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Release Burndown Chart - How & When to Use It [All You Need to Know]

Last updated on
November 5, 2023


Release burndown in a nutshell

What is release burndown?

Release burndown is a software development metric that visually tracks the remaining work towards completing a release over time.

What is the release burndown chart?

It’s a graphical representation that shows the amount of work remaining in a project versus the time left until the release date. It allows teams to track their progress and pace towards completing the release's goals.

How can the chart help a development team?

It helps to manage scope, track progress against a timeline, identify potential delays early, and facilitate adjustments to ensure the project remains on track for a timely release.

Learn how to measure release burndown accurately and harness its benefits to improve your delivery.


Release Burndown Chart - How & When to Use It [All You Need to Know]


The release burndown chart provides a clear picture of your project's progress, enhances transparency, improves delivery predictions, and helps manage resources effectively for better project delivery.

By using it right, you can sharpen your decision making and improve delivery speed. Learn how to do it.

What is release burndown?

The release burndown is a metric used in Agile project management that illustrates the amount of work left to do versus time remaining until the release. It helps teams gauge if they are on track to complete their work by the deadline.

What is a release burndown chart?

A release burndown chart is a graphical representation that shows the amount of work remaining in a project versus the time left for its completion. It is commonly used in Agile software development methodologies, particularly in Scrum, to track progress towards a release.

The release burndown chart provides a visual picture of how quickly the team is completing features against the planned work for a release. It's an important tool for release planning and helps in managing the expectations of stakeholders by showing how much work has been done and how much is still left to be done.

What is the overall goal of a burndown chart?

The overall goal of a burndown chart is to provide a visual representation of the work remaining in a project or sprint over time, enabling teams to track their progress towards completion and ensuring that they are on track to meet their deadlines. It helps in managing expectations, planning, and delivering work effectively by showing how quickly tasks are being completed and how the project is trending against its timeline.

What are the components of a burndown chart? 

A burndown chart typically consists of several key components:

  • X-Axis (Horizontal): Represents the time period over which progress is tracked. In a sprint burndown, this is usually the days of the sprint. In a release burndown, it could be weeks, sprints, or another time unit relevant to the release cycle.
  • Y-Axis (Vertical): Represents the amount of work to be done. This is often measured in story points, hours, or the number of tasks/issues remaining.
  • Ideal Burndown Line: This is a straight line from the top left corner (start of the sprint or release, when all the work is remaining) to the bottom right corner (end of the sprint or release, when no work should be remaining). It represents the ideal pace of work completion.
  • Actual Burndown Line: Plots the actual amount of work remaining at various points throughout the sprint or release. Ideally, this line trends downwards and should closely follow the ideal burndown line.
  • Data Points: Points on the graph that represent the actual amount of work remaining at the end of each day or sprint. These are connected to form the actual burndown line.
  • Legend/Labels: These provide information to make the chart understandable, such as what each axis represents, the scale of measurement, and which line is the ideal vs. the actual burndown.

Optional components can include:

  • Scope Change Lines: Some burndown charts include lines or markers to indicate where the scope of the project or sprint was added to or reduced, which affects the amount of work remaining.
  • Trend Line: An additional line that might be used to predict future progress based on current trends.
  • Completion Forecast: An estimation of the sprint or release completion based on current progress, sometimes shown as a shaded area or a separate line extending from the actual progress line.

How to read the release burndown chart?

Reading the chart

  • Starting Point: The topmost point on the chart at the leftmost edge represents the total amount of work estimated at the beginning of the release.
  • Burndown Line: This line goes downwards as work is completed. Ideally, it should reach zero by the end of the time period allocated for the release. This line is updated at the end of each sprint to reflect the remaining work.
  • Guideline: There may be a guideline, which is a straight line from the start point to the end point of the chart, indicating the ideal trend for how work should be completed if it is to be evenly distributed over the duration of the release.
  • Sprints: Each vertical division represents a sprint. The width of each division is consistent because sprints are typically of fixed duration.
  • Scope Change: If the scope of the release changes (i.e., if work is added or removed), the chart will reflect this. Work added will cause the burndown line to step upwards, while work removed will cause it to step downwards.

