The goal behind Agile and Scrum is explicitly to deliver iterations of software rapidly. The development team should be building, testing, deploying, and continuing that flow from one Sprint to the next. How can you measure progress, though? How do you know how well you are doing against team expectations? Two mechanisms within Agile that can help are the burndown and burnup charts. These are two essential tools development teams utilize to track and communicate progress on projects internally, as well as externally to stakeholders.
The Concept of the Charts
The concept behind both the burnup and burndown charts is to show progress completed, or work remaining, over a defined period. The set period will be the Sprint cycle, likely two weeks. The two charts are commonly used with Agile and in other Scrum software project management organizations.
Defining a Burndown Chart
We typically use the burndown chart internally with the team - a visual tool to help them gauge their progress in completing a Sprint. However, it’s not a great tool to use with stakeholders. They tend to use it to beat up the team.
The burndown chart will be a measure of what is remaining throughout a Sprint. It is a chart that horizontally tracks progress. You start at the top left corner of the chart, at the top of the Y-axis. At this point, you have all User Story points yet to be completed in the Sprint. As you complete User Story points, over a set period, you begin to, well... burn down.
If one day has gone by, you move one day to the right on the X-axis, and drop down on the Y-axis to show how many points remain. You continue to do this throughout the Sprint, with the goal being to show incremental, steady progress over the Sprint, and to have no User Story points remaining to complete at the end.
The burndown chart is great data for retrospectives. If the burndown is going up, then work is being added in the Sprint. If it’s flat and then drops at the end of the Sprint, your User Stories may be too big. In any case, it tells a story about the Sprint, which the team can dive into the causes in the retro.
Looking at a BurnUp Chart
A burnup chart is very similar; it’s used to show how many story points are in the product backlog versus how many we’ve completed to date, as well as how much work remains in the project. The burnup chart is helpful to share with the stakeholders, but not at the Sprint level.
In the burnup chart, you start at the bottom left corner, where the X and Y axis meet. You then begin to track time on the X-axis and track progress on the Y axis, moving in an upward diagonal direction as you complete User Story points. The goal should be, by the end of the Sprint, you are at the top right corner of the chart with all User Story points completed. You can also use the burnup chart to track functionality versus User Story points.
The Charts Work Together
You can have a burndown and burnup chart on the same project. The burndown chart may not make it look like a team made a lot of progress at the Sprint’s mid-point, especially if it was working through a large User Story. The burnup chart can compliment this, showing more of the complete picture. The burnup chart can also track scope, if things were added or removed along the way, to help you gain more insight into the burndown chart and what it shows.
The burndown and burn up chart are powerful tools to use in Agile and Scrum specifically. When you make use of metrics tracking such as these, you gain better insight into what has already been completed, as well as what is still outstanding. You can use that knowledge to help improve the team, and also show how the development team gains efficiency the more mature they become.