Jira is one of the most powerful platforms available for managing projects and tasks and it comes with an extensive suite of tools for tracking performance and progress.
One of the most frequently used of these in Jira Software is the burndown chart, which illustrates how the team’s output compares against projected work estimations in sprints and epics – visualising progress from the planning stage through to the end of the sprint.
In this blog post, we’ll explain what burndown charts can do for you and how to create them, as well as some tips on exactly what the direction of the work completed line means for your team.
What is covered in this blog post:
- What are Jira burndown charts
- What are the advantages of using burndown charts?
- How to create burndown charts
- Using Sprint burndown charts
- Using Epic burndown charts
- How to read Jira burndown charts
What are Jira burndown charts?
Burndown charts illustrate the amount of work remaining in a sprint or epic against the amount of work that the team has completed. Tracking this illustrates whether the team is on-target to complete their assigned workload within the allocated timeframe. They also make it clear if progress is stymied by changes in the scope of the workload or if work is otherwise being blocked.
What are the advantages of using burndown charts?
Burndown charts are an extremely useful tool for team management as they illustrate whether the team’s actual progress aligns with what has been planned out in advance. This can tell you a lot about both the work that is happening and about the effectiveness of the team’s planning processes.
The chart should provide insights into whether planning is realistic, for example – is the team committing to enough work, and is that work getting completed? And have tasks been broken down sufficiently to allow a smooth curve of completed issues on the chart?
How to create burndown charts
Before you get to your burndown chart, you need to confirm the estimation statistic that you will use to measure how long each task will take to complete. This might come in the form of days, weeks, months, business value, or story points – with many agile teams picking the last option. You can also use issues as the estimation statistic unit, but it’s a fairly inaccurate measure given how widely individual issues, and the amount of work required to complete them, can vary.
There are then two simple steps to generate a burndown chart.
First, select the estimation statistic that you want to use:
- Go to your board or backlog and then click “More” (“…”) and then “Board settings”
- Then go to the “Estimation” tab where you can select which estimate you want to use
You can then assign estimates to issues in your sprint or project:
- Go to an issue on your board or in the backlog and click “Estimate” in the issue’s details
- Then give the issue an estimate of how much work it will take to complete; this can be changed at a later date, but if it is changed after the start of the sprint it will indicate a scope change on the burndown chart
With the estimation statistic set and estimates assigned to tasks, Jira will automatically generate a burndown chart for your sprint or epic.
To access the burndown chart in your sprint:
- Go to your project and then the backlog or active sprint
- Go to reports and then click “Burndown Chart” – and you’re there!
To go to the burndown chart in an epic, follow the same path, first heading to the backlog or sprint, then clicking reports, and then “Epic Burndown”. You can then pick from the epics assigned to your board via a dropdown to get the relevant burndown chart.
Using Sprint burndown charts
The sprint burndown report shows the remaining work in the sprint and indicates whether the team is on target. If things are off course, the team can then take steps to recover – either modifying the planning process in future or adapting how they tackle work.
- Estimation statistic: The y-axis corresponds to the estimation statistic unit you’ve chosen, and the number of story points or issues you’ve assigned. The x-axis represents time.
- Remaining work: The chart’s red line stands for the remaining work in the sprint.
- Guideline: The chart’s grey line illustrates a linear estimation of progress over time.
You’ll see all the issues that the chart includes listed beneath it, so you can access them and their details.
It’s unlikely that the remaining work line and the guideline will precisely overlap, but if they do it indicates that things are going exactly as planned. If the grey line is above the red line, the team should finish their work by the sprint’s end. If the red line is above the grey line, though, things may be going off course.
Using Epic burndown charts
The epic burndown chart, which has been optimized for scrum teams, illustrates the progress of your team as they work through a given epic, which may cover multiple sprints. This helps to illustrate progress and scope changes in the epic, as well as indicating how many sprints will be needed to complete work on the epic.
- Epic menu: Choosing which epic to view
- Work added: The darker segment indicates the work added for each sprint
- Work remaining: The lighter segment represents the remaining work
- Work completed: The light green segment indicates completed work in each sprint
- Projected completion: This suggests the number of sprints required to finish the epic, given the team’s current velocity
How to read Jira burndown charts
There are a number of things to watch out for with the burndown chart:
– Work is completed early: Great news: you’re ahead of the curve! Nevertheless, if the team is finishing work early on a regular basis – and they’re not doing excess overtime already – then they should probably commit to more work at the planning stage.
– Work completed is consistently above the guideline: This indicates that the team has committed to too much work, that they’re under-resourced, or that additional challenges are being presented that make work estimates inaccurate.
If the team is falling short and missing targets, you obviously want to establish why and adjust your processes accordingly. The point at which things went off course may also be apparent from the burndown chart where the two lines begin to deviate.
– Sharp drops appear in work completed: If there are sudden drops in the work completed line, it indicates that the work has not been sufficiently broken down into smaller tasks (so large batches of work are completed at once) or that estimations have been made inaccurately (so lots of small tasks with oversized estimates are completed in a short period). Either way, it suggests that the planning process needs to be improved.
– The work completed line goes horizontal: This indicates that progress has halted, because one task is blocking all other work on the project, or work has been stopped by some other factor. In the latter case, this can be remedied by ensuring that the team have access to all the stories, tools, and services that they need. Another reason for flatlining, however, may be…
– Sharp drop in work completed on the final day of the sprint: If all the work assigned is suddenly marked complete on the final day of the sprint, it suggests that tasks are not being updated as they are finished – meaning that there are then dramatic fluctuations in the work completed line as work gets signed off before the end of the sprint.
– Remaining work increases: It’s only natural that work will sometimes need to be added to sprints or estimates will need to be adjusted – and this scope change is apparent in the burndown chart where the amount of work remaining goes up rather than down. This naturally throws off the sprint planning process, so the team should review why scope changes are happening and whether these adjustments can be predicted and built into estimates.
Jira’s burndown charts are a simple, powerful tool for checking the direction that your team is heading in – and they’re great to have on your dashboard for an update at a glance.
They form a key part of the team’s feedback loop, acting as an indicator for progress, for team health, and for planning effectiveness. They’re also transparent and shared, meaning that everyone on the team can get the same clear view of their performance. What’s more, it’s a report that is updated in real-time, meaning that it gives you a snapshot of the current working environment and the team’s workload.
Given all this, they’re an invaluable resource for team management – and it’s worth paying close attention to the direction of your work completed line.
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