The way you measure your projects' progress depends on a lot of factors — your industry, your team, your chosen methodology, and lots more. There are plenty of types of charts to choose from to display your progress as you go, including Gantt charts, PERT charts, Pareto charts, flowcharts, and many more — but if you and your team like to go Agile, a burn up chart may be the best fit. 

A burn up chart is a visual diagram commonly used on Agile projects to help measure progress. Agile burn up charts allow project managers and teams to quickly see how their workload is progressing and whether project completion is on schedule. 

But what's the meaning of this Agile buzzword? In this article, we’ll discuss the purpose and benefits of a burn up chart, how to read and create one, and the difference between a burn up and burn down chart.  

Introducing the Agile burn up chart

A burn up chart is a graph that shows project progress over time. There are two main lines shown on the chart: one for the total project work planned, and the other for tracking the work completed to date. 

By comparing the work your team has accomplished so far with the total amount of work planned, you can understand how efficiently they’re working and better estimate how long it will take to complete the work remaining. 

Burn up charts are an essential part of the Agile methodology, as they keep track of what has been accomplished across each sprint. In this way, they are also useful for Scrum teams, as the Scrum master can review their burn up chart to analyse where improvements can be made, and cover these in daily meetings with the rest of the team.

Burn up vs. burn down chart — What is the difference?

A burn up chart and a burn down chart are both popular project management tools for visually tracking work completed over time. But, there are key differences between the two charts.

First, a burn down chart starts with the total amount of work and then graphs the amount remaining over time. As time progresses, the amount of work to be done lessens, and the line decreases toward the right. 

What Is a Burn Up Chart? 2
(Source: Wikipedia)

A burn up chart tracks the amount of work to be completed as one straight line across the top of the graph (unless a scope change occurs). A second line is then used to track work completed, starting at zero and increasing to the right as more tasks are finished.  

Because of this difference, a burn down chart is great at emphasizing what’s left to be completed, but a burn up chart is better at illustrating the work that’s been accomplished. 

For example, imagine your Agile team had 50 story points (SPs) left to complete. (A story point is a unit of measurement that Scrum teams assign to tasks or stories to indicate how much effort they think will be required.) Then, a change occurred, which added 10 more SPs. Let’s also assume that, during your current sprint, your team managed to get through 15 SPs.

On a burn down chart, before your sprint, it would show 50 SPs remaining, and after your sprint, it would show 45 SPs remaining (50 + 10 - 15). The amount remaining is correct, but if someone wasn’t aware of the scope change, they could look at this graph and assume you had a really unproductive sprint and your team only completed 5 SPs instead of the 15 they actually did. 

With a burn up chart, you’d easily see the 10 SP increase in the line illustrating overall work to be completed, and see the 15 SP increase in the line tracking work accomplished. 

How do you read a burn up chart?

Here’s an example of a burn up chart:

What Is a Burn Up Chart? 3

Along the y-axis is the number of story points delivered or the amount of work to be completed. Across the x-axis is the sprint number or time period. 

The blue line across the top shows the total planned number of story points that will be delivered by the end of the project. 

The dotted black line illustrates the planned completion of story points. In this example, that’s roughly 31 SPs per sprint (250/8). 

The green line is reporting the actual number of story points completed. You can see that for sprints 1 and 2, actual and planned were essentially the same. Then, during sprint 3, less work was delivered than expected, but the team caught back up by sprint 5. 

The green line only goes to sprint 6, indicating that the final two sprints haven’t been completed yet. 

Some key things to watch out for when reading a burn up chart are:

  • If the blue line changes, you know work has been added or removed from the project.
  • If the black line changes, a change has been made to the baseline plan for how much work will be completed in each sprint.  
  • If the green line is beneath the black line, you’re behind schedule. 
  • If the green line is above the black line, you’re ahead of schedule.  

What are the benefits of a burn up chart?

A sprint burn up chart helps your Agile team monitor how efficient they are from one sprint to the next. It also helps everyone keep track of how much work is left and whether you can expect to complete the project on time based on your progress rate so far. 

If your team was completing 20 SPs per sprint and now suddenly they only completed 10 SPs, your burn up chart will highlight that change. This makes it easier for you to spot differences and investigate them to see if a bottleneck or issue is slowing your team. 

During a project, you can extend the actual work completed line to help predict when the project will end. This can help you estimate project length. It also allows you to be proactive about monitoring progress and discussing what you can do if it looks like the project isn’t going to finish on schedule. 

Plus, a burn up chart monitors your overall scope and how that impacts your project length. What does scope mean in project management? It's essentially all of the requirements and objectives that a project needs to be a success. Your burn up chart is an easy way to show your client and other stakeholders how much longer the project should take if they want additional work added. 

How do you create a burn up chart?

First, draw your two axes with your time periods or sprint numbers across the bottom (x-axis) and your number of story points or planned work up the left side (y-axis). Next, find the number of total work planned and draw a line straight across the top. 

Now it’s time to plot your trend line for planned work over time. The easiest way to do this is to plot your start point (0,0) and your end point (where the last planned sprint intersects with the total volume of planned work). Then connect the two points with a straight line. 

As work progresses, you can plot the actual work level completed at the end of each sprint or reporting period. Connecting these dots will create your line showing actual work. 

While you can create an Agile burn up chart using a pencil, ruler, and piece of paper, it makes it challenging to quickly edit it and share it with your team. 

With Wrike Analyze, you can create a sprint board that highlights all of the essential project information you need to see — including burn up and burn down charts, percentage of work completed, the total number of hours spent, and more. 

Sign up today for a free trial of Wrike’s project management software to test out our easy-to-use sprint board template, as well as a multitude of other essential Agile features — including real-time reports, Scrum dashboards, and Kanban boards.