How to Use Cumulative Flow Diagrams to Optimize Your Workflow

Want to learn about cumulative flow diagrams and understand how to use them?

A cumulative flow diagram is one of the simplest tools to quickly track your project’s progress and identify potential bottlenecks.

In this blog post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about cumulative flow charts to help you use them effectively. We will also explain how to use a software to build cumulative flow charts / diagrams.

Let’s get started.

What Is a Cumulative Flow Diagram?

A cumulative flow diagram (CFD)  is one of the most useful tools in Agile project management

It highlights:

  • Your project progress
  • Your total backlog items (project scope)
  • Your sprints
  • Any bottlenecks that are affecting your progress

Most Agile and Kanban project managers use it to quickly visualize how their projects are progressing and identify potential issues.

How Do You Read a Cumulative Flow Diagram?

The cumulative flow diagram highlights your project time frame along the X-axis. The start point of your project is to the left of the graph while the endpoint is towards the right. Your user stories are highlighted on the Y-axis.

Here’s an example of a cumulative flow diagram:

cumulative flow diagram

Let’s break down what it contains:

A. User stories (Y-Axis)

Your user stories are highlighted on the Y-axis.

What are user stories?

User stories are the number of tasks you have in your product backlog. It’s all the tasks and assignments you have to complete before finishing up a project.

Due to scope increases, user stories can increase as a project moves along.

For example, if your customers decide that they want an additional feature mid-way through your progress, your project scope (user stories) will increase.

B. Time frame (X-Axis)

The cumulative flow diagram also highlights your project time frame along the X-axis. The start point of your project is to the left of the graph while the end point is towards the right.

This axis is useful as it’ll help you chart your project progress across each sprint and identify if any issues occurred.

For example, if a manager or scrum master notices that their progress trajectory suddenly dipped in sprint #3, they can take a closer look to identify what happened during that time period.

woman saying something went wrong

C. Project scope (grey area)

Your project scope is the grey area of the graph. It highlights all the user stories you’ll have to attempt in order to finish a project.

Due to scope creep and additional user feedback, this area may increase upwards as your project moves along.

When there’s no grey area left on your chart, it means that you’ve tackled all your user stories and your project is complete.

D. Work-in-progress items (blue area)

The blue area of the graph depicts the user stories that you’re currently working on, but haven’t finished yet.

Ideally, this area should never be too large.


If it’s too large, it can mean that:

You’ve attempted too many user stories at once or that you’ve faced a problem that’s stalling the completion of a project stage.

If you see that your work in progress area suddenly flattens out, it’s an immediate sign that your workflow has run into some problems.

E. Completed items (green area)

The green area of the graph highlights the user stories you’ve completed.

Ideally, your curve should steadily increase as your project moves along. This is a sign that your project is progressing as expected and you’re tackling user stories well.

If this green area suddenly flattens out, it’s a sign that there’s a bottleneck interfering with your workflow. This shows you that your exit rate (task completion) is lower than your entry rate (tasks attempted).

In addition to those five elements of the CFD, there are two more concepts you’ll need to understand:

  1. Lead time

Lead time refers to the time it takes a story to progress from unattended to completed. You can calculate a story’s lead time by measuring the horizontal distance between the start point of your diagram to when it was finished (when the green curve starts for that story).

  1. Cycle time

Cycle time refers to the time it takes you to complete a user story from the time you started work on it. You can calculate cycle time by measuring the horizontal distance between the blue and green curve for that particular story.

Learn more about the differences between cycle time and lead time.

How Does a Cumulative Flow Diagram Help Agile Project Management?

Cumulative flow diagrams are an essential part of carrying out the Agile and Kanban method.

A. Monitor project progress

As cumulative flow diagrams monitor your project progress, you can evaluate how well your project is moving. All you need is a quick look at your CFD to see if your completed work area is steadily increasing to determine if things are on track or not.

Additionally, as your CFD keeps track of scope increases, you’ll be better placed to understand why your project may be taking longer than expected.

B. Estimate completion times

A product owner or scrum master can use a CFD to calculate the lead time for each backlog item. 

This will help you accurately estimate the potential time frame required to incorporate additional user stories.

C. Identify bottlenecks and issues

Cumulative flow charts also help you easily identify bottlenecks and issues that are slowing down your workflow.

For example, if your average cycle time is increasing as a project progresses, it’s a sign that your work cycle is slowing down. This is going to help you step in immediately and take stock of what went wrong.

By carefully monitoring your cumulative flow diagram, you’ll be able to quickly spot a problem with a project stage and intervene effectively.

Bonus: Diagram examples & templates!

Cumulative Flow Charts in Agile Project Management Software

The efficiently manage your workflow, you need the best software. What is the best cumulative flow chart software?

Cumulative flow charts are an essential part of the Agile process. ClickUp is the best Agile tool to help you track project progress, manage your sprints, and schedule your product and sprint backlog.

But they’re not all you need to manage Agile development.

If you want to adopt the Agile process, you’ll need to have the right Agile project management tool.

A good Agile tool is going to help you:

  • Track project progress
  • Manage your sprints
  • Schedule your product and sprint backlog

Luckily, ClickUp does all of this.

