Burn down and Burn up charts
Burn down and burn up charts are two visual mechanisms for knowing about project progress. These charts have become popular in recent years, primarily because of Agile methodologies 23like SCRUM.
Scrum does recommend burn down charts as a mechanism to track project progress. But it does not mention burn up charts. However, these charts can be used in any kind of project.
In this article, I am going to explain the basics of burn down and burn up charts. I will also discuss usage and limitations of these charts.
Burn down charts
Burn down charts show the status of remaining quantum of work. The quantum of work is shown on the Y-Axis whereas the timeline is shown on the X-Axis. This is simple yet effective visual representation of project progress, as shown below:
As you can see, I have used quantum of work in days. However, we can use story points or any other unit as well. So, the burn down chart can be used for any kind of project.
Creating burn down chart
I have used Microsoft Excel to create the burn down chart. Excel provides the maximum flexibility, however other tools like JIRA can also do the same.
For this post, I have used an e-commerce project to create this burn down chart. The task list with estimates in days is shown below:
This is not the complete features list. The total number of estimated days for this project is 56 days and the release date is 28-Feb-2017.
Limitation of burn down chart
The burn down chart does not show the scope change in the project. If you look at the chart above, there is a steep down slope in the chart on the last two days. This is not a heroic effort by the team to finish everything in just two days. Instead, it happened because features were removed from the release to meet the deadline.
Burn up chart
Burn up chart is an improvement over burn down chart. It was not defined as a project metrics in the Scrum definition.
Burn up charts shows the amount of work completed in the project as well as the total work. We can also visualize the change in the scope of the work during the period in review.
A burn up chart for our e-commerce project is as shown below. In this case, the requirement is stable during the current release:
The blue line shows the total amount of work in the project. Red line shows the work completed in the project. Both the curves converge, because there is no change in the scope. This is the ideal scenario, where the team has managed to finish the work in time.
However, this rarely happens. New requirements can be suggested by the customer or there can be modifications in the existing requirements. Some requirements may even get deleted.
You can easily make out from the burn up chart whenever there is a scope change. Let’s consider the following change requests in our e-commerce project with dates:
If we consider the change request, then the burn up chart will be as shown below:
As you can see now that the estimated work or Total work curve has an upward slope between 10th and 18th. All the change requests came during this period.
As you can see, the burn up chart can provide the visual signal about the scope change as well as the overall project progress.
Burn down Vs Burn up chart
The decision to choose a chart is dependent on the overall project goal tracking. How the team is comfortable in tracking the progress of the project?
I have seen teams using both the charts. If your goal is to look at the remaining work to be done, then burn down chart is the best option. If you are looking to track the work completed vs the overall work, then burn up chart is the best option.
Last but not the least, these charts are not specific to Agile methodologies. They can be used for traditional projects as well.
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