burndown chart

in Development

Why Your Agency Needs a Burndown Chart

Burndown chart

Jixee is constantly improving to make life easier for developers. We were getting quite a few requests for a burndown chart feature, and to fulfill our customer’s needs we’ve added a user friendly burndown chart to our reporting repertoire.

What’s a Burndown Chart?

A burndown chart is a visual representation of tasks left vs. time, essentially a run chart of outstanding work. Burndown charts are a tool often used in agile methodology, but they’re versatile — all you need for a burndown chart is a project with measurable progress. It’s a simple way for everyone on a team to clearly see what is going on and how progress is being made.

Why Use a Burndown Chart?

A burndown chart will help your team plan — in fact, it is a plan. Agile methodology monitors sprints with a burndown chart, allowing you to break tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces. This way, your work stays within scope. Another beauty of the burndown is that everyone on a team can take part in planning and tracking, each day updating daily efforts and getting feedback on whether the project is on track. Having a daily progress check is key to minimizing risks. In other words, if something is going wrong, you know right away. This is the perfect tool to support agile; you have the ability to make changes and move fluidly throughout a project with a feedback mechanism to guide your team.

How Does a Burndown Chart Work?
The burndown chart takes into account remaining tasks and completed tasks.

X Axis
Measures Project/Iteration Timeline
Teal line shows completed tasks over time

Y Axis
Work (effort we call it) Remaining
Red Line

The blue line represents your ‘Ideal’ Burndown. Of course, we’re not robots and won’t be on the perfect burndown velocity, but the goal is to show visual progress towards completion, and help you estimate likelihood of a timely completion.

How to Create a Burndown Chart

Creating a burndown chart starts with a task breakdown where you assign an estimated number of hours per task. Here’s a sample of what information a burndown chart uses:
Sprint Duration: 1 week
Team Size: 4
Hours Per Day: 6
Total Hours: 120 hours
With that information, the chart is plotted. Each team member will work on one task from the breakdown, and update their information at the end of each day, including effort remaining and status. Many agile tools and task trackers (like Jixee) build the burndown chart into their software, so you get seamless feedback without having to put in any extra effort.

How to Interpret Your Burndown Chart

The ins and outs of a burndown chart are pretty simple, sometimes so simplistic that many people miss what the chart is saying. Take a look at some different charts below to learn how to understand the burndown message:

burndown chart

Basics: If your effort remaining (red) is above your ideal line (blue), it means the team is working slowly, and if it continues this way, the team may be in danger of not finishing in time. Conversely, if your effort remaining is below the ideal line, you’re working faster than expected, and may be able to complete the sprint sooner.

A few examples:

The velocity picks up in the middle as the team makes changes to work better, and even completes the sprint more quickly. This shows that the team likely experienced, and adaptable in order to meet their goals. They might read their burndown chart and discuss reasons for the slow start to improve.
Typical progress on a team will look more like an arch, meaning they had to stretch toward the end to complete the sprint. This team needs to reevaluate their work, or adapt the scope to avoid a bottom of the ninth stretch. But, that’s what burndowns are for.
A team that is not meeting their commitments will remain above the line, and fail to contact the x axis. This team needs to adapt their scope and correct their mistakes.
An inverse arch indicates that the team is completing their work too quickly, or rather, that they have overestimated the scope of a project.
Fluctuating up and down from the ideal line is an indication that the team is inconsistent. Performance should be evaluated.

Common Mistakes

Burndown charts won’t reflect the above information if there are issues with input.

One task at a time is the best way to track. When trying to track multiple stories on one burndown, it’s easy to misrepresent the total number of hours, and tracking will be affected as a result. Instead, just add one task that is common among stories. As a rule of thumb, keep tasks to 12 hour increments, or it becomes difficult for team members to estimate remaining effort.

Another common mistake is to update effort spent instead of effort remaining. In that case, your effort remaining will show an upward trend even if that’s not the case.

Burndown charts also require discipline, they need to be updated at the end of each day to reflect progress.

Burndown charts are awesome for startups, they allow teams to focus on the product in measured, yet adaptable feedback loops. They can boost faster shipping by providing a visual guide for a project. Keep in mind that they are an agile tool, and stand not as a strict guideline, but a method to help you understand where your team should make some changes. And there you have it — a simple way to measure team progress and work smarter.