Software Metrics

How to Easily Create a Burndown Chart in 3 Project Management Tools

The burndown chart is a classic agile metric. How do you use it correctly, and how can you create one automatically in popular project management tools?

In this article you will learn:

This is part of our series on agile metrics – see other articles in this series:

What is a Burndown Chart?

A burndown chart is a metric that indicates how much work a team has completed on a project and the amount of work that remains unfinished. It allows for the visualization of a team’s work process. A burndown chart records the team’s working pace and predicts how much additional work can be finished within a project’s time-frame. This helps a team know the amount of work they should take on, for any project.  

What is a Burndown Chart

3 Scrum Burndown Chart Types

Burndown charts are commonly used in Scrum projects. There are several Scrum burndown charts.

  1. Release burndown chart

A release burndown chart tracks the progress of release in a Scrum project, whereby a project goes from the development phase to a point where it is used by customers. This makes it easy to track the team’s progress. The remaining sprints are positioned on the horizontal axis of the chart, and the work that still needs completion appears on the vertical axis (in the form of either time units or story points). The Scrum master is responsible for updating the chart.

  1. Sprint burndown chart

The sprint burndown chart indicates the rate at which work is done within the sprint and the amount of work remaining. If the team fails to work according to the predicted pace, the chart will indicate that the team will not complete their work by the end of the sprint.

  1. Product burndown chart

This chart displays the amount of work left to do to meet all the product goals. This chart contains story points that represent all work that remains incomplete at the beginning of each sprint. The chart visualizes the amount of work completed over time and the amount of work remaining to complete the product.

Pros and Cons of Burndown Charts

Pros:

  • A simple visual representation of the work progress, so all team members can benefit.
  • Completed work and the work remaining.
  • If deadlines are being met or if changes need to be made.
  • A project’s progression.
  • If a team should put more effort into specific areas.

Cons:

  • They aren’t very detailed tools.
  • They are limited in their capacity to show tasks that are currently being addressed and can’t estimate how long these tasks will take to complete. Predictions may, therefore, be inaccurate.
  • They might be demoralizing if they display unrealistic predictions or if team members feel micromanaged.

When employed correctly, these cons can be avoided and burndown charts can encourage and motivate team members.

How to Create and Use a Burndown Chart

Preparation

Before creating an actual burndown chart, a team must first break down their project into tasks. Each task needs a timeframe for completion. A Scrum team will already have this as part of the sprint backlog. The chart itself can then be made using different tools (including software like Microsoft Excel).

Creating a burndown chart by hand

To create a burndown chart:

  1. On the horizontal axis plot a series of dates, which represent sprints or days within a sprint.
  2. As each date arrives, note the amount of work remaining at that date on the vertical axis, using story points, hours, or other measurement units.
  3. Draw a line between the data points – this is the burndown chart.
  4. Using a ruler, try to estimate the slope of the burndown chart, and extend it until the horizontal axis. Draw a line in another color representing this slope – this is the burndown velocity line.  
  5. The point at which the line meets the horizontal axis is the estimated completion date for the sprint or release.

Interpreting a burndown chart

The burndown chart tells you two important things:

  1. The work remaining line shows you how much work remains in the project, and how quickly the team has progressed to date
  2. The burndown velocity line shows you when the team is expected to complete the sprint or release.

Burndown Charts in Modern Project Management Tools

There are several different tools that can be used for building and managing burndown charts.

1. JIRA Burndown Chart

JIRA, a popular project management system, can be used to create and display burndown charts. It tracks the total work remaining and the work done and uses this information to predict the likelihood of achieving a goal on time. It displays the predicted average work rate line, and the actual work rate line, so the team can see whether there are any differences. These differences represent diversions from the schedule.

The first step is setting the estimation statistic (which is the work measuring unit, like story points). Next is the estimation of issues. Set this inside the issue details under estimate”.

JIRA-Burndown-Chart

It is then possible to track a team’s progress by displaying a burndown chart.

JIRA burndown chart showing that a team is behind schedule

JIRA burndown chart showing that a team is behind schedule

2. Trello Burndown Chart

Though not specifically designed for Scrum, Trello can be used for tracking the progress of a Scrum project.

Each sprint starts with a backlog list which contains all assignments. As the sprint progresses assignments are moved from the backlog to the lists on the right. These lists contain assignments which are currently in progress (“doing” list, in the image below) or already done (“done” list). Trello doesn’t limit the project to only three lists, a team can add more according to their needs.

Trello-Burndown-Chart

When starting a sprint, a team must provide Trello with basic information regarding the sprint. For example, you can select “exclude weekends”, so that the expected progress takes resting days into account.

Trello-Burndown-Chart-figure-1

Once a team starts updating their progress, Trello will provide them with a burndown chart.

Trello-Burndown-Chart-figure-2

In addition to an overall view of the current and past sprints, Trello offers information about an individual’s assignments status. By choosing “task status”, Trello represents, in graphic form, the progress made by each team member on their assigned tasks.

Trello-Burndown-Chart-figure-3

Choosing “planned vs done” displays a bar graph. It shows which tasks are in the planning stage and which tasks are done, and this allows an analysis of the team’s projected work rate.

Trello-Burndown-Chart-figure-4

3. Monday.com

Monday.com is another project management tool. It allows a team can define story points, divide the work into sprints, assign individuals with their responsibilities and observe their progress.

Using the tool makes it simple to examine progress vs the schedule, both for the entire team and for each individual team member.

Burndown Charts, Development Velocity and Your Investment in Quality

Burndown charts help you visualize development velocity—how fast your development is moving. An important thing burndown charts do not visualize is technical debt. You may be moving fast, but leaving some work behind, which will come back to haunt you later.

So in parallel to using this amazingly simple metric to understand your progress, consider the additional dimension of technical debt. In particular, quality problems that may be present in the product and are not fully addressed during the sprint. Can we create a “burndown chart” that visualizes our investment in quality, instead of one that only shows our progress in building features for our users?

A new category of tools called Quality Intelligence platforms can do just that. They can show you a clear visualization of Test Gaps – areas of your product which have undergone change or are actively used in production but do not have adequate tests. Think of your test gaps as story points, only in reverse – a test gap is like a negative story point you need to eliminate from your product.

SeaLights is a quality intelligence platform that helps you visualize Test Gaps and perform focused maintenance work to eliminate them. As you knock out more and more gaps and improve the quality of your software, you can plot the number of gaps remaining, and there you have it – a burndown chart showing quality, not just quantity of features, in the product you are building.