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How to Use a Cumulative Flow Diagram for Project Management

As the old Chinese proverb goes, ‘to move a mountain, you need to start by taking away small stones each day.’ As a project team, your visibility is often short-term, focusing on tasks, sub-tasks, and the nitty-gritty. 

Real project progress, however, is in how these nitty-gritty aspects add up to a meaningful whole. In other words, the progress of your project is best measured cumulatively.

In this blog post, we discuss how you can use the cumulative flow diagram (CFD) to accurately and effectively demonstrate the project’s success.

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What is a Cumulative Flow Diagram?

A cumulative flow diagram shows the accumulation of progress over time. In Agile development, cumulative flow diagrams map a task/event on the vertical axis (Y-axis), with time plotted on the horizontal axis (X-axis). 

Let’s take the example of an engineering project. You can map any accumulating metric such as tasks completed, bugs resolved, or throughput. You can also track multiple metrics on the same cumulative flow diagram.

Burn up chart
Cumulative flow diagram on ClickUp where the green line indicates work completed and grey line represents what’s remaining

A typical Agile team uses cumulative flow diagrams to track three key metrics:

  • Cycle time: Time taken to complete a task, from start to finish end-to-end
  • Work in progress: Number of tasks currently under way
  • Throughput: Number of tasks a team can complete in a given period of time
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Benefits of Using a Cumulative Flow Diagram in Agile Projects

In the Kanban methodology, the cumulative flow diagram is an advanced analytical tool. It acts as a data visualization tool, providing better clarity and control. 

Like a wireframing tool that helps visualize the bare bones of an application, an ideal cumulative flow diagram shows the fundamentals of progress. Here are some key benefits of the cumulative flow diagram.

Progress monitoring: In a single-pane view, cumulative flow diagrams demonstrate the progress you’ve made and the tasks left to be completed. 

ClickUp Dashboard Image
Keep an eye on a project’s health using advanced analytics within ClickUp 

Better visibility: In a simple visual, the CFD offers clear visibility of the overall workflow, acting as a bird’s eye view of the project.

Effort estimation: Using the CFD, you can calculate the lead time for backlog items and estimate the effort/time needed to complete additional user stories.

Workload management: When you plot assigned tasks and completed tasks on the same cumulative flow diagram, you can compare the rate of progress. If the diagram is unusually skewed, it shows there is a workload management problem.

Workflow optimization: CFD helps track project distribution across process stages, enabling you to see the stability of the workflow. For example, if the diagram shows tasks accumulating at a particular stage, you might experience a disproportionate workload.

Identifying bottlenecks: When the rate of progress falls (i.e., the graph flattens), you can immediately track problems. With root-cause analysis, you can identify bottlenecks and challenges effectively. 

Process optimization: Teams can analyze trends and patterns over time to maintain continuous process improvement. 

Performance improvement: Teams can plot metrics across two different time periods on the same graph to compare performance and strategize improvement.

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How to Create a Cumulative Flow Diagram

As an essential tool in Agile project management, it helps every project manager learn how to create cumulative flow diagrams. You can do this with any of the affinity diagram tools. Here’s how.

Track work items

To begin with, input all your tasks and sub-tasks into a project management system like ClickUp. Write down detailed descriptions to ensure team members understand what is expected of them. 

Then, categorize them into folders as per your needs. Ensure that all new tasks are uploaded to ClickUp too.

Establish relationships between tasks

Even though any project is a collection of tasks, they don’t exist in isolation. Tasks are interconnected to each other, feeding into downstream activities. 

Use a mind mapping software to paint a comprehensive picture of the connections and dependencies. Check out some of the most effective mind mapping software for Mac

mind map
Task-based mind maps on ClickUp

While in the planning phase, ClickUp Mind Maps can help you create flow charts illustrating how each task relates to the others. You can also mark dependencies between tasks and team members.

Define workflow stages

Every task goes through several process stages in its life cycle. The stages of a task in Agile projects may be to-do, in-progress, done, testing, etc. Depending on the nature of the software you’re developing, you might need custom statuses, which you can add effortlessly on ClickUp.

Effectively track progress with custom statuses in ClickUp
Custom statuses on ClickUp

Log data

Now that the setup for your project is complete, it’s time to log data regularly and consistently. Use the ClickUp Whiteboard to brainstorm the data points you want to capture. Encourage the team to track these actively.

ClickUp allows you to natively record data across multiple metrics such as:

  • Start and end dates
  • Time estimates
  • Time tracking
  • Priority
  • Task status
  • User performing the task

Ensure that this data is as accurate and real-time as possible to make the cumulative flow diagram effective.

Generate the cumulative flow diagram

Use ClickUp to create color-coded cumulative flow diagrams to visualize your project’s progress. The flexible ClickUp Dashboard allows you to create the needed graphs or charts. 

Cumulative charts

cumulative flow diagram
Plotting the cumulative flow of the project on ClickUp

Build cumulative performance charts for sprints, tasks, features, bugs, etc. Choose data sources such as time period and workload type for customized reports.

Burndown charts

Burn down chart on ClickUp

Use ClickUp to track the actual progress of your project in comparison to the target. Get automated predictions for when you will complete the project if you go in the same trajectory.

Burn up charts

Burn up chart
See how much work you’ve completed and what’s left on a burn up cumulative flow diagram on ClickUp.

Velocity charts

velocity chart
Team performance velocity charts on ClickUp

Track the completion rate of your tasks over time. You can do this by day, week, sprint, month, or longer on ClickUp. Use this to spot trends around overall productivity to understand what makes your team click.

Other cumulative flow diagrams

You can track various other metrics cumulatively on ClickUp. Some of the common reports Agile teams use are as follows.

Task completed: Track how many tasks are completed by each team member.

Tasks worked on: Track the trend of tasks that any team member is working on at a given time. Users must have performed some action on the task to be considered in the report.

Time-tracked: Measure the team’s productivity with the time-tracked report. See how much time is spent on each task, how many hours team members work, etc. Use this to manage workload better. You can also use this data to track average cycle time.

Workspace points: Gamify the project by encouraging team members to clear more notifications, add/resolve more comments, work on more high-priority tasks, create ClickUp Docs for documentation, etc. See cumulative points for each member on this report.

Analyze and optimize

Analyze the cumulative flow diagram and optimize failing metrics. This might involve redefining stages, redistributing resources, or implementing new strategies to effectively manage the work-in-progress. 

Not sure what reports you need? Choose from ClickUp’s data flow diagram templates. Customize them for your needs and integrate them into your projects.

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Steer Your Project in the Right Direction with ClickUp

ClickUp’s visual project management software is designed to give you a bird’s eye view as well as visibility into the intricate everyday workings of the project with its numerous reporting features.

The cumulative flow diagram, a powerful reporting feature, visually represents high-level trends. The Kanban board allows you to dig deeper and make granular adjustments. It empowers team members to see their performance against expected results and scale accordingly. 

As a key project management technique, it creates transparency and visibility throughout the team, empowering them to help and support each other. 

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