Burndown charts show where the progress of a project, product, or sprint stands to help teams reach their goals in a set amount of time. These charts are easy to create and read so teams can efficiently monitor progress, make adjustments, and deliver results on schedule.
What is a burndown chart?
A burndown chart is a simple tool that tracks a team’s work progress against the amount of time remaining to complete the work. The chart shows the ideal rate of effort needed to reach work completion by a set date. Using a burndown chart helps you:
- Communicate progress
- Track remaining work
- Take corrective measures
- Plan for future events
- Reach work completion on time
A burndown chart is a way to manage projects and teams more efficiently.
How to read a burndown chart
Think of a burndown chart as a visual status report. Anyone who reads the chart can see if the work is being completed on time or if the team is lagging behind the previously set goals.
A basic burndown chart is a line graph with two plotted lines. The x-axis shows the number of days needed to complete the work, while the y-axis details the number of tasks to complete.
Here’s a burndown chart example indicating that a team has 10 days to complete 10 tasks:
The blue line is the planned work trend line, also known as the ideal trend. It starts on day one when the team has the most tasks to complete. The line then trends downward each day until it meets the x-axis completion date.
The second line on a burndown chart is the actual work trend, shown here in orange. It indicates the number of tasks still remaining at the end of each day. Things don’t always go as planned, so this line moves up and down depending on the pace of the work progress.
When the actual work line is below the ideal trend, the project will proceed ahead of schedule. The project is behind schedule if the actual work line is above the ideal trend. Everything is on time and proceeding according to plan when the two lines meet.
How to create a burndown chart
A burndown chart can be as simple or as complex as you like. A basic chart plots work tasks, completion time, and work progress. Adding extra information to the chart is optional.
It takes only five steps to create and use an Agile burndown chart for a sprint:
- Determine your total number of tasks (perhaps by breaking stories down into smaller steps)
- Assign a time frame to each task
- Determine total sprint length
- Use software to create the chart
- Update chart as work progresses
Using Microsoft Excel
It’s easy to create a simple burndown chart in Microsoft Excel. Begin by naming and filling in three columns with the following information:
- Time—number of days in the sprint or actual calendar dates
- Planned task completion—number of story points or tasks to complete
- Actual task completion—number of remaining tasks to complete
The total number of tasks will vary with each sprint, as will the number of tasks the team plans to complete each day of the sprint.
Here’s an example of how the columns in Excel might look for a seven-day sprint that includes 10 tasks. To turn it into a line graph, select all of the cells, then click Insert > Chart > Line.
This example shows day one of the sprint. At the end of each day, you’ll update the Actual Task Completion column with the number of tasks that are still remaining, which will reveal the trajectory of the orange line.
For example, on day two, one task was completed, leaving nine left to complete. So you’ll enter “9” into the actual task completion column for day two. At the end of the sprint, your chart looks something like this:
As you can see, the Actual Task Completion sometimes met the Planned Task Completion goal, and it sometimes did not. Various work and life factors, such as task complexity or an unforeseen challenge, may interfere with your work progress.
Using burndown chart software
Agile software is another tool used to create burndown charts. You can create tables and graphs, track trends, and manage sprints from a single, automated system that’s integrated with all of the other details of your work projects. As valuable as a sprint burndown chart is in helping you easily track workflows and sprint progress in real time, it’s just one of the many useful features you’ll find within a comprehensive Agile project management solution like Workfront.