Interpreting the release burndown chart

What information can you derive from the release burndown chart

The Release Burndown Chart communicates several key pieces of information about the progress of a project towards a scheduled release:

  • Total Work Remaining: It shows how much work remains to be done before the project or release is complete. This work is often represented in story points, hours, or the number of issues.
  • Progress Over Time: The chart tracks the amount of work completed over each sprint and provides a visual representation of this progress across the timeline of the release.
  • Work Completion Trend: By comparing the current burndown line with the ideal burndown line, you can see if the team is on track to complete the release on time.
  • Scope Changes: The chart reveals any changes to the scope of the project. Additions to the scope are indicated by a rise in the line, while scope reductions cause the line to drop.
  • Pace of Work: The slope of the burndown line indicates the team's velocity or pace at which they are completing work. A steep downward slope suggests a rapid pace, while a shallow slope suggests a slower pace.
  • Predicting Completion: The chart can help to predict when the work will be completed. If the burndown line is trending down steadily and at a consistent pace, you can estimate the release date. If not, the team might need to adjust the scope or improve their efficiency.
  • Risk Identification: It helps in identifying risks early. If the burndown line flattens or goes up, it indicates a problem that could put the release date at risk, prompting the team to investigate and take action.

What to look at step by step

  • Burndown Line Progress: Is the burndown line descending as expected? A healthy trend should show a downward trajectory, indicating that work is being completed.
  • Comparison to Ideal Line: How does the actual work remaining compare to the ideal line or the projected path? Deviations might indicate issues in pace or scope changes.
  • Sprint-by-Sprint Variations: Are there significant fluctuations in the burndown from sprint to sprint? Large variances may suggest inconsistent work patterns or estimation issues.
  • Scope Changes: Are there sharp increases (scope added) or decreases (scope removed) in the burndown line? Frequent changes can disrupt the team’s rhythm and may require better scope management.
  • Velocity: Is the team's velocity consistent? A stable velocity is a sign of a well-gelled team and good estimation practices.
  • Completion Trend: Does the trend suggest that the team will complete the work by the release deadline? If not, why?

How to interpret the information

  • On Track: If the burndown line is trending down and following the guideline closely, the team is on track to complete the release as planned.
  • Behind Schedule: If the burndown line is above the guideline and not trending downwards as steeply as needed, the team is behind schedule. They may not finish all the work by the release date unless they increase their velocity or decrease the scope.
  • Ahead of Schedule: If the burndown line is below the guideline, the team is ahead of schedule and may complete the release early.
  • Scope Changes: A sudden upward jump indicates added scope (e.g., new stories or tasks). A downward jump may indicate scope was removed, or stories were completed ahead of schedule.

When should the release burndown chart be updated?

  • End of Each Sprint: The most common interval for updating the release burndown chart is at the end of each sprint when all work items for that sprint have been accounted for. This update reflects the work that was completed during the sprint and subtracts it from the total work remaining.
  • Scope Changes: If there are any changes to the project scope, such as the addition or removal of features, the chart should be updated to reflect these changes. This ensures that the chart always shows the current amount of work remaining.
  • Mid-Sprint Adjustments: Some teams may choose to update the chart more frequently, such as weekly or even daily, to provide a more granular view of progress and to catch issues earlier. However, this is less common for release burndowns and more typical for sprint burndowns.
  • After Backlog Grooming: If a backlog grooming session results in significant changes to user stories or tasks that affect the release, the chart should be updated to incorporate these changes.

How does the release burndown chart help the team?

The release burndown chart can be extremely helpful for a team in several ways:

  • Visualizing Progress: It offers a clear visual representation of how much work remains and how much has been completed, making it easier for the team to gauge their progress.
  • Tracking Scope: The chart helps in tracking changes to the project scope over time. If new features are added or existing ones are removed, the chart reflects these changes, helping the team to manage scope creep effectively.
  • Predicting Release Dates: By tracking the amount of work completed in each sprint, the team can predict whether they are on schedule to meet the release date or if adjustments are needed.
  • Maintaining Pace: The chart can help ensure that the team maintains a consistent and sustainable pace, known as velocity, which is crucial for long-term planning and delivery.
  • Facilitating Adjustments: If the burndown line indicates that the team is behind schedule, it becomes a prompt for discussion and allows the team to adjust its strategy, such as re-prioritizing backlog items, increasing resources, or negotiating scope changes.
  • Improving Planning: It provides historical data on the team’s performance, which can be used to improve future estimates and planning.
  • Enhancing Communication: It is a communication tool that can be used to report progress to stakeholders, including management, clients, and other teams. A clear visual chart can be more effective than verbal or written status updates.
  • Identifying Blockers: The chart can help to quickly identify sprints where not much progress was made, indicating that there might have been blockers or impediments that need to be addressed.
  • Encouraging Team Morale: A visible indication of progress can be a morale booster for the team. Seeing the burndown line trend downwards can be rewarding and motivate the team towards completing their goals.
  • Supporting Decision-Making: It provides empirical evidence that can support decision-making regarding the release. For example, it can help decide whether to add more features to the release or to focus on stabilizing the current set.

