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A Visual Explanation of Sprint Burndown Charts

I’m a fan of burndown charts. Not because I’m a process junkie, but because I believe the right visual coupled with context opens the path to deep meaning.

A Visual Explanation of Sprint Burndown Charts

See what I mean? You probably saw this pic and understood my intent before you read the text above it.

A burndown is a simple visual information radiator with many advantages:

  • Easy to get folks to understand the basic concept
  • Simple to manually maintain
  • Comes with most work visualization tools
  • A clean visual to rally around for a conversation
  • Can provide tons of insight to gain by reading the nuances

Oh, and for the Agilists, a burnndown chart can help us divine/design methods and activities to help teams work through real-world issues.

Let’s get the definition of a burndown chart out of the way. Mechanically speaking, a burndown chart is simply a chart showing hours consumed (against estimate) over time. Done.

The sketchnote below shows different burndown chart shapes and some common causes for each. There are as many shapes as there are sprints and as many causes as there are teams. It’s up to you to help the team learn what dysfunctions keep happening and ways to eliminate them.

Imagine laying out the burndown charts for a number of sprints for a team and looking for behavior trends. Now imagine laying out burndown charts for a single or multiple iterations for a set of teams and looking for patterns to ask of the organization. 

Simple. Visible. Insightful. 

A Visual Explanation of Sprint Burndown Charts

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