Pimp your burndown chart!

Ah, yes… our friend the burndown chart, a daily reminder of how a scrum development team is progressing in its current sprint. If things are going swimmingly, they’re fun. If you feel like you’re drowning, not so much.

In general, I’m a fan. Starting each daily sprint meeting with a look at the chart gives the team a nice visual indication of progress (or lack thereof). They’re best used as a tool for self-policing developer teams within the confines of a single sprint, while management and stakeholders may find more benefit in the longer term velocity and burnup charts that track the project as a whole.

But, back to the burndown… here’s a sample chart from one of our recent sprints:


The progress looks good, but not great, right? Why aren’t we following the gray goal line? Are we behind? Well, actually, it’s hard to tell. Mostly because the goal line is what I like to think of as an “arbitrary line of hope,” particularly if what you are tracking are completed story points. If we were charting remaining estimated hours of effort (which some scrum teams adjust daily regardless of story completion) we may be able to get close to the “ideal” line, but it doesn’t work as well with fixed story points.

Our team only burns down fully-coded and tested stories, which is a more accurate reflection of what’s happening if the end goal is completeness. But, since it’s tough to finish coding and testing complete stories in the first day or two of a sprint, the graph line will almost always be above the arbitrary line of hope. This could lead to two things: either the team is in a perpetual state of bummed-out-ed-ness because they’re never near the goal (which isn’t good), or they slack off because, “hey, we’re always above the line anyway” (which isn’t good).

How about a “realistic line of hope” that mirrors past performance of the team, something like a rolling average of the last four sprints. The team could then easily compare their progress over the course of the sprint instead of waiting for longer-term velocity charts.

So, something more along these lines:


Ah, yes… much better!

The two charts show the same progress, but the second one shows us that we’re not only on track, but actually doing a little better than average.

That’s a chart I wouldn’t mind looking at every morning.