What Is A Burndown Chart? The Burndown Chart In A Nutshell

A burndown chart is a graphical representation of outstanding work versus time and is useful for predicting when all of the work will be completed. A burndown chart can be created by estimating the required effort to complete a project and tracking daily task progress. For the duration of the project, the team must also determine its actual effort against the estimated effort and plot the dataset to evaluate progress. A burndown chart is simple to understand and provides clarity on project scope and progress. However, the accuracy of a burndown chart relies on estimations invariably influenced by cognitive biases. In poorly defined projects, the quality of the resultant chart will be similarly poor.

Understanding a burndown chart

Successful project managers realize the importance of statistics and graphical illustration tools in facilitating communication and collaboration amongst team members.

One of the more popular tools is the burndown chart, favored because of its simplicity and effectiveness.

Broadly speaking, a burndown chart displays how much work remains to be completed on the y-axis with the number of days since work began on the x-axis.

By comparing its actual progress with an ideal rate of progress, the project team can determine whether it is on or behind schedule.

In agile software development methodologies such as Scrum, these charts graphically illustrate the speed with which a team is working by plotting user stories against time.

Scrum is a methodology co-created by Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland for effective team collaboration on complex products. Scrum was primarily thought for software development projects to deliver new software capability every 2-4 weeks. It is a sub-group of agile also used in project management to improve startups’ productivity.

After the successful completion of a user story, the chart is updated.

The chart can also record the pace of a team – otherwise known as velocity – and predict its performance.

Creating a burndown chart

Though the burndown chart can be used in almost any context, it has seen renewed interest in agile software development.

With that in mind, we will now detail the steps required to complete a burndown chart:

Estimate effort

What is the ideal baseline for using the available hours throughout the sprint?

In most cases, this is determined by dividing the available hours by the number of days the sprint will run across.

For a sprint of 80 hours over 8 days, the effort required is 10 hours per day.

Team leaders must then quantify the burndown as a daily running total with 80 hours remaining on Day 0, 70 hours remaining on Day 1, 60 hours remaining on Day 2, and so forth.

Track daily progress

Daily progress is then captured in the table against each daily task.

Note that the hours assigned to each task are the estimated effort required for completion and not the actual effort.

Determine the actual effort

At the conclusion of each day, the total remaining effort must be calculated by subtracting the actual effort from the running total.

As the project progresses, the actual effort will fluctuate above and below the estimated effort.

These disparities depend on how accurately the initial project work was estimated and whether individuals can work effectively as a team.

Plot the final dataset

Using the data from step three, the burndown chart itself can be created by using a simple application such as Microsoft Excel.

Once plotted, the project team can compare planned and actual progress.

Benefits and limitations of burndown charts


The most obvious benefit of a burndown chart is that it provides a clear and visible progress update to all members of the project team.

The chart is easy to understand, which increases employee motivation and buy-in.

Burndown charts also help the project team deal with small issues before they become large problems.

By tracking actual progress against ideal progress, the conversation is naturally steered toward the project and any obstacles to its timely completion.


The effectiveness of the burndown chart as a project management tool relies on the accuracy of time estimates.

Unfortunately, these estimates are notoriously inaccurate because they are influenced by cognitive biases. 

In a sprint, where story points deal with complexity and relative sizing, the problem isn’t as pronounced.

But the cognitive biases associated with estimation remain. If a team overestimates project time requirements, progress will appear on track or ahead of schedule.

Conversely, if a team underestimates time requirements, the chart will suggest they are behind schedule.

What’s more, the charts also show progress without providing clarity on whether the team is working on the right thing.

In poorly defined projects, burndown charts do not reflect how close the team is to completing the work.

This can lead to exaggerated or unrealistic expectations and team disunity.

Connected Visual Concepts

Kanban is a lean manufacturing framework first developed by Toyota in the late 1940s. The Kanban framework is a means of visualizing work as it moves through identifying potential bottlenecks. It does that through a process called just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing to optimize engineering processes, speed up manufacturing products, and improve the go-to-market strategy.
Scrumban is a project management framework that is a hybrid of two popular agile methodologies: Scrum and Kanban. Scrumban is a popular approach to helping businesses focus on the right strategic tasks while simultaneously strengthening their processes.
RACI matrices illustrate the functional role that each person plays on a project team. In creating these matrices, businesses can effectively balance project workloads and identify a clear project manager. A RACI matrix is a simple and effective means of documenting project roles and responsibilities.
Scaled Agile Lean Development (ScALeD) helps businesses discover a balanced approach to agile transition and scaling questions. The ScALed approach helps businesses successfully respond to change. Inspired by a combination of lean and agile values, ScALed is practitioner-based and can be completed through various agile frameworks and practices.
As the name suggests, TDD is a test-driven technique for delivering high-quality software rapidly and sustainably. It is an iterative approach based on the idea that a failing test should be written before any code for a feature or function is written. Test-Driven Development (TDD) is an approach to software development that relies on very short development cycles.
Feature-Driven Development is a pragmatic software process that is client and architecture-centric. Feature-Driven Development (FDD) is an agile software development model that organizes workflow according to which features need to be developed next.
eXtreme Programming was developed in the late 1990s by Ken Beck, Ron Jeffries, and Ward Cunningham. During this time, the trio was working on the Chrysler Comprehensive Compensation System (C3) to help manage the company payroll system. eXtreme Programming (XP) is a software development methodology. It is designed to improve software quality and the ability of software to adapt to changing customer needs.
Product discovery is a critical part of agile methodologies, as its aim is to ensure that products customers love are built. Product discovery involves learning through a raft of methods, including design thinking, lean start-up, and A/B testing to name a few. Dual Track Agile is an agile methodology containing two separate tracks: the “discovery” track and the “delivery” track.
Timeboxing is a simple yet powerful time-management technique for improving productivity. Timeboxing describes the process of proactively scheduling a block of time to spend on a task in the future. It was first described by author James Martin in a book about agile software development.
RAD was first introduced by author and consultant James Martin in 1991. Martin recognized and then took advantage of the endless malleability of software in designing development models. Rapid Application Development (RAD) is a methodology focusing on delivering rapidly through continuous feedback and frequent iterations.
The MVC framework is a predictable software design pattern separated into three main components and suitable for many programming languages. The goal of the MVC framework is to help structure the code-base and separate application concerns into three components: View, Model, and Controller.
Agile started as a lightweight development method compared to heavyweight software development, which is the core paradigm of the previous decades of software development. By 2001 the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was born as a set of principles that defined the new paradigm for software development as a continuous iteration. This would also influence the way of doing business.
DevSecOps is a set of disciplines combining development, security, and operations. It is a philosophy that helps software development businesses deliver innovative products quickly without sacrificing security. This allows potential security issues to be identified during the development process – and not after the product has been released in line with the emergence of continuous software development practices.

Read Next: Business AnalysisCompetitor Analysis, Continuous InnovationAgile MethodologyLean StartupBusiness Model InnovationProject Management.

Main Free Guides:

Scroll to Top