Interested to know if you/your team use task-hour burndown per original #Scrum. What values does that offer? If not, why not? â€” Tobias Mayer (@tobiasmayer) January 8, 2013I personally enjoy using burndown charts and like exploring the different stories they can tell given the multitude of ways you can design them. I am currently working with a team that is using a commitment driven approach to planning who also uses a burndown chart of remaining task hours. I replied to Tobias with:
@tobiasmayer I like it as a simple and easy way to help answer the “are we on track” question. Also using commitment-driven planning. â€” Clayton (@claytonlz) January 8, 2013
This seemed to spark a big discussion with a lot of people chiming in with their opinions and experiences. The discussion followed the usual Agile Twitter Debate Formula™ involving charges of not being agile, assuming mutual exclusivity with other practices, general misinterpretations of various points concluding with the usual series of just-do-what-you-want-and-lets-stop-arguing-about-this tweets.
Since twitter proves time and again to be a terrible place to expand on things, I figured it was worth explaining my original tweet in a little more detail here.
Value vs. WorkOne of the first issues that came up in this discussion was that the sum of tasks for a particular user story don’t necessarily add up to any real meaningful value, so since tasks themselves don’t represent value, we shouldn’t be tracking them.
.@howardsublett @tobiasmayer @claytonlz I use a burndown chart based on completed story points, not tasks or hours. work!=value #scrum â€” Bob Hartman (@AgileForAll) January 9, 2013
So, fair enough, tasks don’t represent value so let’s track story points instead. While I think that a burndown chart of story points can tell a story, I like to tell lots of stories so I usually use this in conjunction with other artifacts. I’ve also seen plenty of teams who have a burndown chart of story points that goes sideways for three days and then everyone realizes that they’re not going to get everything done by the end of the sprint. Whoops!
Do we have enough gas to get there?
Imagine that you and some friends are planning a road trip to an outdoor music festival. You all hop in the car and get going. Being a beautiful day, you suggest taking the scenic route and stopping on the way to take a group photo. As you’re driving, the GPS on your dashboard is squawking commands and you’re fairly confident that you’re heading in the right direction. After a few hours someone in the backseat asks “Hey, do we need to stop and get gas?”
At that moment you look down and realize that you’ve got a quarter tank left, with some quick math and a glance at the GPS you determine that you do not have quite enough gas to make it to the music festival and having passed the last gas station before your destination you can’t stop and get more. Your only choice is to break the bad news to your friends and negotiate taking the group photo on the way back from the music festival.
Are We on Track?
I view a burndown chart of hours remaining as a gas gauge. It doesn’t tell us anything about if we’re going in the right direction or if we’ll ultimately get to our destination, but it can be a useful way of making sure that you’ve got what it takes to make it there.
Most importantly, tracking hours remaining isn’t about tracking hours, or management making sure people are busy or any of the other treacherous things suggested during this twitter discussion. For me, tracking hours remaining is about all of the questions and things you uncover as a result of asking “Are we on track?” and the answer that follows.