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Agile practices

Burndown charts and burnup charts

by Simon Buehring
Learn the secrets of burndown charts and burnup charts, and how and when to use them on your Agile teams.
Burndown Chart | Burnup Chart | agileKRC

Introducing Agile burndown charts

Within Agile project management, visibility into progress is essential. Burndown and burnup charts serve as visual tools that offer teams insight into their work velocity and overall progression towards project objectives. While they both track the amount of work completed over time, they provide different perspectives on project status.

Understanding these charts is vital for any Agile project manager or team member hoping to effectively monitor and guide the trajectory of their projects. By examining their functions, benefits, and nuances, we can better grasp how each chart forms a critical part of the Agile project management toolkit for managing workloads and expectations.

Burndown charts

What is a burndown chart?

A burndown chart is a graph that represents the work left to do versus time. It is a key tool in Agile and Scrum methodologies that helps teams predict when all the work will be completed. The ‘work left to do’ is typically measured in story points, or backlog items, and the ‘time’ is often the duration of a sprint or the whole project.

Key components of a burndown chart

Example of a burndown chart
Example of a burndown chart

A proper burndown chart includes the total work scope plotted against a predetermined timeline. It consists of two main lines: the ‘ideal work’ line, representing the anticipated work rate, and the ‘actual work’ line, showing the real-time progress of the team. The divergence between these lines offers insights into whether the team is on track.

How to create and read a burndown chart

To create a burndown chart, start by estimating the total amount of work and spread it across the expected timeline. As the project unfolds, update the chart with the remaining work after each work period. If the actual work line is below the ideal line, the team is ahead of schedule; if above, it indicates a lag.

Benefits of using a burndown chart

Burndown charts promote transparency, allowing team members to see what needs to be done and managers to spot potential roadblocks early. They encourage steady progress and help in managing stakeholders’ expectations by showing realistic delivery timelines.

Common pitfalls and how to avoid them

A frequent error is not updating the burndown chart regularly, which leads to a loss of accuracy. Teams should also avoid adjusting the scope without updating the chart, as this can misrepresent the project status. Accurate and consistent updates are paramount for the burndown chart to be an effective tool.

Burnup charts

What is a burnup chart?

Distinct from a burndown chart, the burnup chart illustrates the total work done over time, juxtaposed with the overall scope of the project. It provides a broader view of a project’s progress and any changes to its scope.

Key components of a burnup chart

Example of a burnup chart
Example of a burnup chart

The burnup chart is drawn with two main lines: the ‘completed work’ line, which shows the cumulative work done, and the ‘total work’ line that represents the evolving scope of the project. Their convergence indicates the project’s culmination.

How to create and read a burnup chart

Creating a burnup chart involves plotting the cumulative completed work against time, while also tracking the total work line. As the project scope changes, adjust the total work line accordingly. The gap between the total work and completed work lines gives a clear indication of the remaining work.

Advantages of using a burnup chart over a burndown chart

Burnup charts provide a better picture of a project’s health when there are frequent scope changes, as they track such adjustments. They help in managing stakeholder expectations by clearly showing the impact of added or removed work.

Potential challenges with burnup charts

The primary challenge with burnup charts is their complexity in comparison to burndown charts. Teams new to Agile might find them harder to interpret. Also, without ongoing management, the scope line can become misleading.

Comparing burndown and burnup charts

Similarities between both charts

Both charts are tools for tracking project progress and are prevalent in Agile project management. They enable teams to see immediately how much work has been done and how much is left.

Differences and when to use each chart

While both aim to inform about project progress, they offer different perspectives. The burndown chart is straightforward, showing work remaining, ideal for projects with a fixed scope. The burnup chart, however, tracks completed work against changing scope, better suited for projects where scope modification is expected.

Deciding which chart to use for your project

Choosing between the two depends on the nature of the project and the team’s preference for data representation. For stable projects with a well-defined scope, burndown charts are usually sufficient. For projects that are more dynamic with frequent scope changes, burnup charts are more informative.

Burn charts and Agile project management

Using burn charts with Scrum

In Scrum, burndown charts are often used to track sprint progress. Both charts play a role in the continuous improvement cycle, providing feedback for better planning and execution.

Interpreting chart data to make informed decisions

The ability to interpret these charts accurately allows project managers to forecast completion dates and allocate resources effectively. Discrepancies between expected and actual progress spark discussions for addressing issues and implementing corrective measures.

Updating charts throughout the project lifecycle

For the charts to remain relevant, they should be updated regularly with the latest data. This requires a disciplined approach from the team to accurately record their progress and any changes to the project scope. Regular updates ensure the charts reflect the project’s current state.


Burndown and burnup charts serve as important tracking tools for Agile project teams. They offer clarity on project progression and facilitate informed decision-making.

While the burndown chart provides simplicity and focus on remaining work, the burnup chart shines in its capacity to represent scope changes alongside completed work. These charts provide the visibility necessary to steer complex projects to successful completion.

Teams should experiment with these tools and choose the one that aligns best with the project dynamics and their information needs, ensuring a tailored approach to project tracking that underpins successful Agile project management.

Learn from agile leaders

agileKRC has helped shape agile thinking by leading the teams that developed AgilePM® and PRINCE2 Agile®. We take a practical, success-oriented approach. We begin by taking the time to listen and understand your needs, before offering our real-world experience and expert guidance.

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