27 March 2012

Burn Up Charts

Burn-up charts are different to burn down charts. They present different information and address different needs.  This post takes a look at the Burn-up chart and how it is useful for managing client and stakeholder expectations.

While burn-down charts are a team tool to help the team gather data in order to inspect and adapt within a sprint, burn up charts are about presenting data to stakeholders outside the team.

What is a Burn-up chart?

A burn-up chart is a chart that shows the rate at which features are completed over time, indicating when a particular parcel of work will be done.  Burn-up charts measure the work completed per iteration and provide empirical data to assist with forward planning.  The are similar but different to both Earned Value and Cumulative Flow charts.

Things a Burn up chart helps us understand include;
  • What is the size of the total work under plan?
  • What is the team’s velocity (i.e. capacity)
  • When will key releasable feature sets be reached?
  • What trends are apparent?
  • What problems or opportunities can a burn-up chart address?

Burn-up charts are a tool to communicate when the team think they will be done to project stakeholders
They assist in the planning of downstream activities such as advertising, release management activities, and other release to user type activities

What Burn up charts are not

  • Burn-up charts are not measuring work in progress or work completed within an iteration (see Burn Down Charts.) 
  • Burn-up charts do not measure activities completed. They only measure the completion of valuable increments of working product.
  • Burn up charts are not Earned Value Charts. For example, they do not measure expenditure.

Who is responsible for the burn-up chart?

The answer tot his question depends on the team structure and roles you have on your team.  The burn-up chart shows when releases or projects will be completed so ask yourself who is best positioned to manage this message.

Typically the ‘product owner’ will be the focus point of this sort of messaging, although it may also fall to a project manager.  Also, it is not unusual for scrum masters of business analysts to accumulate the data.

Consider that there are three aspects to managing this sort of reporting;

  • Create the report system via negotiating the data to be accumulated, setting up templates in excel or Powerpoint, or within backlog management tools and so on,
  • Gathering the data on a regular basis to support the report
  • Actually delivering the message and having the discussions that go with the report.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the tool


  • It is simple to implement
  • The image trends towards an idea of 100% complete
  • It is a leading indicator – showing what the future is likely to bring
  • It presents data over time so systemic trends become apparent
  • Early stages of a team often present overly pessimistic velocity, which can cause anxiety in stakeholders
  • The binary nature of work – done/not-done encourages teams to manage their work to complete quickly


  • Cumulative flow diagrams provide a more fine grained view of work in progress and bottlenecks
  • Burn-up charts require calculating velocity and story points which may or may not be valuable activities, depending on the team context
  • Teams that do not manage their work to a ‘100% completed’ state are hiding work which will surprise stakeholders later in the project.

Related topics

  • Cumulative Flow Diagrams
  • Release plans
  • Earned Value Management
  • Product road maps
  • Gantt charts

Further reading

1 comment:

  1. Been busy so a bit behind on my reading list.

    Good summary of what Burn Up Charts are all about. I liked the attached movie but had some reservations regarding one of the points when the HR manager asked whether she should be worried or not, given that the accumulated velocity was well behind planned delivery. The answer was 'No' while I would have thought that she should be certainly worried and ask what actions will be taken to put the project back on track.