How to use the release burndown chart to drive improvement?

  • Improve Estimation Practices: If the team is frequently missing the mark on how much they can complete in a sprint, they may need to refine their estimation practices to become more accurate.
  • Manage Scope Effectively: Avoid adding scope mid-sprint unless absolutely necessary. If the scope does need to change, ensure it is communicated clearly and the impact on the release is understood.
  • Address Impediments: If the burndown chart flatlines or doesn't show expected progress, look for impediments, blockers, or distractions affecting the team's performance and address them.
  • Enhance Collaboration: Encourage better communication and collaboration within the team. Pair programming, code reviews, and regular stand-ups can help identify issues early and distribute knowledge.
  • Prioritize Work: Prioritize the backlog so the most important features are worked on first. This ensures that even if not everything is completed, the most valuable items are released.
  • Review and Adapt: Use the retrospective meetings to review why the team's progress did not match the burndown chart's predictions and adapt accordingly.
  • Increase Automation: Look into automating repetitive and time-consuming tasks, like deployments and testing, to increase efficiency.
  • Improve Technical Practices: Encourage practices that support maintainable code and sustainable pace, like Test-Driven Development (TDD) and Continuous Integration (CI).
  • Resource Adjustment: If consistent under-delivery is observed, consider whether the team is under-resourced and needs additional members or support.
  • Educate Stakeholders: Keep stakeholders informed about the impact of adding scope or changing priorities mid-release so that they can make informed decisions.

Benefits of improving release burndown

Improving the release burndown process and its associated chart can have several benefits for an Agile team and the broader organization:

  • Predictability: A more accurate burndown chart enhances predictability. Stakeholders can set their expectations correctly, and the team can plan with greater confidence.
  • Transparency: An improved burndown chart process increases transparency into the team's progress and challenges. This transparency can build trust with stakeholders and among team members.
  • Focus on Value Delivery: By understanding their pace and progress, the team can better focus on delivering value, choosing to work on the most important items that contribute directly to the release goals.
  • Efficient Use of Resources: Better planning and tracking can lead to more efficient use of the team's time and other resources, avoiding waste on less critical features or tasks.
  • Improved Morale: Teams that can see their progress and understand their work in the context of the release can experience higher morale and job satisfaction.
  • Enhanced Communication: A clear burndown chart improves communication with stakeholders by providing a straightforward visual representation of how the release is progressing.
  • Early Identification of Issues: An accurate burndown chart helps in identifying issues early on, such as scope creep or unrealistic velocity, which allows for timely intervention.
  • Scope Management: It provides a framework for better scope management by highlighting the impact of adding or removing work from the release.
  • Data-Driven Decisions: The insights gained from a reliable release burndown chart enable data-driven decisions regarding release planning, feature prioritization, and resource allocation.
  • Risk Mitigation: The chart can help in identifying and mitigating risks related to the release schedule, resource needs, and feature completion.
  • Continuous Improvement: By providing a clear picture of the release process, the team can continuously improve their practices, estimating accuracy, and delivery capabilities.

Risks of focusing on release burndown

Improving the release burndown process and its interpretation can generally lead to better project management outcomes, but there are risks and potential downsides if not managed carefully:

  • Overemphasis on Metrics: Teams might focus too much on the chart itself rather than the actual work. This can lead to decisions that favor the appearance of the chart over the quality or value of the work.
  • Misleading Data: If the data input is inaccurate (due to poor estimation or not updating work logs), the burndown chart can be misleading, giving a false sense of progress or issues.
  • Pressure and Burnout: Focusing on improving the burndown chart could put undue pressure on the team to work at an unsustainable pace, leading to burnout.
  • Scope Sacrifice: To maintain the burndown trajectory, teams might be tempted to cut corners or sacrifice the scope of critical features.
  • Resistance to Change: Teams might resist adding necessary work or adjusting timelines because they don't want the burndown chart to look bad, even if those changes are in the best interest of the project.
  • Over-Reliance: Teams may become over-reliant on the burndown chart to track progress, potentially neglecting other important qualitative measures of project health, such as customer satisfaction or technical debt.
  • Reduced Agility: An unhealthy focus on sticking to the burndown chart can reduce the team's agility to respond to changes, which is contrary to Agile principles.
  • Deprioritizing Quality: There is a risk of deprioritizing quality in an effort to ensure that the burndown line follows the desired path, leading to technical debt and bugs in the product.

