What is burned down in a burn-down chart?

Last post 10:32 am June 23, 2022
by Ian Mitchell
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02:03 pm June 22, 2022

Hello Scrum.org,

Does anybody here know the origins of the term "burn-down chart"?

I was recently asked why we're referring to a burn-down chart as it implies that we are burning something down to the ground. Metaphorically speaking, that is the exact opposite of what we are trying to achieve - in most teams I've worked in.

I remember Jeff Sutherland referring to his experience as a fighter pilot and the speed of descent when talking about visualizing work done in his TED-talk.

So why are we calling this a burn-down chart instead of something more positive? Or at least something with a meaningful metaphor, like a descent chart?

Thanks in advance!

Nicolas

 

10:03 am June 23, 2022

There will almost always be someone who will find a negative connotation in something. 

The reason it's called a burndown chart is a hangover of legacy metrics from older project management techniques. 

"Project Burn" was the slow 'burning' of the available 'resource' toward an end goal. In those days, everything you spend is gone and scope is fixed so everything is only measured as spend achieving the final outcome. 

That was repurposed in modern practitioners with sprint burndown. 

I think the primary reason we don't tend to care is because:

A. It's not a part of scrum, and in my experience, while useful, it's something most teams quickly evolve past. 

B. It's not supposed to be for anyone but the team, so who cares if other people like the name or not? Does it disrupt the team? 

and C. You can literally turn it on its head and call it 'burn up', which some teams do. At that point,  hopefully it illustrates that getting hung up on language for something that is essentially meaningless is mostly wasted effort. 

And to be clear, since in Scrum we care about achieving a sprint goal, not achieving individual backlog items, it isn't really a good thing to think about in the long term. A useful tool for a daily scrum? Maybe. 

Just don't go thinking it means anything. 

10:32 am June 23, 2022

I remember Jeff Sutherland referring to his experience as a fighter pilot and the speed of descent when talking about visualizing work done in his TED-talk.

So why are we calling this a burn-down chart instead of something more positive? Or at least something with a meaningful metaphor, like a descent chart?

I remember talking to an army Major who corrected me when I mentioned blowing up a bridge. Such things are not blown up she said, they are blown down.

I consider my expression to have been the more positive. Use a burn-up chart instead.