Hours-Remaining Burndown Charts: An Agile Anti-Pattern?

The hours-remaining burndown chart is a planning tool that allows the Scrum team to know how well they are using their time in delivering the working software. Hours-remaining burndown charts track the time remaining on each task, and show at-a-glance whether the team’s sprint plan is on track to finish all of their stories by the end of the sprint.

Yet, all too often, I hear of teams whose hours-remaining burndown charts seem to lie to them. The team appears to be on target for the sprint, their estimates seem to be spot on, yet they still have stories left dangling at the end of the sprint. Worse, many times these are the most critical stories! Why?

Why are teams that demonstrate such good agile process unable to deliver? The answer is easier and more engrained than you may think. These teams are more focused on showing they can plan well and less focused on completing stories. Sounds to me as though we are still buying into “Plan The Work, Work The Plan” myth, keeping alive the ability to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory.

What signs, or smells, should you be looking for to know if this is happening to your team? Metrics about hours remaining is the most obvious. Root cause analysis that uses the burndown chart to spot inefficiencies is another. Something is wrong, too, if people want to throw out the burndown altogether because it is impossible to be right.

What Can You Do?

Focus on the primary directive: deliver working software that is completed within a sprint. Make completed user stories the primary metric. Add a story points-completed burndown chart. This will keep you and your team(s) on focused on the goal—delivering working software.

Story Points-Remaining Burndown Charts & Agile

Don’t toss out the hours-remaining burndown chart. Knowing the hours remaining remains irreplaceable when it comes to triaging the work remaining against the planned software delivered. But don’t let past hope steer you and your teams onto the rocks by focusing you on the myth that time usage can be planned accurately. We know that is precisely wrong.