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How to Use Epic Burndown Chart to Drive Progress

Last updated on
September 29, 2023


What is epic burndown?

Epic burndown is a metric that visualizes the remaining work in large-scale tasks, helping teams track progress over time.

What is epic burndown chart?

An epic burndown chart is a visual representation that tracks the completion of tasks within a large-scale project (epic) over time, showing how much work remains and helping teams gauge their progress.

Why to measure epic burndown?

Measuring epic burndown helps teams track progress, identify potential delays, and make informed decisions to ensure timely completion of large-scale projects.

How to measure epic burndown?

  1. Identify the Epic: Choose a specific epic or large-scale project you want to track.
  2. List All Tasks: Break down the epic into individual tasks or user stories with estimated effort or story points.
  3. Set a Time Frame: Decide on the duration for the burndown, such as weeks or sprints.
  4. Plot the Chart: On the vertical axis, plot the total effort or story points. On the horizontal axis, plot the time frame.
  5. Track Progress: As tasks are completed, reduce the total remaining effort or story points accordingly.
  6. Update Regularly: At regular intervals (e.g., end of each sprint), update the chart to reflect the work done.
  7. Analyze the Trend: A downward slope indicates progress, while a flat line suggests no tasks are being completed. Adjust strategies if progress is slower than expected.
  8. Adjust for Changes: If new tasks are added or estimates change, adjust the chart accordingly.


How to Use Epic Burndown Chart to Drive Progress

Problems with large-scale initiatives

Software development projects often face challenges in effectively tracking progress and ensuring timely completion of large-scale initiatives known as epics. Without a clear measurement approach, teams may struggle to gauge their progress and make informed decisions.

Epic burndown gives a helping hand. This metric is a powerful tool that can shed light on epics and provide valuable insights into your progress. By measuring and visualizing the remaining work over time, your team can navigate epics with clarity and make data-driven decisions.

Time to gain a comprehensive understanding of epic burndown charts.

What is epic burndown?

Epic burndown is a metric that will help your team track the progress of large-scale software development initiatives, known as epics.

It's pictured by a graph, called epic burndown chart, with time plotted along the horizontal axis and the amount of work remaining on the vertical axis. It shows the journey of the epic as it unfolds over time, providing valuable insights into your team’s progress.

By observing the epic burndown chart, both your team and stakeholders gain a clear understanding of whether the epic is on track or veering off course. The chart can reveal whether your team is achieving a steady pace or facing challenges that impede progress.

Ideally, a healthy epic burndown chart exhibits a gradual and consistent decline, indicating that your team is making steady progress toward the epic's completion. On the other hand, jagged or flat lines may suggest obstacles or delays that require attention and adjustment.

Epic burndown chart

The Epic Burndown Chart is a visual tool used in Agile and Scrum methodologies to track and represent the progress of work against a specific epic over time. An "epic" in Agile terminology refers to a large body of work or a significant objective that can be broken down into smaller tasks or user stories.

The goal of epic burndown chart

The primary purpose of the Epic Burndown Chart is to provide a clear visual representation of:

  • How much work was planned initially.
  • How much work has been completed.
  • How much work remains.
  • Any changes to the scope of the epic.
  • Predictions about when the work will be completed based on current trends.

How to read the Epic Burndown Chart

  • X-Axis (Time): This axis typically represents sprints or time intervals. Each point or bar on this axis corresponds to a sprint or a specific time frame.
  • Y-Axis (Work): This axis represents the amount of work, usually measured in story points, count of stories, or any other unit used to estimate work.
  • Ideal trend line: A diagonal line that starts from the top-left corner (representing the total amount of work in the epic at the start) and ends at the bottom-right corner. This line represents the ideal pace at which work should be completed to finish the epic by the end of the projected time frame.
  • Actual work line: This line shows the actual progress of the epic. It starts from the top-left corner and moves downwards as work is completed. If work is added or removed from the epic, you'll see a vertical jump in this line.
  • Completed work bars: These are bars (often shaded or colored differently) that show the amount of work completed in each sprint.
  • Scope change: If there's a change in the amount of work (either added or removed), it's represented by a vertical jump in the Actual Work Line. An upward jump indicates added work, while a downward jump indicates removed work.
  • Forecast: Some Epic Burndown Charts include a forecast line or shaded area that predicts when the epic will be completed based on the current progress and any changes in scope.

