What Is a Burn Up Chart in Agile Project Management?

William Malsam


The ability to measure progress is how project managers keep projects on track. Waterfall methodology rests heavily on Gantt charts. But if you’re working in an agile environment, the Gantt chart isn’t the right tool for your iterative approach to project management. What you need is a burn up chart.

Not familiar with a burn up chart? Let’s define it, explain when it’s used and explore how to make one. Even if you know the term, there’s probably unfamiliar parts to it. We’ll walk you through who uses a burn up chart and how it differs from a burndown chart while throwing in some free templates.

What Is a Burn Up Chart?

A burn up chart is a tool used in agile project management to measure progress. It’s a visual tool that makes it easy for project managers and their teams to see how much work has been done and how much work is left. It’s used for tracking work in a project schedule or during a sprint in a scrum.

To show progress over time, the chart is divided into two lines; one tracks the work planned or total work and the other tracks the work that’s been completed by that point in the project. These two data points allow project managers to determine how efficiently their team is working by comparing the work they’ve done to the total amount of work planned. This also allows them to estimate the time left in the sprint or project.

That’s a simple but effective way to measure progress and estimate how much time is left in the sprint or project. But a burn up chart needs to be manually updated and never reflects what’s actually happening in the project at the current time. For that, you need online project management software.

ProjectManager is online project management software that can generate customizable reports that show real-time data to help you see your progress and make more insightful decisions. You can create reports on project status, tasks, workload, variance and more. All reports can be filtered to show just the data you want to see and shared with stakeholders to keep them updated. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.

ProjectManager's status report filter
ProjectManager has customizable reports to track progress and more in real time. Learn more

When Should You Use a Burn Up Chart?

Scrum teams working in an agile environment use a burn up chart to help them measure progress. As stated, burn up charts are popular tools in agile project management where project managers can quickly see if they’ll be able to complete their work on schedule.

Software development and product development teams use a burn out chart as these fields tend to work in a more iterative, agile fashion. They use the burn up chart to see problems in the project and then determine solutions to solve them. Of course, it’s also helpful to estimate when the project will be completed, as noted above.

But it’s also a tool to help software developers and product developers improve their communication and create transparency in the project. The scrum team can make better decisions on the delivery scope by having a chart that has up-to-date data that is clearly communicated.

Example of a Burn Up Chart

Since a burn up chart is a visual tool, it helps to understand it by seeing an example of one. The following is a simple burn up chart that shows a sprint’s completed work and compares that to the total scope of the project.

The burn up chart is measured by the vertical line that charts the number of tasks, hours or story points, which measure the effort required to implement a user story (a product requirement from the point of view of the user). There’s also a horizontal line that represents time, usually measured in days.

Example of a burn up chart
Burn up chart example from pm.stackexchange.com.

How to Make a Burn Up Chart

You know what it is, what it does and when to use it, but all that is moot until you know how to make a burn up chart. Whether you’re in software development, product development or prefer working in an agile environment, being able to create a burn up chart helps you stay on schedule if you follow these five steps.

1. Define the Scope

Knowing the scope of your project means being able to list the necessary tasks to deliver it. These tasks are your product backlog. The product backlog is managed and prioritized by the product owner during the product as the scrum team prepares for its sprints. By defining the project’s scope, you can help avoid scope creep, which is when unnecessary features are added to the release.

2. Estimate the Duration

Now that you’ve listed the tasks, the product team or scrum team will look at the work ahead and forecast how many sprints or iterations it’ll take to complete everything in the product backlog. Each sprint should be roughly the same duration. That tends to be no more than 2-4 weeks long. Once you’ve estimated the total amount of sprints or iterations, then you have the length of the project.

3. Divide the Workload

You have the tasks and the duration of the project, now you need to figure out how much effort and time you’ll need to complete the tasks. Scrum teams will estimate the story point for each task to figure out the workload. This is then translated into working hours, which can then be divided between the scrum team.

4. Make the Burn Up Chart

You have the information you need to build your burn up chart. This can be done in a spreadsheet, such as Excel. Two columns will be for time and work units. The horizontal axis is time and the vertical axis is work units. As you work on the project and fill in the burn up chart, you’ll be able to see how fast the scrum team is working.

5. Review and Revise

You’re not done yet. You want to continue to update the burn up chart. Projects change and your burn up chart should reflect those evolutions or it’s not going to be accurate. Ideally, you’ll update the burn up chart as part of your daily routine as a product owner or project manager.

When you’re done it should look like the burn up chart example that we shared above. You’ll probably want to make the line for time a different color than the one for work unit.

Who Should Use a Burn Up Chart?

There are many people in agile project management who use a burn up chart. Almost anyone on the scrum team is going to use it to see if their actual effort aligns with the planned effort. If it’s not, they need to catch up to keep the project on schedule, meaning the development team should have a close eye on the burn up chart.

A scrum master is there to advise the scrum team in an agile project that might use the burn up chart to monitor how efficiently the team is working from one sprint to the next. If there are ways that the scrum master can help to boost their efficiency, they will. That should then be reflected on the burn up chart when it’s looke

Fuente: PMideas (What Is a Burn Up Chart in Agile Project Management?).