Agile, Project management

Make a burn-up chart in Google Sheets… the easy way

Tl;dr: I’ve simplified my Google Sheets burn-up template, so you can take a copy and start making your own burn-up charts very easily. Instructions are included.

[Update 2 Aug 2016: There’s a later version of the spreadsheet with extra functions. See the later article for details.]

Here’s the full story…

My love affair with burn-up charts continues. They’re a great way to demonstrate progress against (possibly changing) scope. And although the data needed to create such a chart is simple, if you also want to track the historical changes in the data (for tracing why things changed) then it’s surprisingly tricky.

If you’re working on a fairly big project then a specialised tool like Jira or Mingle will do the job for you. But if your project is more modest then the cost and setup of such a tool may be excessive.

That’s why I previously presented a step-by-step approach that you can use in just a spreadsheet. However, there were lots of steps in the process, so later on I also presented a way of doing it using Google Sheets backed by a script. That was much easier, although it still wasn’t as simple as I could imagine it to be.

Now I’ve refined that further, and I’m pleased to be able to describe a way of creating a burn-up chart with Google Sheets that’s simpler still.

Overview

The core of process is two tables. The first is your historical data. This lists the user stories you’re tracking, as well as any changes for each story (such as its estimated size, or whether it’s done). The second table rounds up the data. It has a list of dates, and for each date it shows the total done and total scope. And this table is the basis for the line chart that is our burn-up chart.

Now for the details…

Setup

Make a copy of the spreadsheetThe first thing you need is the basic spreadsheet. You need to copy my original because it comes with a script. So go to the original sheet, click File > Make a copy and name it as you like. Then close the original.

You’ll see there are four sheets: User stories, Burn-up, Burn-up with smarter formulas, and Tests. You only need to keep the Tests sheet if you want to see how I’ve written automated tests against the script. But you probably don’t, so the first thing you can do is delete that Tests sheet.

If you would like see the code behind the sheet then you can go to Tools > Script editor… and you’ll see the code.

Now we’ll walk through the the two tables, what they do, and how they work.

Basic historical data

The User stories sheet contains a table of our historical data—that is, our user stories as they change over time.

In the first instance each user story is just listed as a separate row in the table. Here are some columns you’ll want to include:

  • The story’s title
  • Its size estimate
  • A Done flag (0 or blank is not done, 1 is done)
  • Its “done size” (which is the estimate multiplied by the Done flag—a very simple spreadsheet formula).

The size and the “done size” are what go into the burn-up chart. They give us our Actual and Scope lines respectively.

Basic informationBut for this spreadsheet, as well as those obvious fields there are three things you must include:

  1. A header row.
  2. A unique ID for each story
  3. A “valid from” date that says when the data in this row came into effect.

Let’s go into these in a bit more detail…

The header row is needed because we’ll want to pick out individual columns later, and that will help us. You can call the columns anything you like, though.

The unique ID is needed to distinguish each story. This will become important when we want to track the same story through several changes.

The “valid from” column says when the data in this row became true. So if all our stories were created on 19 March 2015 then that’s the date that will go into that cell for every story. But if a new story gets created on 23 March 2015 then that’s the date that goes against that story.

As mentioned above you can call the ID column and the “valid from” column anything you like. But they must each be labelled in the header row.

So in summary: you must include a header row, an ID for each story and a “valid from” field. And you’ll also want to include all the usual data for tracking progress, including story size and total work done among others.

Tracking changes

The historical data we’ve created so far is not very historical. It’s just a list a list of stories, some of which might have been added at a later date than others.

But what if a story changes? The “done” status, the size, or something else might change.

In this case we simply add a new row with its updated data. But when we do this we need to (i) keep the ID the same, and (ii) make sure the “valid from” date is the date on which this new state became true.

For example, suppose story K729 has size 5 and was created on 19 March 2015. Then that row appears in our table with ID K729 and “valid from” date 19 March 2015. But if on 25 March 2015 we re-estimate the story to be size 11 then we add a new row to reflect this. This new row is a straight copy of the original, but we change the size to be 11 and the date to be 25 March 2015.

Changing dataWe can add our new row anywhere we like, but I prefer to keep any story change directly under its previous state. You might prefer to put changes in date order. It doesn’t matter. And if you change your mind later you can always re-order or sort the rows differently. The important thing is to keep the header at the top.

