September 20, 2021

All you need to know about Sprint Burndown Chart

Project Management Reporting
BigPicture Team

Any Scrum without a working product at the end of a sprint is a failed Scrum – Jeff Sutherland.

People tend to think in images and better understand visualized information. That’s why there are so many bar charts and pie charts in presentations. The Sprint Burndown Chart is one of the most useful visual aids in agile management. It is a helpful tool to present the amount of done and remaining work for a given sprint

Last time, we presented how to prepare for Progam Increment (PI) Planning event. Program Increment lasts around 8 to 12 weeks. It consists of Sprints – smaller, team-only timeboxes. Those last 2 to 4 weeks. How to organize a sprint to meet deadlines and do as much work as possible? With Sprint Burndown Chart, of course. Let’s take a look at this tool. 

What is a burndown chart?

A burndown chart is a visual representation of the amount of work done and the time left to the end of the sprint. The diagram usually consists of two axes: X (horizontal) and Y (vertical).  The latter features Effort (expressed in Story Points, man-hours, or whatever units you choose) while the former is virtually a timeline. It’s usually updated after each day to accurately monitor progress and spot delays. 

What is the purpose of the burndown chart?

According to Atlassian, the purpose of the burndown chart is to show the amount of work that has been completed in an epic or sprint and the total work remaining. Burndown charts are used to predict the team’s likelihood of completing their work in the time available. 

What are the benefits of using Burndown Charts?

The main advantages of the sprint burndown chart are: 

  • visual representation of team progress, 
  • predictability of the amount of work to be accomplished in a given sprint, 
  • the ability to observe the influence of tasks added during the sprint on teams’ workload and performance, 
  • easier estimation of the number of sprints needed to fulfil one epic.

Who is responsible for the sprint burndown chart?

As usual, within the Agile world – that depends. Often the Scrum Master is a person that can create and update the sprint burndown chart within the event. However, the Scrum Master can pass this responsibility to the team so that the members can update it by themselves. Moreover, the Jira chart updates automatically, meaning that we only need to remember updating our tickets. 

How to create a sprint burndown chart?

To create this chart, we need one important element: estimates. Notably, the unit we want to estimate must be the same one the team is using. Later, we can close it within four steps.

4 steps to creating a Sprint Burndown Chart 

  1. Estimate the amount of work for the Sprint. 
  2. Roughly calculate the time the teams need to finish story points or tasks. 
  3. Evaluate the goal you and your teams want to achieve during the Sprint – how many tasks the teams will finish or how many Story Points they’ll get. 
  4. Check the progress every day and update the estimates based on team performance. 

Why are estimates needed to build the Burndown Chart?

You need relevant units to measure the team’s progress and velocity in. As Atlassian highlights, if the team is consistent with its velocity, it’s helpful to determine how much work they can take on in each sprint, meaning sprint planning can be more straightforward and intuitive.

Three people looking at the Sprint burndown chart.

Are there any disadvantages of using Story points as burn-down measurement units?

Story points help with estimating the amount of work that your team can do within a given time. Yet, there are some disadvantages to using Story Point as an estimate. Some authors point out that depending on your team’s estimation scale, velocity, and development routine, you might not see value daily.

Also, story points are chunked together, so they turn up all at once for each story. The biggest bummer is that Stories are counted as completed when verified and accepted by the Product Owner. This extra step may create possible delays that will be visible on the sprint burndown chart. 

Burndown Chart metrics – Agile style

As an approach, Agile uses a specific set of metrics to track the progress of your work but also improve your performance and team’s performance in the long run. It’s a way to focus on completing tasks and better communication with each interested party. 

Aside from Burndown Chart, the other Agile metrics include: 

  • Velocity – a key Agile metric. It measures how much work was completed during a fixed period.
  • Lead time – covers each of the different processes for delivering a product. It starts when a story enters the backlog and ends when completed in a Sprint and shipped to the client.
  • Throughput – measures how many items have been executed within a certain period, such as one Sprint – it’s an overview of the number of story points processed within one iteration.
  • Net Promoter Score is an essential indicator for customers’ satisfaction with your products, often in a survey. 

What does a Burndown chart represent?

The Burndown chart represents the probability of completing the tasks within one Sprint. As mentioned above, it’s a visual representation of how much work is done during the time available. By gathering data from more than one sprint, you can estimate the time team needs to finish specific tasks or Story. 

How to read the sprint burndown chart?

As the name suggests, it burns down, meaning that the chart must decline from left to right. Nevertheless, some teams decide to use a sprint burnup chart that works similarly, but instead of showing the progress, it focuses on how the work goes during the sprint. 

Burndown Chart Example

If you need a Sprint Burndown Chart for yourself, feel free to use our example: 

Sprint burndown chart example.

When to update the sprint burndown chart?

Using Jira properly, the sprint burndown chart updates itself automatically, and we can see the progress neatly presented on a chart. But at the end of each sprint, the Scrum Master (or another person responsible) should release the chart. It may be useful for Sprint Review, maybe Retrospective, so every interested party could see the progress during Sprint, potential bumps over the road, the velocity of work, and several tasks added during the Sprint. 

As seen, the sprint burndown chart can be a useful graphic tool for every team that wants within the Agile approach. Its ability to visualize the progress, velocity and even capacity of done work helps within the one sprint and helps to prepare better Sprints in the future. No wonder it’s deemed as one of the essential tools in the Agile development landscape.