Understanding Burndown Chart Scrum : The Concept, Applications, and How to Create a Chart

Humanity is a visually-oriented species. Many of us respond better to visual stimuli such as pictures, graphs, and illustrations, and we learn or remember more this way. For example, articles are more effective when they include charts or images to help reinforce the piece’s main point and keep the reader’s interest. 

This sight-related characteristic figures in the development and use of burndown charts in Scrum. But what exactly is a burndown chart, anyway? Why are they needed? Who makes them?

For the answer to these and other burndown questions, read on. You will soon realize how essential burndown charts are to the whole Scrum process.

What is a Burndown Chart and Burndown Chart Scrum?

A burndown chart is an Agile tool, a graphic representation of how fast the team works through the client’s user stories. It’s a mandatory tool for monitoring Scrum projects, showing the amount of work left to do versus how much time is left. Reminder: Sprints are what Scrum teams call the amount of time allocated to complete the designated assignment.

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The chart’s horizontal axis shows the days within a Sprint, and the vertical axis represents the estimated remaining effort-hours. Not every organization labels the x and y-axis in the same way — there is no exact terminology. For instance, teams refer to the vertical axis as “outstanding work,” “remaining effort,” “estimated effort hours remaining,” or “story points.” Similarly, the horizontal axis is known as “sprints,” “days within a sprint,” or even just an ascending numerical value of days.

The burndown chart Scrum should be updated daily to show the team the total estimated effort left across all the remaining uncompleted tasks. Ideally, the chart slopes downwards as the Sprint progresses and across completed Story Points. If the

Although Scrum professionals created the burndown chart for Agile-based projects, the burndown chart Scrum works for any project that relies on measuring progress over a given period. If the burndown line isn’t tracking downwards by the middle of the Sprint, there’s trouble, and the team needs to implement emergency solutions.

Incidentally, never confuse a burndown chart with a Scrum board. Scrum boards are designated wall spaces or whiteboards divided into three columns: “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done.” Sprints, often written on sticky notes, are placed in the corresponding columns. The Scrum board shows each team member's current Sprint progress and helps the team visualize their progress, showing what remains to be done instead of what team members are currently working on.

Like Sprint burndown charts, Scrum boards are an important part of the Agile process.

What is the Purpose of a Sprint Burndown Chart?

As mentioned earlier, burndown charts help Agile teams keep track of their progress and present the information in an easy-to-read visual format. But we need to take a closer look at the chart’s purpose. What are the benefits of a burndown chart Scrum, specifically?

In short, Sprint burndown charts serve the following purposes:

  • Keeps the development team running on schedule
  • Compares the planned works versus the team’s progress
  • Monitors the project’s scope creep
  • Predicts the project completion time

Sprint burndown charts offer specific benefits like:

  • Showing the daily effort. This benefit mitigates the risk and helps the team address problems as they occur instead of waiting until the end of the project.
  • Encourages communication within the team by providing visibility of the project’s current daily status. Team members have a constantly updated status report.
  • Perfects the planning and tracking processes and facilitates breaking the project down into tasks.
  • Teams can look at past burndown charts and see how well they have worked together in the overall Sprint. This progress reflects the commitment and dedication of the team members.
  • The burndown chart motivates team members, encouraging them with visual evidence of their progress.
  • The chart keeps the customer in the loop, too. The team doesn’t have to worry about spending time and effort putting together status reports.

Things gradually evolve (or devolve) slowly in so many aspects of our lives that they often escape notice. Many times, our bank balances, our weight, or the amount of time we waste on social media, to name a few things, slowly grow or shrink. However, we never realize how bad things have gotten until one day we happen to look at the matter in question and realize that things slowly and insidiously went off the rails.

Sprint burndown charts help teams avoid this pitfall. By keeping an ongoing, constantly updated record of Sprint progress versus the allocated time, teams can stay informed of how well they’re doing. If time is starting to slip away from them, they get a timely warning instead of a rude awakening.

Who Creates Burndown Charts?

So, who manages these magnificent, valuable Agile resources that save teams from wallowing in non-productivity? Well, it depends on who you ask. Some sources say that the product owner creates the burndown chart Scrum, while others say the Scrum Master has the honors.

Regardless of who creates the chart, each member of the development team's responsibility is to update it.

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Burndown Chart Scrum Creation Steps

Here are the steps involved in putting together a burndown chart.

  • Step 1. Estimate Your Work.

The team examines the backlog, decides what work has to be done, and estimates how much of the work they can complete. This step also includes determining your estimation statistic (days, months, tasks, story points).

  • Step 2. Estimate Your Remaining Time.

Teams measure time in sprints, hours, days, weeks, etc.

  • Step 3. Estimate the Team’s Ideal Effort.

This effort is your ideal baseline, using the available hours throughout the Sprint. For example, 120 hours over 12 days equals 10 hours a day. Mark a starting point at the top of the work remaining line (the vertical axis). This starting point represents the total amount of work that needs to be finished. Then mark a point to the right of the time remaining line (the horizontal axis), showing where the team estimates when they will complete all the work. Finally, draw a straight line from the beginning point to the end. This represents the ideal burndown slope, provided the work is done on time.

  • Step 4. Track the Team’s Daily Progress.

Team members plot and update the daily progress, showing the actual effort compared to the ideal effort estimation. If everything goes to plan, both lines should line up. If the daily progress line runs below the ideal estimation line, the team is ahead of schedule. However, if the daily line runs above the estimation line, the team is falling behind schedule.

Burndown Chart Scrum Example

Here is a sample burndown chart obtained from the ultimate Scrum resource, Scrum-institute.org. This example is known as a simple burndown chart. Note that “velocity” refers to the Scrum team’s rate of progress.

However, in the course of a project, Scrum product backlog entries change. New stories get added, old stories change or even be removed. The simple burndown chart doesn’t accurately reflect these changes, but the following burndown bar graph, also provided by the Scrum Institute, fills the role nicely.

Each bar’s size represents the total amount of work left to do at the beginning of each Sprint. The team’s velocity is subtracted from the top, and Scope changes will adjust the bottom of the bar. Note that the bars can sometimes grow, showing that new points have been added on.

Common Burndown Chart Scrum Mistakes

Although burndown charts are an extremely valuable resource, it comes with its pitfalls. Scrum teams commit three classic errors, throwing off the project's rhythm and causing unnecessary delays.

  • Forgetting to update the remaining time, which compromises the accuracy of the chart.
  • Incorrectly plotting the “effort remaining” and the “effort spent” resulting in confusion and erroneous reports.
  • Attempting to chart a larger task than the available resources needed to accomplish it, making project tracking more difficult.

Remember that a burndown chart (or any other chart, for that matter) is only as good as the information plugged into it. It’s another manifestation of GIGO (Garbage In/Garbage Out).

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