The burn-up dataCreating the burn-up data

Data for the burn-up chart is created from this historical data. In the original spreadsheet I’ve put it in its own sheet (Burn-up) to keep things tidy.

The burn-up data is a table with two or more columns, depending on what we want to chart. The first column represents the x-axis, and is a series of dates. If our project starts on 19 March 2015 then this column lists 19 March 2015, 20 March, 21 March, and so on to today’s date.

The second and subsequent columns are for each line we want to plot on the burn-up chart. This is where our special script comes in.

So let’s say we want to show “scope” in the second column. We need a function that sums all the “size estimate” cells in the historical data, but only as the data stood on the given date (19 March, then 20 March, etc).

This is a new function, sumValid, which is created by the script behind the spreadsheet. It takes the following parameters: first, the date we’re currently interested in; second the entire historical data table, including its header; and finally the names in the header row for the ID, the “valid from” date and the “size estimate” columns respectively.

With this formula we’re saying: sum all the data that’s valid at the specified date, where this is the historical data and we can pick out each story, when it changed, and where this is the data to add up.

So if J11 contains the project start date, 19 March, and A7:F30 is our historical data, then for calculating the scope for the first day of the project we might have a formula that reads:

=sumValid(J11, A7:F30, “Story ID”, “Valid from”, “Estimate”)

To get the data for the second day of the project (the cell immediately below that) we use exactly the same formula, but this time the first parameter points to J12, which is cell for 20 March.

And then you can copy the formula down the column for every date until today.

Of course if you copy or drag formulas then your cell references will change, so make sure you use $ signs as appropriate. And if your historical data is on another sheet (as it is in our original spreadsheet) then again the cell references won’t look quite like this. In the original spreadsheet the formula is:

=sumValid($A11, ‘User stories’!$A$7:$F$30, “Story ID”, “Valid from”, “Estimate”)

Now let’s suppose for the third column of the burn-up data we want to calculate work done as it was on each day. For this we use exactly the same formula, but this time the last parameter is “Work done” (or whatever we’ve called the column in the historical data).

So for the first cell in the third column our formula might read:

=sumValid(…, …, “Story ID”, “Valid from”, “Work done”)

where the cell references have been elided for clarity. Once again we can use this same formula all the way down the column. And once again we need to make sure we use $ signs appropriately, so the date parameter changes line by line, but the historical data range stays the same.

The burn-up chart

Now the burn-up chart is easy. We just create a line chart from the burn-up data we’ve just created.

As you add more lines to the burn-up data make sure the burn-up chart references the latest data, including those new lines you’ve just added.

The burn-up chart

Top tip for greater reliability

Although I’ve used a lot of words to describe this process, I hope that in practice you can see it’s pretty simple. But here’s another feature of sumValid that makes it even easier. Take a look at the other sheet, Burn-up with smarter formulas.

Smarter formulas

I’ve previously said that the first parameter of sumValid is the date we want to calculate a value for. But we can instead supply a date range. If we point to our entire column of dates then sumValid will not only calculate the value for the first date, it will also fill in the values for all the other dates. We must make sure those cells are blank though—only then can it fill them in; if not it will give a #REF! error.

This is a really big benefit. It means we only need to worry about one formula for each line of the burn-up chart. When you extend your burn-up chart, or when you extend your historical data table, then you must update those formulas. But you’d have to do that anyway with the previous method, and there are more formulas to worry about there.

More tips and tricks

Here are some other details that might be of interest…

  • The more data you have the slower the sumValid function gets. But for a project lasting a few weeks it should be fine.
  • If sumValid gives you an error then read the error message carefully—it should give you a bit of help. Things which cause errors include: Referencing a column in the historical data which doesn’t exist (e.g. you say “ID” but the header says “Story ID”); a line in the historical data has missing ID or a missing “valid from” date.
  • The historical data can include blank lines. But the first row must be the header row.
  • As your project develops your historical data will grow. So make sure the sumValid formulas encompass the latest historical data.

I wish you as much fun with spreadsheets as I have…

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Discussion

One thought on “Make a burn-up chart in Google Sheets… the easy way

  1. Thank you! That’s really useful. I am using my own google spreadsheets version for backlog/sprint backlogs tracking, but I will definitely share this with my colleagues!

    Posted by tisquiiirrel | 16 June 2015, 4:25 pm