What Is a Burn down Chart?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2019
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A burn down chart is a graphical reference of the amount of work done on a project over a set period of time, and the projected amount of work necessary to complete the project within the deadline. Some software programs have a module for creating such charts while in other cases it is possible to use a generic charting program. A project manager can find such charts useful for project planning and management. They are also valuable in project reporting for quickly conveying information about progress and projected needs.

One axis of the burn down chart follows time, while the other looks at work. At the start of a project, the project manager may sit down to create goals to accomplish by given time periods, generating a planned line on the burn down chart. That line allows participants in the project to see how much work they should have completed at various points. Often, the project manager front loads the work to leave room for issues that may develop later in the project so the participants will have enough time to address them.


As work proceeds, an actual line can be laid out on the burn down chart. This may closely follow the projected line or could dip above or below it. When a project is ahead of schedule, the burn down chart will show this, as more work than expected will be complete. Projects falling behind will also be easy to track, and it may be possible to use the chart to pinpoint the location where things started to go wrong, which can be useful for getting back on track and preventing problems in the future.

The burn down chart provides an instant reference for outstanding work left to do and the amount of time to do it in. It can be useful for a wide variety of business projects. Other professionals like writers may use similar tools; a novelist, for example, can have word goals to complete within a set period of time and will use a chart in the planning phases to create clear goals for assessing progress while working on the project.

Burn down charts can be useful references at the end of a project, during the phase when participants dissect the project to learn more about how well it worked and to develop appropriate plans for the future. The chart may reveal a pitfall that wasn't expected, or an issue that should have been anticipated and planned for.


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