How to use the Epic Burndown Report effectively

Review regularly

Check the report at the end of each sprint to see how you're progressing against the epic.

Look for divergence

If the Actual Work Line is diverging from the Ideal Trend Line, it's a sign that the team might not complete the epic in the expected time frame.

Address scope changes

If there are frequent scope changes (as indicated by vertical jumps), it's essential to discuss why these are occurring and how they can be managed better.

Adjust expectations

If it looks like the epic won't be completed in the expected time frame, use the report to adjust expectations and communicate with stakeholders.

How to create a good epic burndown chart 

Creating a good Epic Burndown Chart involves a combination of accurate data collection, clear visualization, and regular updates. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you create an effective Epic Burndown Chart:

Step 1: Define the epic

Clearly define the epic you want to track. Ensure that it has a clear objective and that all stakeholders understand its scope and importance.

Step 2: Break down the epic

Decompose the epic into smaller, manageable user stories or tasks. Estimate the effort required for each story or task, typically using story points or hours.

Step 3: Determine the time frame

Decide on the time frame you want to track, typically in terms of sprints. This will form the X-axis of your chart.

Step 4: Plot the total work

Based on your estimates, plot the total amount of work on the Y-axis. This is the starting point of your chart.

Step 5: Draw the ideal trend line

Starting from the total work, draw a straight line that reaches zero by the end of your time frame (e.g., the last sprint). This line represents the ideal rate of work completion.

Step 6: Track actual progress

After each sprint or time interval, plot the amount of work remaining. This forms the Actual Work Line. Deduct the completed work from the total to get this value.

Step 7: Highlight scope changes

If work is added or removed from the epic during the process, make sure to reflect this in the chart. This will cause a jump (upward for added work, downward for removed work) in the Actual Work Line.

Step 8: Visualize completed work

Use bars or a shaded area to represent the amount of work completed in each sprint. This provides a quick visual reference for stakeholders to see how much has been achieved.

Step 9: Forecast completion

Based on the current rate of progress, you can forecast when the epic will be completed. Some tools will automatically generate this forecast for you.

Step 10: Regularly update

It's crucial to update the Epic Burndown Chart regularly, ideally after each sprint or significant milestone. This keeps the chart relevant and provides a real-time view of progress.

Step 11: Review and discuss

Use the chart as a discussion tool in your sprint reviews or other stakeholder meetings. It can highlight potential issues, celebrate achievements, and guide future planning.

Step 12: Ensure clarity

Make sure the chart is easy to read and understand. Use clear labels, consistent colors, and avoid clutter. Anyone looking at the chart should quickly grasp the epic's status.

Step 13: Use tools

While you can create an Epic Burndown Chart manually or using general-purpose tools like Excel, there are many Agile project management tools available (e.g., JIRA, Trello, VersionOne) that can automate the process and provide additional insights.

Step 14: Seek feedback

Regularly seek feedback from the team and stakeholders about the chart. This can help you make improvements and ensure it remains a valuable tool for everyone involved.

Benefits of tracking and improving epic burndown

It is crucial to understand the benefits of improving the epic burndown metric. Here are five key advantages that arise from enhancing the epic burndown:

Enhanced visibility and transparency

Improving the epic burndown provides a clear and visual representation of an epic's progress over time. This increased visibility allows both the team and stakeholders to track and understand the status of the epic at any given point. By fostering transparency, your team will identify potential bottlenecks, make informed decisions, and collaborate more effectively.

Early identification of issues

A well-maintained Epic Burndown chart acts as an early warning system. It will enable your team to identify issues or delays promptly, rather than discovering them at later stages when they become more challenging to address. By spotting problems early on, your team will take proactive measures to overcome obstacles and ensure the timely completion of the epic.

Efficient resource allocation

Improving epic burndown helps your team assess the distribution of work and allocate resources more efficiently. By monitoring the chart, your team can identify areas of the epic that require additional attention or resources, allowing them to make adjustments accordingly. This optimization ensures that efforts are focused where they are most needed.

Adaptability and agile decision-making

An Epic burndown chart will empower your team to be agile and adaptive. By regularly updating the chart and observing the epic's progress, your team can identify trends and patterns. This information enables them to make informed decisions and adjust their strategies accordingly. By embracing this iterative approach, you foster a culture of agility and continuous improvement.

