Burn-up beyond user stories

Photo by Vit BrunnerI’ve said before how useful I find burn-up charts, and last week I presented a simple way of using them in Google Spreadsheets while also retaining change history.

But while they are traditionally used to track the progress of user stories, they can usefully be applied to many other aspects of project management. For example, what about using burn-up charts to track project spend? Something like this is usually relegated to a numeric table, or just a simple RAG status. Numeric tables are often hard to read, and the real question of “are we on track?” requires quite some work. A RAG status, on the other hand, makes it easy to obscure the real picture (whether intentionally or not). For example, we might have over-spent our monthly project budget, but under-spent on previous months. Do they balance out? What is the trend here? We’d like to say it’s green, but that may be wishful thinking. On the other hand, saying it’s amber might be unnecessarily pessimistic. Having the information presented as a burn-up chart presents the complete picture (past, present, with an indication of the future) in a simple way, without any unnecessary interpretation.

Burn-up charts don’t need to be applied just to traditional project metrics, either. They can be applied to any kind of project-specific value. Recently I spoke to someone whose project was all about increasing the number of subscribers to her product, and she confessed to finding it difficult to track progress. A burn-up chart of “number of subscribers” or “revenue from subscribers” would have solved that problem—that is what was considered “value” for that project, so that should have been her main measure of success.

This last example highlights another benefit of burn-up charts. They focus people on delivering value incrementally. Putting that “number of subscribers” chart in front of everyone on the project would make it clear to them what the intended outcome was, and encourage them to structure their work and their deliverables accordingly.

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