16 February, 2023

What are a Burndown Chart, a Burnup Chart, and Velocity?

In this video, I want to answer the question, what is a Burndown Chart and a Burnup Chart? And What is Velocity?

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Burndown and Burnup Charts

Burndown Chart

Quite simply, a Burndown chart is a way to visualize progress. It plots outstanding work against time. So, as you make progress, the work outstanding diminishes, giving the characteristic downward slope of a burndown chart.

Burnup Chart

And guess what? If, instead, we plot work completed against time, as you make progress, the work completed increases, to give the characteristic upward slope of a burnup chart.

Use of Burndown and Burnup Charts

It seems to me that Burndown charts are more often used at the level of a single iteration. Burnup charts are more often used to illustrate progress across all cycles, with units of one iteration. This is a better way of illustrating progress to users and stakeholders.

Burn charts are most often used in Agile Project Management. There, the time axis will usually represent a single iteration, or Sprint.

Units in Burn Charts

The time units will most often be days and the work units, either estimates hours of work, or story points.

We can get an idea of progress against schedule if, at the start of the cycle, we plot the ideal, or planned burn curve. Clearly, if we are using hours remaining as our measure of work, this will be a straight line. 

And, if we are using story points as our measure of work, and the story points are all of equal size, we will also see a straight line or a slightly jagged version that follows the course of a straight line.

Interpreting a Burn Chart

If, when we plot our actual burndown, we see the line lies above the ideal line, we know that the team is lagging behind and will need to look for solutions to speed up its work.

On the other hand, if the actual progress lies below the ideal line, the team may finish its backlog before the end of the cycle. They may then choose to ask a product owner to draw down another user story to add to the current backlog.


Velocity describes the rate at which work is done and deliverables are produced. Note that it does not measure efficiency, since there is no way to create a reliable baseline of ideal velocity in a project environment, where there can be no long-term performance data.

Calculating Velocity

We calculate velocity as the amount of work completed divided by the time elapsed. Typically, velocity is calculated over the time frame of a complete iteration or sprint.

We use Velocity to help in planning future work. The velocity from previous cycles is an indicator of how quickly the team can deliver work in the coming iterations. And therefore, we can assess how many story points the team can deliver in the next sprint.

Therefore, the most reliable calculation averages the individual velocities of more than one iteration. It may be typically represented as a number of story points per iteration.

In the Scrum method, the velocity expressed as Story Points per Sprint is the most important metric. We have videos on estimating story points using Tee Shirt sizing and Planning Poker.

As the project proceeds and you have more data from more sprints, the team will have a more reliable measure of its velocity and be better able to estimate the work it can complete in a single iteration.

Because it cannot measure efficiency, we should NOT be using it as a performance measure – much less as some form of KPI to set the team to perform against!

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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