Burndown and Burnup charts are tools that help Agile and scrum-based project managers track progress on their projects and provide an effective method of communication about project status.
The primary advantage these charts offer is the simplicity of communication. The charts contain minimal amounts of data but explore that data’s relationship in the most effective way imaginable. Simply put, Burndown and Burnup charts seek to visualize the relationship between the amount of work there is associated with a project and how likely that work is to be completed against the project deadline.
These charts are similar in their presentation but have two very distinct differences that set them apart. In terms of similarities, they are both most commonly used in Agile and scrum-based project management, both charts measure the remaining amount of work to be done with regards to the expected timeframe for completion, and both charts are relatively easy to understand. Despite all these similarities, there is a key addition to the Burnup chart that sets it apart. We’ll discuss that in a bit.
First, let’s take a look at the charts individually.
Burndown charts are very effective visual tools that demonstrate how much more work is to be completed before a project is complete. These charts can provide a snapshot of the project’s progress at any given moment. Because they are simple and easy to understand, they make for an effective way to communicate to project teams and stakeholders about the status of the project.
Burndown charts simply display the relationship between two essential pieces of information. On the vertical axis, the chart plots out the work to be completed. The increment of work can be customized depending upon the industry that the project is set in. For instance, in the technology and software industry, the task increment is most often broken down into story points. In other industries, the work is quantified by a number of specific tasks that are to be completed. The horizontal axis represents the amount of time it will take to complete the tasks. In Burndown charts, time is most frequently charted in terms of days.
A line is plotted down the chart indicating the number of tasks to be completed along the timeline. In addition to the actual number of tasks that are to be completed, a second line acts as a guide for what the ideal burndown rate should be. At any moment, the chart can indicate how much work has been completed. This provides a context for the project manager to gauge whether the team is working efficiently and is on schedule to complete the project at the agreed-upon target date.
Burnup charts invert the Burndown chart and provide an extra piece of valuable information.
The axes in a Burnup chart harbor the same data as the Burndown chart but invert the information so that instead of counting down the number of tasks along the time, they instead track then a number of completed tasks along the timeline. The focus of this chart is how much work the team has completed at any given moment rather than how much is left to be completed.
The Burnup chart also shows the ideal burn up line just as the Burndown chart does, however, there is one other valuable piece of information the Burnup chart has that Burndown charts do not. Burnup charts include a scope line that tracks when tasks were added or removed.
Burnup charts are ideal for clients who add a lot of extra work in the midst of a project’s implementation. The scope line can communicate the effects of added work in a way that is not possible with a Burndown chart.
Scope lines quantify the number of task additions and subtractions over time. Why is this important? Scope creep is common and potentially destructive to projects. Every project manager or team member has been a part of a project where the number of tasks seems to slowly creep up, whether they are beneficial to the overall goal or they are acting as unnecessary distractions.
Adding, what often seems to be valuable, tasks to a project is easy to do. While the project is in full force, the project team can often discover existing problems that could be solved in the course of the project. It is important to assess whether these added tasks are mission-critical. Will they throw the project of course? Will it extend the timeline of the project and cause the client to be dissatisfied? Obviously, these are not desirable outcomes. Generally, scope creep is considered a detriment and should be avoided whenever possible.
The scope line in a Burnup chart helps the project manager assess where tasks were added or subtracted. This data point can be reconciled with the actual burn up the line to identify where complications with the timeline exist.
Change in the course of a project is as near a certainty as taxes and death. Even with time tested and industry-proven project management methods like Scrum, Kanban, and other agile frameworks, change is something that will need to be reckoned with in course of virtually every project. But, just because it is almost always inevitable doesn’t mean that we can’t work to minimize negative side effects or even track it to see if it ends up being effective.
Scope lines provide a unique ability to see the impact of change and additions to projects in a simple, easy to understand chart. A literal direct line can be drawn connecting the data point for tasks added to the number of tasks to be completed all the way down to the number of days left until the goal.
If an agile project manager is seeking to understand how changes to the number of tasks have affected a project, the Burnup chart certainly has the advantage over the Burndown chart.
Both Burndown and Burnup charts include a straight diagonal line that represents the ideal course for task completion. This line is a guiding principle that the actual line is quite unlikely to ever sync up perfectly with it. This is a great visualization of the reality of ever-changing scope and timelines within a project. What the line does provide is a barometer for where your project is at the moment. If the actual line dips below or above the line, that can indicate either being ahead of or behind schedule (depending upon which chart you are utilizing).
Not only is this a great accountability tool for project managers, but it is an effective teaching tool for the members of the project team. The ideal line gives an unbiased and data-driven guide for where the team should be at any given moment. This data point can be used to motivate a project by celebrating the fact they are ahead of schedule or by challenging them to get back on track.
While these charts are great tools to have during the implementation of a project, they also have great value for assessing the efficiency of a project after completion. These basic visualizations help team members at every level – from frontline data entry staff all the way up to board member stakeholders – understand how productive and efficient the project was along its timeline.
The Burnup chart’s inclusion of the scope line gives great historical context to how the project plan maybe have been adjusted during implementation and what that effect was on meeting the agreed-upon deadline.
Burndown charts can serve as one of the most basic representations to stakeholders on how the project performed.
Project managers have a wealth of tools available to them when measuring efficiency. Kanban boards and the scrum process are two very common tools utilized by today’s project managers. These tools can always be supplemented! Burndown and Burnup charts are excellent additional tools for tracking and communicating. But which chart is best suited for your project? Deciding which of these charts is more beneficial to your project team comes down to two factors:
Burndown and Burnup charts can be developed in a variety of ways including pen and paper, whiteboards, and excel programs. These methods will certainly be able to communicate the project’s status but in the end, prove to be cumbersome and difficult to update. The best option is with a dedicated project management software that can be updated and shared at a moment’s notice to reflect the most current changes.
Once you decide which of these two charts could benefit you the most, you should begin to consistently factor them into your stakeholder and project team updates. By regularly updating your team on where your project is in relation to the goal, you can train everyone to think in terms of the overall team goal. Putting hard numbers on tasks to be completed and the number of days to get it done can be very motivational.
Burndown and Burnup charts are very flexible as well. The can be used alongside any agile project management framework. Also, while they provide valuable, in the moment data, they can also give a unique global view of how the project progressed during its lifespan. Not only that, but it is very simple and easy to understand. When presenting the wrap up of a project, one or both of these charts would make an excellent addition.
Good agile project managers seek to keep their team and stakeholders in the loop about progress in a consistent and transparent manner and the world of project management is flush with tools that help them achieve that. While these project managers live in the world of planning, implementing, and tracking, not everyone they are communicating with does. These stakeholders may not be acquainted with the industry terminology and shortcuts that are often used in project management. Terms like Scrum, Kanban, agile, case management, and scaled agile framework are just a handful of often used terms that can be confusing for individuals who don’t live in the project management world. This disparity in experience and terminology can be overcome with the use of simple, effective tools like Burndown and Burnup charts. They breakdown the simplest aspects of project efficiency and timeliness in a single line.
The next time you need to motivate your team, coach them up, or communicate project status to stakeholders, you should strongly consider implementing Burndown and Burnup charts.
July 06, 2020