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Sprint Burndown Chart: Guidelines for Agile Projects

Last updated on
October 4, 2023


What is sprint burndown?

Sprint burndown is a visual metric in software development that tracks remaining work over time during a sprint, helping teams assess progress and make informed decisions.

Why to measure sprint burndown?

Measuring sprint burndown will provide you with visibility into progress, identify bottlenecks, and promote effective communication, enabling your team to optimize performance and deliver successful outcomes.

Dive deeper into the article to uncover the secrets of sprint burndown and learn how to measure it effectively for improved project management.


Sprint Burndown Chart: Guidelines for Agile Projects


One of the main challenges in software development is the struggle with tracking the progress of your projects. It can be a daunting task to keep everyone on the same page and ensure that the team is moving in the right direction.

Sprint burndown is the missing piece in your agile toolkit. The chart will boost your visibility, aid decision-making, and enhance team collaboration. 

In this article, we will explore the benefits and risks connected to measuring sprint burndown. We’ll also showcase its ability to provide real-time insights, foster transparency, and streamline your team's agile workflows. Whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting your journey, prepare to unlock the key to effective progress tracking. Let's dive in.

What is sprint burndown?

sprint burndown chart definition

Sprint burndown is a fundamental software development metric that provides a clear and visual representation of the remaining work over time during a sprint. Think of it as a roadmap that helps your team understand how much work is left to complete and how well they are progressing towards their goal.

It's a chart that displays the remaining tasks or user stories on the vertical axis and the passing days of the sprint on the horizontal axis

By diligently updating sprint burndown throughout the sprint, your team will gain valuable insights into their progress, allowing them to assess their velocity and make informed decisions. 

If the burndown line gradually declines as expected, it indicates that the team is on track to complete the planned work within the sprint duration. On the other hand, if the burndown line deviates from the expected trend, it could be a sign of potential challenges or underestimations. This early detection allows the team to proactively address issues, adjust their plans, and ensure successful sprint completion. 

Benefits of improving sprint burndown

benefits of measuring sprint burndown

Sprint burndown offers several advantages that can greatly benefit your team's performance and collaboration. Here are five key benefits of improving sprint burndown: 

Visibility and transparency

Improving sprint burndown will provide you with a clear and visual representation of your team's progress over time. It allows everyone involved, including team members and stakeholders, to have a shared understanding of how the work is progressing. By having this visibility, it becomes easier to identify any bottlenecks, address issues, and make informed decisions regarding the project's trajectory.

Early detection of problems

When sprint burndown is actively improved, it becomes a valuable tool for early problem detection. As the chart shows the remaining work, any deviations from the expected trend can be quickly identified. This early detection enables your team to proactively address issues and take corrective actions before they escalate into larger problems.

Effective sprint planning

By consistently improving sprint burndown, teams gain valuable insights into their velocity and capacity for future sprints. With a clear understanding of past performance, your team can plan future sprints more accurately, setting realistic goals and ensuring a manageable workload for each iteration.

Collaboration and communication

Sprint burndown acts as a communication tool that fosters collaboration among team members. It serves as a shared reference point, allowing everyone to discuss progress, identify challenges, and brainstorm solutions. By regularly updating the burndown chart and discussing it during daily stand-up meetings or sprint reviews, your team members can align their efforts, share knowledge, and support each other to achieve common goals.

Motivation and team morale

Improving the sprint burndown can boost team morale and motivation. As the chart demonstrates progress, with the burndown line gradually declining, team members can see the tangible results of their hard work. This sense of accomplishment and visibility of their contributions can fuel motivation, fostering a positive and productive team environment. 

Risks of focusing on sprint burndown

While measuring sprint burndown can provide valuable insights, it's important to be aware of potential risks and limitations. Here are five risks to consider when basing decisions solely on sprint burndown:

Ignoring quality and technical debt

Focusing solely on improving the sprint burndown may lead your team to prioritize speed over quality. Rushing through tasks to meet deadlines can result in subpar code, increased technical debt, and potential long-term problems. It's crucial to strike a balance, ensuring that the quality of the software remains a priority alongside the progress tracked by sprint burndown.

Neglecting collaboration and team dynamics

Overemphasizing sprint burndown can inadvertently shift the focus away from collaboration and healthy team dynamics. Your team might become concerned with individual productivity, leading to a lack of shared understanding and support among team members. 

Unpredictable external factors

Measuring sprint burndown assumes a predictable environment, which may not always be the case. Unforeseen external factors, such as sudden changes in requirements, technical challenges, or unexpected dependencies, can significantly impact the progress and accuracy of the burndown chart. Your team should be prepared to adapt and adjust their plans accordingly, even if it means the burndown doesn't follow the expected trajectory.

