Project Reporting with Burndown Charts

Controlling a project might be quite a hassle if you don’t have proper instruments. This article shows how to use Burndown charts for tracking progress and how to model this in Microsoft Project.

First time I got in touch with Burndown charts was back in 2006 at one of my clients. We faced the challenge to integrate the controlling of agile and classical projects. Being new to that topic it was quite hard to read that these charts not to mention making them comparable with classical controlling methods.

First, let’s have a look at a Burndown chart.

Burndown Chart
Burndown Chart used in agile projects

Reading this chart is quite easy. It spans over a dedicated project phase, or even the entire project. We face three important things:

  • Starting point (top left): This number of 18 is the amount of work to be completed within the time-phase
  • Blue line: Optimal progress, called Burndown
  • Green line: Remaining progress based on the actual work performed

Now, let’s interpret this example:

  • Nov 12th till 18th: Remaining work is less than the optimal progress, meaning that more work has been accomplished as planned – which is good
  • Nov 19th will 25th: Remaining work is higher than the optimum, meaning that the project is slowing down – which is bad

Summarizing the interpretation: Green line left of Burndown is good (we are faster), green line right of the blue one is bad (we are slower). It’s just that easy!

This next section explains how a Burndown chart can be created in Microsoft Project 2013. All we need is a project plan with few tasks, a baseline and little progress. All this has been incorporated into the following project plan.

Gantt Chart in Microsoft Project Professional 2013
Gantt Chart in Microsoft Project 2013

What you can hardly notice that everything looks good until task #10 (marked). If you are very familiar with Microsoft Project, you might notice in the Gantt chart that all tasks before #10 are better than planned: Current planning (blue) finished before the baseline planning (black).

Now, let’s have a look at the same situation using a Burndown chart.

Burndown Chart in Microsoft Project Professional 2013
Burndown Chart in Microsoft Project 2013

You can clearly see that everything looks fine until beginning of December. The green line is left to the blue one. After that date, esp. December 9th and later, the project is be out of planning and I need to react. You get everything with a blink of an eye.

And the best of all: everything’s out of the box with Microsoft Project 2013. They introduced new fields called ‘Cumulative Remaining…’ (… Work, … Actual Work, … Baseline Work, …) These fields enable Burndown charts. And you can go further: just create a dashboard and add this Burndown together with a list of late tasks – and you know what to do and where to act!

Ingo Meironke, PMP – Manager at Campana & Schott@meiroTweet