Disadvantages of the burndown chart

  • Doesn't Show the Whole Picture: Burndown charts focus on the amount of work remaining and don't provide information on the quality or the value of the work completed. They also don't show who is doing what work or how the work is being done.
  • Scope Limitation: The chart assumes that the scope of work is well defined and will remain constant, which is rarely the case in software development. Changes in scope require updates to the chart, which can be cumbersome and may not be done in real-time.
  • False Sense of Progress: If tasks are not properly broken down or if the chart is not updated accurately, it can give a false sense of progress, which may lead to surprises late in the sprint.
  • Does Not Reflect Complexity or Difficulty: Burndown charts track tasks as either done or not done, without considering the varying levels of effort, complexity, or risks associated with individual tasks.
  • Doesn't Account for Added Value: They measure the completion of tasks rather than the creation of value. A team could be completing many tasks but not necessarily delivering the most valuable features first.

How to manage risks connected to focusing on the release burndown chart?

Managing the risks associated with the use and improvement of the release burndown chart involves a blend of good practices, clear communication, and an understanding of the team's dynamics. Here are ways to manage these risks:

  • Emphasize the Right Metrics: Educate the team and stakeholders that while the burndown chart is important, it is not the only measure of success. Balance it with other metrics like quality, customer satisfaction, and team health.
  • Ensure Accurate Data: Encourage the team to keep work logs and estimates up-to-date and accurate. Regularly review the way work is estimated and logged to ensure that it reflects true progress.
  • Promote Sustainable Pace: Make it clear that the goal is sustainable productivity. Encourage regular breaks, reasonable work hours, and a focus on long-term velocity rather than short-term gains.
  • Flexible Scope Management: Keep the scope negotiable, and ensure that the team and stakeholders understand that the goal is to deliver value, not just to follow a predefined plan.
  • Cultivate Openness to Change: Foster an environment where the team feels comfortable reporting issues and proposing changes, even if it affects the burndown chart negatively in the short term.
  • Balance Quantitative and Qualitative Measures: Use the burndown chart in conjunction with other qualitative measures like code reviews, customer feedback, and team retrospectives.
  • Encourage Agile Principles: Reinforce Agile principles that value responding to change over following a plan. Use the burndown chart as a guide, not as a strict rulebook.
  • Quality Assurance Practices: Implement strong quality assurance practices. Use definition of done (DoD), peer reviews, and automated testing to ensure quality isn't compromised for the sake of the chart.
  • Educate Against Gaming the System: Train the team on why gaming the system is harmful in the long term. Highlight the importance of transparency and integrity in Agile practices.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Use the burndown chart as a positive tool for improvement, not as a punitive measure. Celebrate successes and use any deviations as learning opportunities.
  • Regular Retrospectives: Use retrospectives to discuss the burndown chart and its implications. Allow the team to provide feedback on how the chart is used and managed.
  • Stakeholder Management: Manage stakeholder expectations by educating them on the purpose and proper use of the burndown chart. Ensure they understand that it's a tool for the team to manage work, not a report card.

How to access the release burndown chart in Jira?

  • Access your project: Navigate to the project for which you want to view the Release Burndown Report.
  • Go to Reports: In your project, look for the "Reports" section. This can usually be found in the left-hand sidebar menu under "Project settings" or directly accessible from the project's main menu.
  • Select the Report: Once in the Reports section, you might see a variety of reports. Look for the “Release Burndown” report. In Jira, this could be listed under the "Agile" reports or "Scrum" reports, depending on the board configuration and the version of Jira you are using.
  • Configure the Report: When you open the Release Burndown Report, you may need to select the specific version (or release) you want to analyze. Choose the version from a dropdown menu or a list of available versions.
  • View the Report: After selecting the version, the Release Burndown Chart will be displayed. You can see the amount of work that was left at the start, how much work has been completed, and how much work is remaining. If your team has been logging their work and updating issues properly, the report should give you an up-to-date representation of your release progress.

What is the difference between sprint burndown chart and release burndown chart?

The sprint burndown chart and the release burndown chart are both Agile project management tools that track the completion of work over time, but they operate at different scales and scopes.

Sprint Burndown Chart

  • Scope: Focuses on a single sprint, which is a short, consistent period typically ranging from one to four weeks.
  • Purpose: Tracks the amount of work that the team needs to complete within the sprint to meet the sprint goal.
  • Detail Level: Shows more detailed daily progress of tasks and is often used by the team for daily planning and adjustments.
  • Time Frame: Short-term, as it only covers the duration of the sprint.