Stakeholder engagement and communication

Improving epic burndown fosters effective communication and engagement with stakeholders. The chart provides a common language and visual representation that facilitates discussions between the team and stakeholders. It allows for transparent communication about progress, challenges, and any necessary adjustments. This engagement builds trust, aligns expectations, and ensures that everyone involved has a shared understanding of goals.

Epic burndown chart limitations

While the Epic Burndown Chart is a valuable tool in Agile and Scrum methodologies, it does have its limitations. Here are some of the key limitations to be aware of:

Doesn't capture quality

The chart tracks the completion of work but doesn't necessarily reflect the quality of that work. A team might be completing tasks, but if the quality is poor, it could lead to rework, which the chart might not capture effectively.

Scope changes can be misleading

While the chart does show scope changes, frequent changes can make the chart look chaotic and challenging to interpret. Additionally, stakeholders might misinterpret scope changes as inefficiencies or indecisiveness.

Overemphasis on estimates

The chart relies heavily on initial estimates. If these estimates are off, the chart can give a misleading representation of progress. Estimation is inherently challenging, and inaccuracies can skew the perceived performance.

Doesn't capture blockers or challenges

The chart might show a lack of progress, but it doesn't provide insights into why progress is stalled. Blockers, dependencies, or other challenges aren't typically represented on the chart.

Not ideal for complex dependencies

If the epic has complex dependencies with other tasks or epics, the Epic Burndown Chart might not capture these intricacies. It's a high-level tool and might not delve into granular dependencies.

Potential for miscommunication

Without proper context, stakeholders might misinterpret the chart. For instance, a sudden upward spike due to added scope might be seen as a setback, even if it was a necessary and strategic decision.

Lacks contextual information

The chart provides a visual representation of progress but lacks the narrative or context behind certain decisions or changes, which can be crucial for stakeholders to understand the bigger picture.

Can lead to short-term focus

If teams become too focused on making the chart look good for each sprint, they might prioritize short-term gains over long-term value or strategic objectives.

Doesn't reflect non-epic work

Teams often have to handle tasks or issues not related to the epic in question. The Epic Burndown Chart doesn't capture this work, which can sometimes lead to an incomplete view of the team's workload and capacity.

Reliance on tools

While many tools can automate the creation of an Epic Burndown Chart, they might not always be flexible enough to capture unique nuances or specific requirements of a project.

Potential for over-reliance

If teams or stakeholders rely solely on the Epic Burndown Chart for all insights, they might miss out on other valuable metrics or qualitative feedback that provides a more holistic view of progress and challenges.

Risks of focusing on epic burndown

While epic burndown metric can be valuable, it is essential to be aware of the risks associated with solely relying on it for decision-making. Here are five risks that may arise when you measure epic burndown:

Narrow focus on output

Focusing solely on epic burndown results may lead to a myopic view of progress. Your team may risk prioritizing output over outcomes, emphasizing completing tasks rather than delivering value. This narrow focus can undermine the ultimate goal of satisfying customer needs and may result in an unsatisfactory product despite seemingly positive epic burndown trends.

Ignoring quality

Overemphasizing epic burndown may lead to compromises in quality. Your team might rush to complete tasks within the epic, neglecting necessary testing, refactoring, or other quality assurance activities. This trade-off can lead to technical debt, reduced code quality, and long-term maintenance challenges that undermine the product's stability and reliability.

Lack of adaptability

Reliance on the epic burndown may discourage your team from adapting to changes. If the focus remains solely on completing the tasks originally planned, your team may resist exploring new ideas or incorporating valuable feedback during the epic's lifecycle. This rigidity can hinder innovation, limit responsiveness to market dynamics, and result in a product that fails to meet evolving customer needs.

Limited context and insight

Epic burndown may provide an incomplete picture of the overall project status. It lacks the contextual information necessary to understand the underlying factors influencing progress. Your team may overlook critical dependencies, technical complexities, or external constraints that affect the epic's completion. This limited insight can lead to misguided decisions and project delays.

Disengagement and demoralization

Excessive focus on epic burndown results may cause team members to feel reduced autonomy and ownership. If the metric becomes the sole measure of success, individuals may perceive their contributions as mere task completion rather than meaningful work. This can result in disengagement, reduced morale, and diminished collaboration, ultimately impacting your team's overall performance and creativity.

