully handle changes in the size of the work to be done. It’s got a natural fixed goal line at zero. If you leave this fixed, then changes in scope get displayed the same as work done (or undone).

    People have described burndowns where the goal moves away (generally below) zero, but I find a burnup to be simpler and more expressive of the uncertainty inherent at the beginning of a project.

    See Feel The Burn, Getting the Most out of Burn Charts from Better Software Magazine (July/August 2009, Volume 11, Issue 5, pp. 26-31) for some more detailed discussion on this. Also, Projecting into the Future for some tips on using a burnup to make predictions about your project in the face of incomplete information.

  2. Craig says:

    Hey George,
    Thanks very much for taking the time to leave a link…..that was exactly the knowledge I need to get to the next step.:)

  3. kefflee says:

    Hi all, can we use burn chart to control or manage the cost? and how it works? how to get the value, it is from % completion of user story?

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