Skip to main content

A Burndown chart that radiates progress

Here is a visual example of a team learning the value of a Scrum Sprint Burndown chart.  To give some context to the images below - the team did a 3 day workshop on Scrum between sprint 1 & sprint 2.  In this workshop we laid down some working agreements, one of which was they would use a physical Scrum task board with several major items.  One item was the burndown chart derived from task hours estimated remaining each day.  This team knew they were under committed for the sprint but wished to get started sprinting (a good choice rather than spend more time in sprint planning with so much uncertainty).  They felt they could get to working on about 5 high priority stories and plan to replan (pull into the sprint more stories) later in the week.  They assumed that learning about the uncertainty was better than crystal ball gazing.

The team started with 64 units (estimated task hours) of work.  On the fourth day they decided to bring in more stories with estimated 24 units of work.  Then on the fifth day they agreed to pull in an additional 34 units of work.  This is their original burndown for the sprint.

 What does this burndown tell us?  It tells us that the team is not going to finish the sprint.  It is only when one stops to read the fine print (the annotations) that one may gleam that there is more to the picture than is being visualized.  Asking the team what they could do to make this chart "tell the whole truth", they decided to redraw the burndown.

Now this 2nd generation chart is telling a more complete story.  It shows that on day four the team recognized it was finishing the committed work very early (as assumed - and then proven by tracking).  So they pulled in some work on that day from the prioritized backlog.  They were dealing with stories that had dependencies (not quite at the INVEST model standard - yet).  But by doing work on the dependent stories the understanding of the team was growing.  They pulled in 24 units of work (drawn below the zero datum on day 4).  The very next day the team was in a similar position and pulled in an additional 34 units of work (units were derived from task estimates - not story points).  The additional 34 units are drawn below the 24 datum line (at -58).

Will we get to DONE?

On day 8 the very quick progress slowed.  This was not evident in the low fidelity charts and some team members were debating about the proper location of the top of day 8s bar on the graph.  The solution to this "impediment" is to use graph paper.  This allows for a more precise view and projection.  Projecting the trend is the purpose of the burndown chart.  We want to answer the question:  Will we get to DONE?

At sprint 2 - I am much less concerned with the team getting all the work pulled in to the sprint Done, and much more concerned that they learn to use the tools and techniques that allow them to become self-managing.  Next sprint they will have a better idea of the amount of work they can accomplish in a sprint (velocity).  And if they have taken time to groom their backlog this sprint, next sprint's planning meeting will go much more smoothly.  They may be able to fully plan the sprint and not need to pull in stories ad-hoc.

It is all part of learning to use the Scrum tools and techniques.  Learning is exciting!

See Also:  We have the best tools - why do we not use them?
Post a Comment

Most Popular on Agile Complexification Inverter

Elements of an Effective Scrum Task Board

What are the individual elements that make a Scrum task board effective for the team and the leadership of the team?  There are a few basic elements that are quite obvious when you have seen a few good Scrum boards... but there are some other elements that appear to elude even the most servant of leaders of Scrum teams.

In general I'm referring to a physical Scrum board.  Although software applications will replicated may of the elements of a good Scrum board there will be affordances that are not easily replicated.  And software applications offer features not easily implemented in the physical domain also.

Scrum Info Radiator Checklist (PDF) Basic Elements
Board Framework - columns and rows laid out in bold colors (blue tape works well)
Attributes:  space for the total number of stickies that will need to belong in each cell of the matrix;  lines that are not easy eroded, but are also easy to replace;  see Orientation.

Columns (or Rows) - labeled
    To Do
    Work In P…

Exercise:: Definition of Ready & Done

Assuming you are on a Scrum/Agile software development team, then one of the first 'working agreements' you have created with your team is a 'Definition of Done' - right?

Oh - you don't have a definition of what aspects a user story that is done will exhibit. Well then, you need to create a list of attributes of a done story. One way to do this would be to Google 'definition of done' ... here let me do that for you: Then you could just use someone else's definition - there DONE!

But that would be cheating -- right? It is not the artifact - the list of done criteria, that is important for your team - it is the act of doing it for themselves, it is that shared understanding of having a debate over some of the gray areas that create a true working agreement. If some of the team believes that a story being done means that there can be no bugs found in the code - but some believe that there can be some minor issues - well, …

What belongs on the Task Board?

I wonder about these questions a lot - what types of task belong on the task board?  Does every task have to belong to a Story?  Are some tasks just too small?  Are some tasks too obvious?  Obviously some task are too larger, but when should it be decomposed?  How will we know a task is too large?

I answer these questions with a question.  What about a task board motivates us to get work done?  The answer is: T.A.S.K.S. to DONE!

Inherent in the acronym TASKS is the point of all tasks, to get to done.  That is the measure of if the task is the right size.  Does it motivate us to get the work done?  (see notes on Dan Pink's book: Drive - The surprising Truth about what motivates us) If we are forgetting to do some class of task then putting it on the board will help us remember.  If we think some small task is being done by someone else, then putting it on the board will validate that someone else is actually doing it.  If a task is obvious, then putting it on the board will take vi…

A T-Shaped 21st Century Knowledge Worker

Knowledge workers in the 21st Century must have many areas of deep knowledge, while also be capable of collaboration across multiple other domains with dissimilar T-shaped individuals.  This description of a person is a metaphor.  Compare it to the shape of the "I" in the classic saying there is no "I" in Team.

I first read about Scott Ambler's term "Generalizing Specialist" - but it's so hard to remember the proper order of the words... get it backwards and it has an inverted meaning... T-Shaped is easier to remember. 
A generalizing specialist is someone who:
Has one or more technical specialties (e.g. Java programming, Project Management, Database Administration, ...). Has at least a general knowledge of software development. Has at least a general knowledge of the business domain in which they work. Actively seeks to gain new skills in both their existing specialties as well as in other areas, including both technical and domain areas.  General…

David's notes on "Drive"

- "The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us" by Dan Pink.

Amazon book order
What I notice first and really like is the subtle implication in the shadow of the "i" in Drive is a person taking one step in a running motion.  This brings to mind the old saying - "there is no I in TEAM".  There is however a ME in TEAM, and there is an I in DRIVE.  And when one talks about motivating a team or an individual - it all starts with - what's in it for me.


Pink starts with an early experiment with monkeys on problem solving.  Seems the monkeys were much better problem solver's than the scientist thought they should be.  This 1949 experiment is explained as the early understanding of motivation.  At the time there were two main drivers of motivation:  biological & external influences.  Harry F. Harlow defines the third drive in a novel theory:  "The performance of the task provided intrinsic reward" (p 3).  This is Dan Pink's M…