August 13, 2023

Agile Essentials: What is a Burndown Chart?

Introduction to Burndown Charts

One of the pivotal components of Agile methodology is the use of burndown charts. But what exactly is a burndown chart?

A burndown chart, in essence, is a visual representation of work left to do versus time. It offers a dynamic snapshot of the project's progress and provides insights into potential issues before they become major challenges.

The versatility of burndown charts grants them the potential to be used at different levels of project management – from monitoring the progress of the entire project to analyzing the work done by individual teams.

When using a burndown chart, the vertical axis represents the amount of work remaining, while the horizontal axis represents time. The chart starts with the total amount of work to be done at the beginning of the project and shows a downward trend as work is completed over time. This downward trend indicates progress towards the project's completion.

The Concept of a Burndown Chart

A burndown chart is a powerful tool that provides a visual representation of the project's progress. It allows project managers and teams to track their work and make data-driven decisions to ensure successful project completion.

By regularly updating the burndown chart, teams can identify any deviations from the planned work schedule and take appropriate actions to address them. For example, if the chart shows that the work is not being completed as expected, the team can analyze the reasons behind the delay and make necessary adjustments to get back on track.

Furthermore, burndown charts can help teams identify bottlenecks or areas where work is taking longer than anticipated. This allows for early intervention and problem-solving, preventing delays and ensuring timely project delivery.

The Origin and Evolution of Burndown Charts

Burndown charts were not always a part of Agile. They were derived from the field of manufacturing and incorporated into Agile due to their effectiveness in tracking work completion against planned work schedules.

The concept of burndown charts can be traced back to the lean manufacturing principles of Toyota's production system. In the manufacturing context, burndown charts were used to track the consumption of materials and the progress of production on the shop floor.

Throughout the evolution of Agile methodology, the burndown chart has gained prominence due to its simplicity and practicality. It quickly provides a clear, visual representation of how rapidly a team is working through its task list.

Initially, burndown charts were primarily used in software development projects, but their benefits soon became evident in various other industries and domains. Today, they are widely adopted by Agile teams across different sectors, including marketing, finance, and healthcare.

As Agile methodologies continue to evolve, so do burndown charts. With the advent of digital tools and project management software, burndown charts can now be automatically generated and updated in real-time, allowing for more accurate tracking and analysis of project progress.

In conclusion, burndown charts are a valuable tool in Agile project management. They provide a visual representation of work remaining versus time, enabling teams to monitor progress, identify potential issues, and make data-driven decisions to ensure successful project completion.

Components of a Burndown Chart

A standard burndown chart consists of three primary components: Time, Work Remaining, and an Ideal Work Trend Line.

A burndown chart is a powerful tool used in Agile project management to track the progress of work being completed over time. It provides a visual representation of the amount of work remaining and helps the team stay on track towards their goals. Let's dive deeper into the components of a burndown chart:


On a burndown chart, the horizontal axis commonly represents time. The units of time can vary depending on the project's scope and the team's preference. For example, if the project is divided into iterations or sprints, each iteration or sprint can be represented as a unit of time on the chart. Alternatively, if the project is more fluid, the chart can represent days or weeks. The time axis allows the team to track the progress of work over a specific period.

By visualizing time on the burndown chart, the team can easily identify any patterns or trends in the rate of work completion. This helps them make informed decisions and adjust their strategies if necessary.

Work Remaining

The vertical axis on the burndown chart represents the amount of work remaining. This component allows the team to see the overall workload at any given point in time. The units used to quantify the work remaining can vary, but two common methods are effort hours and story points.

Effort hours refer to the estimated number of hours required to complete a task or a set of tasks. This approach is useful when the team has a good understanding of the effort required for each piece of work. On the other hand, story points are a relative measure of complexity and effort. They allow the team to compare the size and difficulty of different tasks without focusing on specific time estimates. Story points are particularly useful when the team is working on tasks of varying complexity.

By visualizing the work remaining on the burndown chart, the team can easily track their progress and identify any potential bottlenecks. It also helps them manage their workload effectively and ensure that they are on track to complete the project within the desired timeframe.

Ideal Work Trend Line

The third component of a burndown chart is the ideal work trend line. This line represents an estimation of how the work should ideally be burned down over time for successful and timely completion. It serves as a benchmark against which the actual work performed can be compared.

The ideal work trend line is usually a straight line that connects the starting point, which represents the total amount of work at the beginning of the project, to the endpoint, which represents zero work remaining. This line assumes a consistent and steady pace of work completion throughout the project's duration.

