The post began with me very earnestly breaking down a very well-written post by Tony Shawver at Matrix on burndown charts. After voicing on Twitter that I respected his thoughts, but disagreed with the execution. With the relationship I had built with them online, they suggested I write a rebuttal. It was really good, in my mind.
Ultimately, though, I think we are in agreement.
I do have my nits to pick. Some of the teams I have worked with in my career are neither mature enough or stable for long enough to get the true value of burndown charts. I also think that evolving requirements decided upon as late as possible keep the line (or bar) graph impossible to get a clear picture of work in progress on a day-by-day basis. If you want to get to know them more, please read Tony’s post. I would like to address the nuance.
After constructing my arguments, I wasn’t satisfied with my retort. Regardless of the validity of my thoughts, something just felt off. How could I be against one of the few artifacts in Scrum? My inner Mike Cohn told me to keep digging.
Ultimately, I ended up in my boss’s office because he has a better BS detector than anyone else at Bottle Rocket. I laid out Tony’s article and all my reasons for disagreement. He smiled and told me that I wasn’t really against burndown charts.
“Your team may not need a line or bar graph to tell you the team’s status,” he said. “You just need a scoreboard of some type.”
Instantly, the idea clicked into place. Having watched and played sports my entire life, I know how important it is to know the score. You plan, attack, and defend differently depending on the score. Reporting comes differently if you are up or down. You certainly carry yourself differently if you are “winning” or “losing”.
On my team, we have lists of features, bugs and polish items that are re-prioritized, rewritten and re-planned every day. When an item is done, the completer strikes through it on the white board with great pride. It is then verified and accepted.
Some teams keep score by just using story or task cards and keep them moving. Others point each task and use graphs to communicate to higher ups. We just do it differently.
If you are using burndown charts because that’s all you know, and are frustrated it isn’t getting the attention from your team you hoped for, try something new. Change isn’t bad, it keeps everyone on their toes. I’m not saying you rewrite your entire process in medias res, you just tweak to get their attention.
There are no participation trophies in this game. You may not necessarily “win” in this game, but you can definitely “lose” if you don’t do a good job of keeping score. Of course, once you finish the game and “win”, there is a trophy to be mounted on the wall. We’ll tackle that another day.
Thanks to Mr. Shawver for making me think and question. While I may have not agreed with the exact execution, I realized I had been using a burndown chart the entire time. It’s just not a descending line.