Though their application and usage vary (some plot a burn-down chart using story points, whereas others use task count), plotting burn-down using effort remaining is the most effective and efficient way of using burn-down charts.
This article looks at creating and updating a burn-down chart using the effort remaining approach, interpreting burn-down under different scenarios, and examining common mistakes to avoid while using burn-downs. We conclude by looking at some of the benefits of using this innovative tool.
- How to create a burn-down chart?
The first step is to have a task breakdown in place. This is generally done during the sprint planning meeting. Each task should have associated hours (ideally not more than 12, roughly two days' work at six per day), which the team decides on during the planning meeting.
Once the task breakdown is in place, the ideal burn-down chart
is plotted. The ideal reflects progress assuming that all tasks will be completed within the sprint at a uniform rate
Many Agile tools have built-in capability for burn-down charts. However, in its simplest form, a burn-down chart
can be maintained in a spreadsheet. Dates in the sprint are plotted on the X-axis while remaining efforts are plotted on the Y-axis.
- Updating the burn-down chart
Each member picks up tasks from the task breakdown and works on them. At the end of the day, they update effort remaining for the task, along with its status.
- Interpreting the burn-down chart
Interpret the task plotted in the chart for the understanding of dos and don’ts.
- Single planning and tracking tool for the team
The team comes up with a task breakdown, the team updates estimated effort, and the team also updates effort remaining. This empowers the team to own the plan. The entire team drives planning and tracking using the burn-down tool, which is the biggest advantage of using it.
Tasks represent the overall scope of the sprint. Anything that is not part of the task list is out of scope for the sprint.
The team plans what it has to accomplish in a sprint and updates the task list. As it updates daily effort details, the team knows whether it is on track to meet the commitment or not.
- Risk mitigation by daily visibility
Schedule overrun and cost overrun are two important metrics that get tracked in traditional project management. Mostly they're tracked on a weekly basis. The burn-down chart on the other hand, provides daily feedback on effort and schedule, thereby mitigating the risks and raising alarms as soon as something goes wrong. For example, if the actual progress line goes flat and hovers high above the ideal line, the team knows it is in trouble. Mitigations can be planned right then, rather than waiting till the end.
- Communication tool for customer and other stakeholders
Burn-down charts are an effective communication tool for customers and stakeholders. This can be printed and placed in an Agile room or shared with relevant stakeholders every day. This provides visibility of project progress on a daily basis. In the absence of an online tool, burn-down can be physically represented using a whiteboard/chart paper and placed in the team area.
- Placeholder to track retrospective action items
It's a good practice to include retrospective action items from the previous sprint as "nonfunctional requirements" in the task breakdown for the current sprint. This way, the team keeps a focus on those action items, and they are also tracked as the sprint progresses.