Burndown Charts: Everything You Need to Know About it

There are many different ways that you can and should keep track of your tasks and projects as a business. Whether you’ve already created other types of charts in the past or you’re looking for your very first productivity option, a burndown chart could be exactly what you need. You just need to know how it works and how to make the most out of it. From there, your projects and your entire team could benefit greatly.

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What is a Burndown Chart?

A burndown chart is a little less expansive than a Gantt chart or a Kanban board. Instead of being highly specific and detailing every task and every person involved, a burndown chart focusses on just how much time is left on a specific project. It does this by looking at two different factors, namely the amount of work that’s left to complete the project and the amount of time that’s left to complete the work. The graph then allows you to see the answers to these questions simply and straightforwardly.

These charts also look at the information in two slightly different ways. For example, you can look at a sprint burndown chart to determine just how much work is left in the task that needs to be completed or that you want to measure. This allows you and the rest of the team to get a good idea of how you’re performing over short sprints. It can be an extremely important part of the process and makes sure that the entire team is working as hard as possible on that sprint. If you tend to set goals for larger projects that need to be completed in a shorter period this might be a good way to go.

You can also create a product burndown chart, which will allow you to track just how much work there is for the entire project that you’re working on. It might be a large project or a small project but you and your team still want to know how you’re coming along and how much more you need to do to complete it. With the product burndown, you can do that and you can compare how much you’ve already completed the project while you’re at it. That helps you get even more of the work done quickly.

Sample Burndown Chart
Sample Burndown Chart

Why Use a Burndown Chart?

We touched on this slightly in the last section but it’s something that we should take another look at as well. In general,  Burndown chart is going to be a great accompaniment to some of the other types of productivity charts that you can create, like a Kanban board or a Gantt chart. While it doesn’t give you the detailed information that these types of charts do, it can give you a decent amount of information about just how you’re progressing and whether you need to speed up or continue where you are.

You’ll find out whether your project is on track to be completed on time with the use of this type of board. Where a Kanban board can show you where a task is on your schedule or a Gantt chart can tell you how long you have until you get to the deadline and even what percentage is complete, it can still be difficult to understand what is happening within the project. With the burndown chart, you can see a pictographic representation of how much needed to be done when you started, how much you’ve done thus far, and how much you’ll need to do to be done on time.

This type of graph makes it easy for you to look at the pace of work that you’ve done and the pace that you will need to complete the work on time. This can make it much easier for you to accomplish just that. You can take a closer look at the pace and share it with the rest of your team as well, which will allow them to see what they still need to do to help everyone get to the end of the task or project.

Because they’re very simple in design and straightforward it makes them easy for anyone to check out. You can look at it with just a short amount of time and get immediate feedback about what still needs to be done and how well you’re moving forward. You’ll want to check in on it at least once per day to see how you are doing either at the beginning of a day or the end (or both). This will help you and your team to figure out what to do next to get on track or stay on track.

What You’ll See

When you create your burndown chart for a specific project you’ll see two different lines represented. On the y-axis of your graph is the quantity of work that is remaining. On the x-axis you’ll see the amount of time that you have to complete the work. These two things will help you create the graph and will make it easier to read. They can also be represented in different ways so that the timeline is longer or shorter depending on what you’re tracking but the quantity of work can be detailed from 100% to 0%.

Once you have the graph itself there are two lines present on it. The first is an ideal work line. This is the line that connects the work from 100% to 0%. So, it looks at how you should pace yourself to get from just starting to finished with the project with the least bumps in the road. If you were to work at the optimum level that is the pace that you would use and how everything would be completed. But that’s not always the way things go. That’s very rarely how things go.

The second line is the actual work remaining line. This one will look at the amount of work that’s due each day and create a chart that shows you how much you’ve done and how much still needs to be done. It updates frequently to make sure that it’s accurate and you know how well (or not so well) you’re progressing. If you are seeing the actual work line above the ideal line it means that you need to put in a little more work to get back on schedule. If the line is below the ideal line it means you’re ahead of schedule.

Keep in mind that your actual work line will fluctuate as you and your team continue to work on the project and it will balance out the remaining work. So, if you still have time left to complete the project it will take the current spot you are and show you an ideal path to get to the end. If you don’t follow that path it will continue to change and update as you do complete work to show you the best way forward. The key is to make sure that you check in on it frequently.

The Benefits Associated With Burndown Charts

There are several different benefits that you will find if you do decide to work with burndown charts. The key is to make sure that you’re using them properly and that you initiate them for your sprints or projects early on. This will make it easier for you to stay on task from the start rather than having to rush too much when it comes to the end of the timeline. Plus, with these benefits, you’re going to want to check out the options as well.

See the Progress – One of the first things that you’re going to notice with this type of chart is that the information is available immediately. You don’t need to search for anything and you don’t need to look at the chart for an extended period to see what you need to know. You can immediately look and see how you’re doing compared to how you should be doing. This will give you immediate feedback and the ability to immediately reach out to the rest of your team with additional information and advice.

See the Problems – If you and your team are running behind or in danger of running behind your burndown chart is going to let you know that in a very short amount of time. That means you can see that you’re falling behind quickly and take action immediately. If the actual work line dips even a slight amount below your ideal work line you’ll be able to see that and immediately speed things up just a little to get back on track. If you didn’t see the problem until much later it would mean you would have to speed up that much more to get back on track.

See What You Need – If you have members on your team that aren’t so great about reading some of the more complex charts or systems that you have then this is a great way to keep them informed. It’s simple and straightforward to learn and you can read it at a glance. All you need to look at is the two lines and compare where they are related to each other. From there, you’ll have all the information you need. This is a great chart to use when you’re working on short-term projects especially.

The Downside of Burndown Charts

There are some great possibilities with burndown charts but there are also some things that you will want to pay closer attention to. These things will help you determine if a burndown chart is a right way to go for your team and your projects. There are, after all, some limitations to what you’re going to be able to do.

1. Accurate Planning is Needed

You’ll need to plan out your sprint accurately to get an accurate depiction of just how much time and how much work you have left. If you misjudge the sprint you’ll find yourself struggling to stay on track.

2. Ignores the Backlog

You are the one who is responsible for putting everything into the chart and making sure that it all works properly. If you don’t complete the backlog of tasks or if you don’t put in the backlog of tasks you could end up with an inaccurate chart.

Setting Your Charts

When it comes to running a project sprint you want to make sure that you’re on the right path and that you’re recording everything properly. As long as you know what you’re doing and you make sure that you lay out all of the ground rules the right way you and your team are going to be much better off with this chart in play. Just make sure that everyone knows how to set it up and how to monitor it. And make sure that all tasks are being reported properly so that it stays updated.
When you’re ready to start looking at different types of charts and different ways of tracking all of the work that you need to complete make sure you’re looking at burndown charts. You might even be surprised at just how much this type of chart can change the way you and your team look at the work you need to complete. And when you’re looking at quick systems and tracking, there’s definitely no better way to do it than with a burndown chart to help you along.

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