Burn Up Chart vs Burndown Chart in Scrum

Instructor: CaSandra Minichiello

CaSandra has a bachelor's degree in Computer Information Systems and has taught Agile along with Scrum and Kanban for over 10 years.

Should you burn it up or burn it down? Both if you want! If you think these are names for the latest dance moves, you're wrong. They are charts used in the Scrum software development framework. After this lesson, you will understand what they are and how to create them.

Burn-Down & Burn-Up

Burn-down and Burn-up charts are used in Scrum to track and report the delivery team's progress towards completing their Sprint work. These charts are simple and effective visual representations to communicate the status of a Sprint. Normally, an Agile tool will help create these charts automatically, otherwise the Scrum Master is responsible for creating and maintaining them.

To help you understand them and what the differences are, we will compare them to the act of baking a pie as burning up or eating a pie as burning down.

The Main Ingredients

What comes first? The ingredients! Let's review some terms used in Scrum so you will understand what you need in order to create either chart.

Scrum is a popular Agile framework adopted by many organizations that develop software products, although the framework can be used for any type of complex product. Scrum promotes iterative development, which means that every 2-4 weeks, a Scrum team delivers a potentially shippable product such as a feature or piece of functionality valuable to the customer.

The 2 to 4 week time frame is known as a sprint. The sprint contains product backlog items commonly referred to as user stories, although it could also contain defects. We will refer to all items in sprint as a product backlog item or PBI.

Each PBI is assigned a point value that represents effort, doubt and complexity. The point is assigned by the delivery team - the people doing the development work. You will need to know the sum of the of points that have been committed to in a sprint. PBIs can also be considered the slices of the pie.

For a burn-down chart, the delivery team will need to break PBIs into tasks and then further break the tasks into hours. Think of task hours as crumbs of the pie.

This may seem to feel a bit like micro-management, but for teams new to Scrum and who have not yet established velocity, this will help guide them towards realistic Sprint commitments since they are able to see how many hours they think they may spend on PBIs over the course of a sprint. This helps to show whether the total number of hours exceeds the delivery team's capacity (the total number of hours a team is available).

Finally, velocity is the average number of points accepted over the course of a few sprints. For purposes of this lesson and for these charts, we do not need to know velocity.

The Charts

Now that you have a general understanding of the terminology used in Scrum and the ingredients, let's discuss how these charts are created. There are various ways to create these charts, and most Agile tools have built in functionality that will create these charts automatically. Otherwise, using the chart feature in Excel is sufficient.

Burn-Down - Let Them Eat Pie!

What does it mean to 'burn-down?' Your friends come over for dinner party, and they brought your favorite pie. After dinner or maybe before, everyone grabs a fork and begins to eat, or burn, down the pie, slice by slice and crumb by crumb, until there is nothing left.

The crumbs represent task hours. In a burn-down, the y-axis shows hours and the x-axis shows the dates of the sprint.

On day 1 of the sprint, plot the sum of all the hours. Each day, plot the amount of hours left to complete the work. This will create the progress line on your chart, and it should trend downwards. Many times, if you are using an Agile tool, an ideal line will be created and this shows how many hours the team should be burning down on a daily basis. The progress line and the ideal progress line should be close to one another.

At the end of the sprint, the pie should be gone, meaning there are not more task hours or crumbs left to eat.

Burn-Down Chart
Burn Down Chart

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