How to measure epic burndown?

Measuring epic burndown is an important step in understanding how users interact with a product during their first-time experience. Here's how to measure it:

Identify and define epic tasks

To measure epic burndown, start by breaking down the epic into smaller, manageable tasks. These tasks should be specific, measurable, and achievable. For instance, if the epic is to develop a shopping cart feature, tasks could include creating a product listing page, implementing add-to-cart functionality, and designing a checkout process.

Estimate effort and set priorities

Assign effort estimates (e.g., hours, story points) to each task. This estimation helps gauge the complexity and relative size of the tasks. Prioritize the tasks based on their importance and dependencies to ensure a logical sequence of work.

Track completed tasks

As the team progresses, track the completion of tasks within the epic. When a task is finished, mark it as completed and record the effort expended.

Update the epic burndown chart

Using a graph, plot time on the horizontal axis and the remaining effort (in hours or story points) on the vertical axis. Initially, the graph will show the total effort remaining for the epic.

Recalculate and plot remaining effort

After each completed task, recalculate the remaining effort by subtracting the completed task's effort from the total. Update the graph by plotting the remaining effort on the vertical axis for each corresponding point in time.


Let's say you have an epic to develop a content management system. You break it down into tasks: creating user authentication, designing a database schema, implementing content editing functionality, and setting up user roles.

You estimate the tasks' effort: user authentication (8 hours), database schema design (6 hours), content editing (12 hours), and user roles (4 hours). You prioritize the tasks, starting with user authentication.

As the team completes tasks, you update the chart. For instance, after finishing user authentication (8 hours), you mark it as completed and plot the remaining effort (18 hours) on the graph for that time point.

Continuing this process, after completing the database schema design (6 hours), the remaining effort reduces to 12 hours, and you update the graph accordingly.

By repeating these steps for all tasks, the epic burndown chart gradually reveals the progress, showing the downward movement of the remaining effort line over time.

Remember, the goal is for the line to steadily decline until all tasks within the epic are completed, indicating the epic's successful conclusion.

Alternatives to epic burndown

When it comes to tracking progress in software development projects, epic burndown is not the only option available. Here are a few alternative approaches:

Release burndown

Similar to epic burndown, the release burndown tracks the completion of work over time. However, instead of focusing on individual epics, it provides you with a broader view of the entire release or project. It measures the remaining work as a cumulative effort of multiple epics or features. 

Choose release burndown when you want to track progress at a higher level, such as for a product release or a specific milestone.

Kanban Board

Kanban board is a visual tool that represents the flow of work in different stages. Rather than measuring remaining work over time, it provides a snapshot of the current state of tasks. Kanban boards are flexible and will allow your team to prioritize and manage work in a visual and collaborative manner. Choose a Kanban board when you prefer a more dynamic and continuous flow approach, especially in situations where the scope is constantly evolving.

Cumulative flow diagram (CFD)

A cumulative flow diagram illustrates the flow of work over time, displaying the number of tasks in each stage or status. It provides insights into bottlenecks, cycle times, and overall work distribution. The CFD can be used in conjunction with other metrics, such as lead time or throughput, to assess team performance and identify areas for improvement. 

Choose a CFD when you want to analyze the flow of work and identify potential workflow or capacity issues.

Burn-Up Chart

In contrast to the burndown chart that measures remaining work, a burn-up chart tracks both completed and remaining work over time. It shows the progress toward the overall goal or scope by depicting two lines: one for completed work and another for the total scope. Burn-up charts will help your team visualize if they are on track to complete the planned work within a given timeframe. 

Choose a burn-up chart for projects with fixed scope so that you can assist in managing stakeholder expectations.

Next steps

Measuring epic burndown allows teams to track progress, adapt plans, and communicate effectively about the epic's advancement. It provides a visual representation that helps teams stay on course and ensure timely delivery of valuable software.However, metrics should always be adjusted to product and business goals, and every team should compose a set of metrics that works best for their specific case. 

To further enhance your understanding of software delivery performance metrics, process metrics, and other software development metrics, explore our articles which will help you effortlessly create a comprehensive metric framework for your product.

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Olga Gierszal
Software Engineering Editor

Software development enthusiast with 6 years of professional experience in the tech industry.

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