12 April 2024

Agile Progress : Burn-Up Chart vs Burn-Down Chart


  • Burn-Down Chart and Burn-Up Chart are two types of charts that project managers use to track and communicate the progress of their projects.
    • A Burn-Down Chart shows how much work is remaining to be done in the project, whereas a Burn-Up Chart shows how much work has been completed, and the total amount of work.
    • These charts are particularly widely used in Agile and scrum software project management.

Burn-Down vs Burn-Up Chart

  • What is your goal ?
    • The primary determinant in whether to use a Burn-Up Chart or burn down chart is what you are trying to accomplish, your goal.
      • Are you presenting to clients for the continued survival of the project?
      • Are you trying to motivate your project team?
      • Are you simply trying to increase your own knowledge and understanding of what is happening in the project?
      • The answers to these questions will determine which chart to use.
  • Simplicity vs information :
    • Burn-Down Charts are simple.
      • A single line racing towards zero as the project is completed.
      • Anyone can understand this chart, and it does not need an explanation.
    • However it can hide important information, for example the effects of scope change.
      • Scope change is when work is added to or removed from a project.
        • We are all familiar with scope change, the client suddenly demands extra features, or work is removed from a project to meet a deadline.
      • A Burn-Down Chart does not show this information as clearly as a Burn-Up Chart.
        • A Burn-Up Chart tracks completed work and total work with two separate lines, unlike a Burn-Down Chart which combines them into a single line.
        • The total work line communicates important information – is the project not yet complete because work is slow to be done, or too much new work is being added.
        • This information can be crucial in diagnosing and rectifying problems with a project.
      • The advantage of a Burn-Up Chart over a burn down chart is the inclusion of the scope line.
        • It clearly tracks when work has been added to or removed from the project.
        • It also allows you to visualize a more realistic completion date for the project, by extending a trend line from the scope as well as the completion line.
        • Where the two trend lines meet is the estimated time of completion.
        • The scope line allows you as a manager to easily spot where work is being added which will affect the completion date.
        • Whether this work is being added by the client or the team, it is an important signal that the completion date may need to be moved in response.
        • The scope line also tracks where work is being removed to meet a fixed deadline.
        • Again this is important to know as it may impact the quality or functionality of the project, and is something that needs to be clearly discussed with the client and team.
  • Presenting project progress on a regular basis :
    • If you are presenting project progress to the same audience on a regular basis, for example weekly customer progress meetings, you are probably better off with a Burn-Up Chart. It will allow you to easily show them you are making progress, even if they have been adding more work, or testing has revealed problems that are adding work to the project.
  • Convincing customers to stabilize project scope :
    • Scope creep is the enemy of every software project.
    • In the face of scope creep Burn-Down Charts start to look like little progress is being made.
    • However a burn up chart clearly makes the scope creep problem visible to the customer.
    • This may even help you to convince them to stop requesting changes and allow the project to complete.
  • Fixed scope projects :
    • There are certain limited circumstances in which a project may have a well defined fixed scope.
    • If a project is guaranteed to have fixed scope, the Burn-Up Chart communicates no more information than a Burn-Down Chart, so the simplicity of the burn down chart is preferable.

Burn-Up Chart

Burn-Down Chart

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