By comparing the actual work remaining with the ideal work trend line, the team can assess their progress and make adjustments if needed. If the actual work remaining is consistently above the trend line, it indicates that the team is falling behind schedule. Conversely, if the actual work remaining is consistently below the trend line, it suggests that the team is ahead of schedule.

The ideal work trend line is a valuable tool for project managers and stakeholders to monitor the project's progress and make data-driven decisions. It helps the team stay focused and motivated, ensuring that they are on track to meet their goals.

How to Create a Burndown Chart

Creating a burndown chart might seem complicated, but it is inherently quite simple when the initial setup is complete. By following a step-by-step guide and utilizing the right tools, you can easily create an effective burndown chart to track the progress of your project.

Step-by-step Guide to Creating a Burndown Chart

  1. Define the scope of work: Before creating a burndown chart, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the tasks involved in your project. Start by listing all the tasks that need to be completed.
  2. Estimate the effort required: Once you have a comprehensive list of tasks, estimate the effort required for each task. This will help you gauge the workload and plan accordingly.
  3. Establish the timeline: Determine the timeline for your project. It could be a week, a month, or any other timeframe that suits your project's needs.
  4. Plot the ideal trend line: Based on the planned workload and timeline, plot the ideal trend line on your burndown chart. This line represents the progress you expect to make throughout the project.
  5. Regularly update the chart: As you start working on the project, regularly update the burndown chart with the actual tasks completed. This will help you track your progress and identify any deviations from the ideal trend line.

Tools for Creating Burndown Charts

Various tools support the creation of burndown charts, making the process even more convenient and efficient. Some popular tools include Excel, JIRA, and various other software management tools equipped with Agile features.

When choosing a tool, it's important to consider the preferences and comfort level of your entire team. Opting for a tool that everyone is familiar with can help streamline collaboration and ensure smooth project management. Robust tools like JIRA also offer advanced features like automated updates, which can save considerable time and effort.

Creating a burndown chart is an invaluable practice for Agile project management. It provides a visual representation of your project's progress, allowing you to identify bottlenecks, make necessary adjustments, and ensure that you stay on track to meet your goals. By following the step-by-step guide and utilizing the right tools, you can create a burndown chart that effectively supports your project management efforts.

Reading and Interpreting a Burndown Chart

A burndown chart can provide much-needed insights into a project's progress. It's not just about creating the chart, but understanding how to read it and interpret the data.

When looking at a burndown chart, one of the first things to consider is the slope of the line. The slope shows the rate at which the work is being completed. A steeper slope indicates faster progress, while a flatter slope suggests slower progress. This information can be valuable in determining if the project is on track or if adjustments need to be made.

Understanding the Slope

The slope of the line in a burndown chart is more than just a visual representation of progress. It can reveal important insights into the team's efficiency and effectiveness. A steep slope can indicate that the team is working efficiently and completing tasks at a rapid pace. On the other hand, a flat slope may suggest that the team is facing challenges or encountering obstacles that are slowing down progress.

By analyzing the slope, project managers can identify patterns and trends that can help them make informed decisions. For example, if the slope becomes steeper over time, it may indicate that the team is becoming more efficient as they gain experience and familiarity with the project. Conversely, if the slope becomes flatter or starts to decline, it may be a sign that the team is facing difficulties and needs additional support or resources.

Identifying Potential Issues

Another important aspect of reading a burndown chart is identifying potential issues. If there are discrepancies between the actual work trend line and the ideal trend line, it can signal problems that need to be addressed.

For instance, if the actual work line consistently falls above the ideal trend line, it could suggest that the team is struggling to meet deadlines or that there are unexpected obstacles delaying progress. This misalignment can serve as a warning sign for project managers to investigate further and take corrective actions.

On the other hand, if the actual work line consistently falls below the ideal trend line, it may indicate that the team is ahead of schedule or that the initial estimates were too conservative. While this may seem like a positive situation, it can also lead to complacency or a lack of focus. Project managers should closely monitor such scenarios to ensure that the team maintains a steady pace and does not become complacent.

In a nutshell, Agile methodology and burndown charts go hand in hand for successful project management. Being equipped with the knowledge to properly draw up, interpret, and use the findings of a burndown chart can prove beneficial for consistent progress on project milestones and ultimate success. By understanding the slope and identifying potential issues, project managers can make informed decisions and keep the project on track.

Check out other articles