Whether you’re using Agile, Scrum, Lean Kanban, or any other method, ClickUp can handle it all!

Here’s a close look at some of ClickUp’s key features: 

1. Cumulative flow chart

ClickUp comes with powerful cumulative flow diagrams to help you monitor your project progress easily.

Unlike other charts, ClickUp’s cumulative flow diagram also color-codes your projects based on their status.

How does this help?

This makes it easier to use this chart to see how tasks are progressing and identify a project problem quickly!

cumulative flow diagram

However, cumulative flow diagrams aren’t all that ClickUp offers you.

You can build a detailed ClickUp Dashboard for high-level visual overviews of your projects. And unlike other tools like JIRA, ClickUp’s visualizations are super easy to understand!

Widgets are the building blocks of each Dashboard and give you insights into metrics like:

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

You can even customize:

  • The data source of each widget: such as data from sprint lists or custom fields
  • The time period: such as a rolling 30 day period or a fixed range
  • The workload type: such as sprint capacity based on a story points

Here’s a quick look at some of the other widgets you can add:

A. Burndown Charts

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

Unlike other burndown charts, ClickUp’s burndown charts come with a projected progress line. This line highlights what your project progress will look like if your project continues at the same rate. This way, you can determine if you’ll meet your deadlines if you continue at the same progress rate!

ClickUp’s burndowns are also color-coded to make them easier to measure:

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

B. Burnup Chart

ClickUp’s burnup chart helps you view remaining tasks against what you’ve already completed. Just look at your burnup chart to see what you’ve achieved to motivate them to the finish line!

man saying we're getting closer and closer

ClickUp’s burn up charts are also color-coded with:

  • A green line highlighting what you’ve completed
  • A grey line highlighting what’s remaining
burnup chart

C. Velocity Chart

A velocity chart helps you determine the completion rate of your tasks. 

In this chart, tasks are broken down into weekly intervals, and their average velocity is then displayed. You can choose to view your team’s velocity over a time period of 1, 2, 3, 6, and 12 months.

velocity chart in ClickUp

The chart also allows you to use metrics like tasks, story points and time estimates as units of velocity for added customization.

2. Gantt charts

ClickUp’s Gantt charts are the perfect way to instantly take stock of your Agile project’s progress. This chart can track all your project dependencies – making it easy to monitor them all at once.

Gantt chart in ClickUp

Unlike other Gantt charts, ClickUp’s Gantt charts come with tons of automation like:

  • Automatically readjusting task dependencies whenever scheduling changes are made
  • Automatically calculating your progress percentage based on completed tasks vs. total tasks
  • Automatically comparing your current project progress against your expected progress
  • Estimating your critical path to identify the most important tasks to achieve your goals

3. Sprint lists

You can’t manage Agile development without a sprint list, right?

ClickUp can easily add checklists to all your Agile projects, tasks and subtasks. This way, you can create powerful sprint lists that break down the deliverables for the next sprint release. Once you’re done with the tasks, you can check these items off and focus on your next user stories.

You can even add story points to each list to keep track of your sprint backlog items. This makes it perfect for any scrum master looking to update their team during their meetings.

lists grouped by status showing Sprint and Backlog

4. Comprehensive reports

ClickUp doubles up as a powerful Kanban tool with its powerful visual reporting capabilities. Here’s a closer look at the metrics they track:

A. Task Completed Report

This report displays the tasks completed by each team member

B. Worked On Report

This report highlights the tasks each user has been active in

Note – to be active in a task, the user must have performed some action on the task

C. Workspace Points Report

This report gamifies Agile development to motivate your team to finish more tasks

This report highlights:

  • Cleared Notifications – The number of notifications cleared
  • Comments added – The number of comments added to tasks
  • Resolved – The number of resolved comments
  • Completed – The number of tasks completed and closed
  • Worked on – The number of tasks that a user has been a part of
  • Total – The sum of all of the numbers from each column

D. Who’s Behind Report

This report reveals which team members have unfinished or ‘work in progress’ tasks. It helps you identify which development team member needs to step up their efforts.

E. Time Tracked Report

This report gives you detailed time tracking insights into your team’s activities.

However, these aren’t all the features of this tool!

You can even access unique ClickUp features like:

  • Assigned Comments – to quickly assign tasks to team members
  • Custom Statuses – to keep track of each project stage easily
  • Priorities – to help you tackle the most important task and process first
  • Dependencies – to help your team complete the sprint backlog in the right order
  • Docs – to create a detailed resource of project and company-related data
  • Multiple Views – to help you adapt to different Agile planning processes. 


Cumulative flow diagrams are one of the easiest ways to keep track of your project’s progress to ensure that things progress smoothly.

However, if there’s one thing that’s clear from this blog post, it’s that you can’t manage an entire Agile project with just a cumulative flow diagram.

boy saying okay then what

What you need an all-in-one Agile project management tool to take care of your backlog, sprints and teams!

And since ClickUp has all the features you’ll ever need, why not sign up for free today?

Questions? Comments? Visit our Help Center for support.

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