Release Burndown Chart

  • Scope: Tracks the progress of a larger set of work that spans across multiple sprints, leading to a product release.
  • Purpose: Shows the overall progress toward completing the features planned for the release, often encompassing multiple sprints.
  • Detail Level: Less granular than the sprint burndown chart; it provides a higher-level view of the progress toward a major milestone.
  • Time Frame: Long-term, as it maps out the work over the entire release period, which could be several months.
  • In essence, the sprint burndown chart is a short-term, tactical tool for sprint-level tracking, while the release burndown chart is a strategic tool for monitoring progress toward a significant delivery or product release over a longer period.

What is the best tool for the burndown chart?

The best tool for creating and maintaining a burndown chart often depends on the specific needs and workflow of your team, as well as the complexity of your projects. Here are some of the most commonly used tools that support burndown charts:

  • Jira Software: Widely regarded as one of the best Agile project management tools, it offers robust support for burndown charts and other Agile metrics. It's particularly powerful for software development teams.
  • Trello: For teams looking for something simpler and more visual, Trello's power-ups can be used to create burndown charts. This tool is best for smaller projects or teams just starting with Agile.
  • VersionOne: A comprehensive Agile project management tool that supports enterprise-scale projects. It has extensive reporting and analytics features, including burndown charts.
  • Microsoft Azure DevOps (formerly VSTS): This integrates both project management and code repository management, which can be especially useful for teams using Microsoft products extensively.
  • Rally (formerly CA Agile Central): This tool is designed for Agile development and is well-suited for larger organizations. It offers extensive tracking capabilities, including burndown charts.
  • Scrumwise: Specifically designed for Scrum, it provides simple and intuitive tools for creating burndown charts and other Scrum artifacts.
  • Asana: With its recently added Agile features, Asana can now also support burndown charts through its integrations and dashboards.
  • ClickUp: A newer entrant into the project management space that offers a highly customizable platform with Agile features, including burndown charts.
  • Smartsheet: Known for its spreadsheet-like interface, Smartsheet offers project management capabilities and can be configured to show burndown charts.
  • Monday.com: An intuitive tool that has been gaining popularity for its flexibility and ease of use. With its dashboards, you can set up a burndown chart view.

When choosing a tool, consider factors such as integration with other tools, the scale of your projects, the methodologies you use (like Scrum or Kanban), and your budget. Many of these tools offer trial periods, so you can test them to see which one fits best with your team's workflow.

Starting to measure release burndown

Before starting to measure the release burndown metric, assess if it’s right for you:

  1. Confirm that your project follows Agile or Scrum methodologies, as the burndown chart is most effective in iterative work environments.
  2. If your project involves a large number of tasks that can be quantified and estimated, a burndown chart can help in visualizing the completion of these tasks over time.
  3. Consider how frequently your project scope changes. If changes are frequent, you'll need to ensure they can be effectively reflected in the burndown chart.
  4. Evaluate whether your team is disciplined in updating task statuses and comfortable using the burndown chart for tracking progress.
  5. Decide if you need a straightforward visual tool to communicate progress to stakeholders who may not be involved in the day-to-day details of the project.
  6. Determine if your project benefits from a tool that helps in adapting plans based on current progress to ensure that deadlines are met.
  7. Assess whether you need a tool that helps in evaluating if the current pace of work aligns with the team's capacity, which is crucial for resource allocation and planning.
  8. If you are interested in understanding the performance trends over multiple sprints or versions, a release burndown chart can provide historical data for analysis.

If the release burndown chart seems right for your case, follow these steps:

  • Define the Scope: List all the tasks, user stories, or features that are planned for the release and estimate them, often using story points or hours.
  • Set the Timeframe: Determine the time period over which the release is planned, broken down into sprints or intervals.
  • Create the Chart: On the vertical axis, plot the total amount of work to do at the start of the release. On the horizontal axis, plot the time intervals.
  • Update Regularly: As work is completed, update the chart at the end of each sprint to reflect the remaining work.
  • Track Progress: Use the chart to visualize the progress of the release and to make any necessary adjustments to the work or the process.

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Olga Gierszal
IT Outsourcing Market Analyst & Software Engineering Editor

Software development enthusiast with 7 years of professional experience in the tech industry. Experienced in outsourcing market analysis, with a special focus on nearshoring. In the meantime, our expert in explaining tech, business, and digital topics in an accessible way. Writer and translator after hours.

Olga Gierszal
IT Outsourcing Market Analyst & Software Engineering Editor

Software development enthusiast with 7 years of professional experience in the tech industry. Experienced in outsourcing market analysis, with a special focus on nearshoring. In the meantime, our expert in explaining tech, business, and digital topics in an accessible way. Writer and translator after hours.

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