Burndown Charts: What They Are And How To Use Them

Want to learn about burndown charts and understand how to use them?

A burndown chart is one of the easiest tools to track your project’s progress and ensure that things are going as planned.

In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about burndown charts to help you use them effectively. 

Let’s get started.

What Is A Burndown Chart?

A burndown chart is used by Agile project managers to keep track of:

  • How much work they have left in a project
  • The time remaining to complete that work

It’s a useful way to instantly track your project progress and the time remaining to work on your product backlog (the tasks you have left). This makes it easy to gauge if things are going according to plan and determine if you’ll be able to meet your goal in time.

There are largely two kinds of burndown charts used in the Agile Scrum methodology:

  • Sprint burndown – a sprint burndown chart is used to track the amount of remaining work in a specific sprint 
  • Product burndown – a product burndown chart is used to track the amount of work remaining in the entire project

How Do You Read A Burndown Chart?

A burndown chart is a graphical representation of work remaining against the time you’ve set aside for your sprint.

Here’s what a burndown graph looks like:

february burndown chart in clickup
  • The quantity of remaining work is represented on the vertical axis (y axis)
  • The time you’ve set aside for your sprint is presented on the horizontal axis (x axis)

The starting point of the project is at the top-left corner of the burndown chart, while the project end point is located at the bottom-right.

In addition to the axes, there are two lines present:

  • The ideal work remaining line (the red line in the graph)
  • The actual work remaining line (the blue line in the graph)

Here’s a breakdown of both these lines in a burndown report:

1. Ideal Work Remaining Line

This is a straight line connecting the project’s start point to its end point

This line is the sum of the scope estimation you’ve made during the sprint planning stage.

It’s an estimate of how your project should ideally progress if everything goes to plan.

Project managers use the ideal work remaining line as a baseline to check if things are going according to plan. For example, if your actual work line trends above your ideal line, you are falling behind. However, if your actual line is below your ideal line, you’ll finish faster than expected. The goal is to match up with the ideal line to keep a sustainable pace for the team.

Note:  Story poins are a measure of the effort you’ll need to complete your project tasks. Each team has their own way of setting story point estimates in a way that works for them. However, the trend is to use Fibonacci sequence numbers (1,2,3,5..) to decide the story points for a more accurate estimation of your ideal work line. 

2. Actual Work Remaining Line

This line represents the actual work remaining in your project or sprint. While the start and end points of the actual and ideal work lines are the same, their trajectory usually varies in between.

Why?

As the rate of task completion can vary on a day-to-day basis, your actual effort line can fluctuate above and below your ideal line:

burndown chart in clickup dashboard

Here’s how to compare the ideal and actual work lines:

  • When your actual work line is below your ideal work line, it means that there is less work left than expected and you’re ahead of schedule
  • When your actual work line is above your ideal work line, it means that there is more work left than expected and you’re behind schedule.

This way, it’s easy for a product owner to instantly check if things are progressing as expected and if any changes need to be made.

How Do Burndown Charts Differ From Burnup Charts

Burndown graphs and burnup charts are both essential to manage your work effectively. However, they aren’t the same thing.

Here’s how they differ in:

A. What They Are

  • A burn down chart helps you track and manage the amount of work remaining in a project
  • A burn up chart shows you how much work you’ve already completed

B. What They’re Used For

  • A burn down chart is used by project managers to identify if things are progressing as expected and identifying the work and time left
  • A burnup chart a great way to motivate your development team by showing them how much they’ve already accomplished in a project

How To Use Burndown Charts In The Agile Scrum Methodology

Burndown charts are an integral part of the Agile methodology.

Here’s why:

It helps the team track a project’s progress every day to help determine if things are going according to plan. For example, if your actual work line is above your ideal work line, your team is going to have to increase their effort to get more work done quickly. 

Additionally, many teams use Sprint burndown charts to track a sprint’s progress every day. This micro-level tracking is essential when you have to include new user stories and meet an upcoming milestone quickly.

Lastly, as your release burndown chart is updated every day, they’re great for adapting to the changing nature of each sprint release. As the Agile methodology is all about iterative development based on customer feedback, your charts will help you manage deadlines even as you incorporate new user stories.

The 3 Key Benefits Of Using Burndown Charts

A recent case study found that nearly 50% of employed Americans feel burnt out, much of which can be attributed to simply in efficiencies at work and not having the necessary tools to complete their jobs. Burndown charts are a great way to avoid employee burn out!

Here are three key benefits of using burndown charts:

1. Can Track Progress Quickly

This is the clearest benefit of a burndown chart. 

