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Track Your Agile Project: Burndown Charts, and the Devil in the Details

Ever since the Agile Manifesto was published in 2001, Agile software development has been growing fast. The benefits of adopting this framework are well documented, and have convinced organizations of all sizes to hop on the bandwagon. Enterprises are now adopting solutions to transition to, and scale Agile, and even safety-critical companies are experimenting with the framework.

Despite soaring Agile adoption rates, the question of measuring Agile success remains open in many companies.

Among the many way to measure Agile performance are:

  • Burndown charts
  • Velocity over time charts
  • Current velocity
  • Remaining time and
  • The overall breakdown of the iteration

The Burndown Chart in a Nutshell

The burndown chart is one of the most well-know charts used by Agile practitioners. It was developed by Ken Schwaber to provide the Scrum community with a tool to plan and measure their work. The burndown chart is a very effective planning tool if you know how to interpret the metrics.

Let's take a look at the basics of this techique:

  • The burndown chart is a graphical representation of all the work left to complete over time.
  • It shows the effort /cost spent and schedule on a daily basis. It's a transparent visualization of the performance of an Agile team.
  • A continuously updated burndown chart is also a great communication tool: customers and stakeholders can follow the progress of their projects on a daily basis.
  • It's important to note that remaining task hours can be misleading! Keep these up to date, and look into the details to uncover any bottlenecks.
  • The graph shows how smoothly Sprint commitments were met. You can see if your team stretched at the end of the Sprint to meet commitment, and whether the team's performance was consistent or not. In other words you can quickly and simply check if your team is in trouble, ahead of schedule, or right on track.

Burndown Chart: Scenarios to Consider

Certain scenarios can cause your burndown chart to be misleading:

  • Tasks that take longer than 12 hours can be difficult to track. Encourage team members to break down tasks into bits of less than 12 hours.
  • Teams usually update the effort column on a daily basis, but they need to continuously reestimate how much effort they will need to complete the task. Otherwise, the "effort remaining" and "effort spent" graphs won't be consistent and can be easily misunderstood.
  • Team members should understand that they need to update the "effort remaining" on a daily basis and to their best and most up to date knowledge. This helps ensure that your burndown chart shows an accurate status every day.

The burndown chart is the most popular tracking tool for organizations implementing Agile due to its effectiveness and simplicity. Use it with the aim to enable your team to produce potentially shippable and working increments, and dig deeper to uncover and fix bottlenecks.

Pro tip: For further Agile insights & best practices, sign up for our free Agile Training Course!

Managing, monitoring, and reporting on work in an Agile setting can be a challenge due to the complexity introduced by self-governing teams. But with the right tools, it need not be a time-consuming effort. codeBeamer is an Application Lifecycle Management solution that provides your teams with all the tools they need to manage an Agile software development lifecycle. To learn more, conctact us or start your free trial.

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