Overlooking process improvement opportunities

Concentrating only on improving sprint burndown may lead you to overlook valuable opportunities for process improvement. By solely fixating on completing tasks, your team might miss chances to optimize workflows, automate repetitive tasks, or introduce innovative practices that can enhance long-term productivity. 

Misinterpretation and manipulation of data

Measuring sprint burndown requires accurate and honest data. However, there's a risk of misinterpretation or manipulation of the data, either intentionally or unintentionally. This can result in false assumptions, skewed progress reports, and misguided decision-making. It's vital that you foster a culture of transparency, where team members feel comfortable reporting their progress truthfully and interpreting the burndown data objectively.

How to measure sprint burndown?

Measuring product sprint burndown is an important step in understanding how your team progresses with their work. Here's how to measure it:

Set up your sprint backlog

Start by creating a list of tasks or user stories that need to be completed during the sprint. Estimate the effort or complexity for each item. For our example, let's say our sprint backlog consists of five tasks: A, B, C, D, and E.

Determine remaining work

At the start of each day, assess the remaining work for each task. You can use various techniques, such as breaking down the tasks into subtasks or simply estimating the remaining effort. Let's assume the remaining work for each task on Day 1 is as follows:

Task A: 8 hours remaining

Task B: 12 hours remaining

Task C: 6 hours remaining

Task D: 10 hours remaining

Task E: 16 hours remaining

Update the sprint burndown chart

Now, plot the remaining work on your sprint burndown chart. The vertical axis represents the remaining work, and the horizontal axis represents the passing days of the sprint. On Day 1, mark the points on the chart for each task's remaining work as we determined earlier.

Track progress

As the sprint progresses, update the remaining work on a daily basis. For example, on Day 2, the updated remaining work could be:

Task A: 6 hours remaining

Task B: 8 hours remaining

Task C: 4 hours remaining

Task D: 6 hours remaining

Task E: 12 hours remaining 

Continue this process daily until the end of the sprint.

Analyze the burndown chart

Regularly review and analyze the burndown chart with your team. Observe the trend and ensure it aligns with your expectations. Ideally, the remaining work should gradually decrease over time.

Adjust and take action

If the burndown chart deviates from the expected trend, discuss it with your team. Identify any potential issues or challenges and take appropriate action. This might involve reallocating resources, reprioritizing tasks, or addressing impediments.

Alternatives to sprint burndown

While sprint burndown is a widely used metric in software development, there are alternative approaches that teams can consider based on their specific needs. Here are a few main alternatives to sprint burndown:

Sprint burnup

Sprint burnup provides a visual representation of progress. Instead of tracking remaining work, it focuses on the cumulative completed work over time. A sprint burnup chart shows how the total work accomplished increases throughout the sprint. 

Choose sprint burnup when you want to emphasize the positive progress and cumulative achievements rather than focusing on remaining work.

Cumulative flow diagram (CFD)

Cumulative flow diagram tracks the flow of work across different stages of the development process, such as "To Do," "In Progress," and "Done." It will help you visualize the distribution of work and identify bottlenecks or areas where work is piling up. 

CFD is useful when teams want to gain insights into workflow efficiency and identify areas for process improvement.

Velocity tracking

Velocity refers to the amount of work completed by your team within a given sprint. Instead of focusing on individual tasks, velocity tracking involves measuring how many user stories or points your team can complete in each sprint. It helps teams estimate their capacity for future sprints and plan work accordingly. 

Velocity tracking is a good choice when your team wants to assess their overall productivity and establish a reliable baseline for future planning.

Kanban board

A Kanban Board is a visual tool that represents the flow of work across different stages. It typically consists of columns representing task states, such as "To Do," "In Progress," and "Done," with cards representing individual tasks. Kanban board provides a real-time snapshot of the current status of work items. It is particularly useful for visualizing and managing the workflow in a flexible manner. 

Choose a Kanban board when you want to optimize the flow of work, visualize task status, and promote collaboration within your team.

Cycle time

Cycle time measures the time it takes for a task or user story to move through the entire workflow, from start to completion. It focuses on individual items rather than the overall progress. By analyzing cycle time, your team can identify bottlenecks, optimize their workflow, and make more accurate predictions about task completion. 

Consider cycle time when you want to understand and improve the efficiency of your workflow, and track the time it takes to complete individual items.

Next steps

Measuring sprint burndown is a key metric as it provides benefits such as increased visibility, early problem detection, effective sprint planning, enhanced collaboration, and boosted team morale. By leveraging this metric, teams can optimize their performance, address challenges proactively, and ultimately deliver high-quality software products. By measuring and updating the burndown regularly, you can stay on top of your tasks and adapt as needed to ensure a successful sprint.

To expand your knowledge further by exploring our other articles on software development metrics. Dive into our collection of articles and unlock a world of metric-driven excellence.

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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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