Since a burndown chart shows how much work is left, all a product owner needs is a quick glance at the product burndown to determine if you’re behind schedule or not. It’s a simple way to take stock of unresolved backlog tasks and the time remaining in an instant.

2. Can Identify Issues Before They Become Problems

As your burndown graph is updated every day, a product owner can identify any project hiccups immediately. Your team can identify product issues during their scrum meetings and quickly address them to ensure that they don’t become large-scale problems.

phew gif

3. They’re Easy To Understand

Another great thing about burndown charts is that they’re easy to understand. Unlike any other graph or chart, burndown charts don’t track hundreds of different things.

All they do is compare your current progress vs. your expected progress. This makes this graph super simple to use – making it easier for your entire team to understand them.

The Limitations Of Burndown Charts

While burndown charts are incredibly helpful, they’re not perfect. 

Here are two of its limitations:

1. It Relies On Accurate Sprint Planning

Remember, the ideal work remaining line is based on how you estimated a project’s progress. It’s this estimation that’s going to be the basis of determining whether your project is on track or not.

If your sprint planning is inaccurate, your burndown chart won’t be reflecting accurate data.

For example, if you’ve under estimated the time requirements, you’re going to constantly be behind schedule – irrespective of the effort you put in. However, if you’ve over estimated it, your team will feel like they’re ahead of schedule, even if that isn’t really the case.

ive made a huge mistake arrested development gif

2. Doesn’t Take Backlog Items Into Account

A burndown chart only reflects story points that you’ve added; it doesn’t reflect scope creep because of added backlog items

That’s why it can be difficult to determine if burndown chart changes are:

  • Solely due to story points being added or subtracted
  • Due to actual project progress by completing your product backlog items

Remember, if your story point estimates don’t correlate with changes to your scope and backlog items, you could have an inaccurate breakdown of project progress. 

For example, you can keep completing story points on your burndown chart, but that won’t translate into progress if your backlog is constantly increasing too!

Additionally, the simple burndown chart doesn’t reflect which product backlog items have been completed. Therefore, your team could be completing tasks, but it might not be the right ones. 

i never thought of it that way gif

However, even with these drawbacks, burndown charts are an absolute must for anyone looking to implement Agile project management! All you need is the right tool to keep track of everything:

How To Use ClickUp’s Burndown Chart and Dashboard

ClickUp lets you create powerful burndown charts to help you keep up with your project’s progress.

Unlike some other burndown charts, ClickUp’s burndowns come with a projected progress line. This line highlights what your project progress will look like if you continue at the same burn rate. This way, you can easily determine how things will be if you continue like this!

For easier identification, ClickUp’s burndowns are color-coded:

  • Your target line is a red dotted line
  • Your actual progress is a blue line
  • Your project progress is a yellow dotted line
november burndown chart in clickup

However, burndown charts aren’t the only graphical data that ClickUp gives you.

ClickUp lets you create a detailed dash board for high-level overviews of what’s going on with your projects.

Widgets are the building blocks of each dash board and give you all the customizability you need for valuable metrics on:

  • Sprints
  • Docs
  • Tables
  • Conversations
  • And more!

You can even customize:

  • The source of these widgets: such as data from a sprint list or from custom fields
  • The time period used: such as a rolling 30 day time period or a fixed date range
  • The workload type: such as sprint capacity based on a time estimation or story points
team project dashboard in clickup

Here’s a quick look at some of the widgets you can add to your ClickUp Dashboard:

A. ClickUp’s Velocity Charts

Add a velocity graph to your dashboard to help you determine the completion rate of your tasks. In this bar chart, project tasks are broken down into weekly and bi-weekly intervals with their average velocity displayed.

velocity chart in clickup

B. ClickUp’s Burn up Charts

Add a burn up chart to your dashboard to help you see remaining tasks against what you’ve already completed. It’s a great way to show your team what they’ve achieved and motivate them to your goal.

burn up chart in clickup

C. ClickUp’s Cumulative Flow Diagram

Add a cumulative flow diagram to your dashboard to visualize and track project progress over a time period. ClickUp’s cumulative flow diagram also color-codes your projects based on their status.

How does this help?

It makes it easier to use this flow diagram to see how tasks are progressing and identify issues quickly!

cumulative flow chart in clickup

Conclusion

Burndown charts are one of the easiest ways to quickly track your project’s progress to keep things on track. They’re an essential part of Agile project management and will help you manage your sprints and projects effectively. 

And as you can’t manage Agile projects without the right tool, why not download ClickUp today?

It has all you need to keep track of your burndowns, sprints and deliverables to help you stay on top of everything!

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