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Why Epic Burndowns Are Important and How To Do It Right
Published:Jan 10, 2023

Why Epic Burndowns Are Important and How To Do It Right

Have you ever thought, “Are we there yet?” while knee-deep in an active sprint? Have you wondered if you were progressing at the right pace to finish a project?

It’s easy to get lost in the weeds if you can’t see where a project is heading and if the team is on track.

The good news is that a simple chart with just two lines can give you that bird’s-eye view you need to keep everyone on the same page.

Here’s what you need to know about epic burndown, why it’s important, how to read a burndown chart, and how to build one to guide your scrum projects.

What Is Epic Burndown?

An epic is a collection of user stories that achieves a specific goal when executed together. Meanwhile, a burndown chart is an agile project management tool that shows the amount of work remaining on a project.

An epic burndown report illustrates an agile development team’s progress through an epic based on the project timeline and estimation. You can use a burndown chart to visualize the team’s velocity and predict completion time.

Burndown chart

You can see how the team is progressing through an epic and if work items added or removed from a sprint affect the overall timeline. You can also predict how many more sprints you need to complete an epic using insights from historic data.

A sprint burndown chart helps stakeholders, including product owners, scrum masters, project managers, engineering leads, and individual team members, monitor their day-to-day activities. On the other hand, an epic burndown provides a longer-term view of the team’s progress.

For example, if you don’t complete all the work items planned for a sprint, you can look at the epic burndown chart to understand the impact of the uncompleted work on the project timeline. You can then course-correct to bring the release back on track.

An epic burndown has two close relatives: the release burndown and the burnup chart:

What is a release burndown chart?

A release burndown is similar to an epic burndown, but it focuses on completing the work required for a release instead of an epic. 

Burndown chart vs. burnup chart

A burnup chart adds user stories as they’re being delivered. It shows the total scope of a project and how much work has been completed. On the other hand, a burndown chart tracks remaining tasks by removing user stories as they’re completed.

Why Is an Epic Burndown Chart Important?

An epic burndown chart is easy to create and gives you a lot of information at a glance. You can compare planned vs. actual progress, monitor project history and velocity, predict the trajectory of a project, and calculate the completion date. 

The simple visualization helps keep your software development team on the same page and collaborate toward the same goal. It serves as an easy-to-digest status report everyone can use to keep track of the big picture and stay on top of changes.

It also helps motivate team members and maintain consistent performance by plotting their progress against the ideal pace. The burndown chart is the focal point that helps everyone keep their eyes on the prize, work on tasks that matter, and address issues as soon as they arise.

When you update the chart regularly, you can quickly identify risks and impediments to prevent them from hindering your progress or festering into more extensive issues. You can also combine the data with a burnup chart, which includes the amount of work done, to identify scope creep and adjust your project plan accordingly.

An epic burndown chart is easy to create and gives you a lot of information at a glance

How To Read an Epic Burndown Chart

A basic burndown chart offers a snapshot of your team’s progress and remaining tasks within an epic. You can see the team’s velocity and compare it with your estimation to predict how long it’ll take to complete the project.

The horizontal X-axis represents time or iteration, while the vertical Y-axis shows the effort (e.g., story points.) Against these two axes are two lines: One depicting the actual amount of remaining work and one showing the ideal amount of remaining work at any moment.

An epic’s start date is at the leftmost point, and the end date is at the rightmost point. The “ideal work remaining” line reflects your team’s past performance, calculated with historic data from your time reporting tool. You can see if your team is on track by comparing it with the “actual work remaining” line.

If the “actual work remaining” line sits above the “ideal work remaining” one, you’re running behind and may need to adjust your estimations and expectations.

Both lines should slope down as a project progresses. However, if the “actual work remaining” line goes the other direction, you likely have scope creep and should address it as soon as possible to prevent unnecessary work items from delaying your progress.

The Limitations Of a Burndown Chart

A burndown chart only addresses the number of story points you have planned for and completed. However, it doesn’t show the scope of work reflected by the story points in the product backlog or the overall backlog size.

Also, it doesn’t track which backlog items are done. For example, you can’t tell whether changes to a burndown chart are due to an increase or decrease in story points or if a backlog item has been completed.

You can only see that your team is doing work at a certain pace, but you can’t tell if they’re working on the right tasks.

The Foundation of Creating an Epic Burndown Chart: Good Estimates

A key benefit of using an epic burndown chart is that you can compare the actual progress to the estimated timeline to help your team stay on track. As such, you need an accurate “ideal work” line that reflects your team’s velocity (or pace) to track performance.

But how do you ensure that your “ideal work” line is accurate? It starts with making accurate effort estimations for each sprint within an epic. 

Epic burndown gives you the big-picture view for long-term planning, but wrapping your head around the multiple user stories or functionalities and creating accurate forecasts can be daunting. 

You can eat the elephant one bite at a time by ensuring that your estimation for each sprint or iteration is as accurate as possible. If those estimates are off, even by just a minor amount, the inaccuracy can compound throughout an epic — impacting your forecasts, budgets, and timelines.

So how do you create accurate sprint estimations? It starts with collecting and analyzing historic data to calculate your team’s velocity. By understanding how much work they can complete in a given amount of time, you can establish a realistic “ideal work” line as a benchmark. 

So far, so good. Here comes the most critical piece of the puzzle.

The “ideal work” line is based on the scrum team’s velocity, calculated using the hours required to complete a specific number of story points. As such, you need granular and accurate data to make your calculation.

It All Starts With a Robust Time Tracking Tool

We’re not talking about any time reporting tools tagged onto your workflows as an afterthought. To gather data with accuracy and granularity, you need a fully integrated solution that helps you record time down to the work item level as the work happens.

7pace is designed to help agile teams make better estimations. Using our Timetracker, developers can track time directly on the platform where they work (i.e., Azure DevOps and GitHub) and associate the hours with individual work items.

You can then analyze the time required to complete a story point to calculate your team’s pace, which will help you plot a realistic “ideal work” line for your epic burndown chart. Additionally, our reports can show you the current burndown rate to verify that a project is progressing on time and on budget.

Try 7pace to help you get the most out of your burndown chart.

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