What is a cumulative flow diagram?

A cumulative flow diagram is a type of chart used in project management to show the progress of a project.  Cumulative flow diagrams serve a similar purpose to  burn down or burn up charts, and can show a lot more information.

A cumulative flow diagram is made up of a series of lines or areas representing the amount of work in different stages of progression.  For example, in software development, typical stages for development of a feature are:

  • Not started
  • Design
  • Coding/Development
  • Testing and QA
  • Complete

In a cumulative flow diagram, the number of features in each stage of development is plotted for each day in the chart.  

An example of a cumulative flow diagram
An example of a cumulative flow diagram


Reading a Cumulative Flow Diagram

A cumulative flow diagram is confusing upon first inspection.  However the key takeaways from the chart are the following:

  1. The project will be finished when the complete area merges with the not started area.
  2. The vertical height of each area shows how much work is currently in that stage.  A vertical widening of a particular area shows a bottleneck in your development process that should be investigated in case corrective action is required.
  3. The horizontal distance from the not started line to the completed line is the projects lead time.  The lead time is the average time from a feature request to a completed implementation.


When to use a Cumulative Flow Diagram

The ability to show bottlenecks in the development process is the key advantage of cumulative flow diagrams over burn up charts.  This can be useful in planning corrective actions such as reassigning resources from development to testing to get project delivery back on schedule.  Thus cumulative flow diagrams are very useful for the project manager and project team because they allow good project feedback and correction. 


Creating a Cumulative Flow Diagram

Cumulative flow diagrams require a lot of data to create, so it is best to use software that already has access to this data to create them.  JIRA with Greenhopper is able to display cumulative flow diagrams for your projects, and Intelligent Reports for JIRA is able to create Microsoft Word documents containing cumulative flow diagrams from JIRA data.  Several other software project management systems are also able to display cumulative flow diagrams from their data.


Clarios Technology is dedicated to excellence in project management.  Our software Intelligent Reports for JIRA automatically creates professional Microsoft Word project management reports from your JIRA data so that you can efficiently and effectively communicate progress and other project information to clients and your executive team.  Simple Word based templates, no programming or scripting, and a collection of free templates are provided to get you started straight away .  If you use JIRA to manage your projects, claim your 30 day free trial of Intelligent Reports today because your time is too important to waste manually creating charts and reports.


Burn up vs burn down chart

Should you use burn up or burn down charts for your project?  The answer is that it depends on what you are trying to achieve.


A brief overview

Burn down and burn up charts are two types of charts that project managers use to track and communicate the progress of their projects.  A burn down chart shows how much work is remaining to be done in the project, whereas a burn up chart shows how much work has been completed, and the total amount of work.  These charts are particularly widely used in Agile and scrum software project management.


burn up and burn down chart of the same project A burn down and burn up chart of the same project. In the burn down chart it appears that the team did not accomplish much in the middle of the project but heroically finished everything at the end. The burn up chart shows the complete picture - that the scope increased at the beginning of the project, and some scope was removed to finish the project by the deadline, whilst the team made steady progress through the entire duration of the project.

Your goal

The primary determinant in whether to use a burn up or burn down chart is what you are trying to accomplish, your goal.  Are you presenting to clients for the continued survival of the project?  Are you trying to motivate your project team?  Are you simply trying to increase your own knowledge and understanding of what is happening in the project?  The answers to these questions will determine which chart to use.


Simplicity vs information

Burn down charts are simple.  A single line racing towards zero as the project is completed.  Anyone can understand this chart, and it does not need an explanation.  However it can hide important information, for example the effects of scope change.

Scope change is when work is added to or removed from a project.  We are all familiar with scope change, the client suddenly demands extra features, or work is removed from a project to meet a deadline.  A burndown chart does not show this information as clearly as a burn up chart.

A burn up chart tracks completed work and total work with two separate lines, unlike a burn down chart which combines them into a single line.  The total work line communicates important information - is the project not yet complete because work is slow to be done, or too much new work is being added.  This information can be crucial in diagnosing and rectifying problems with a project.


Presenting project progress on a regular basis

If you are presenting project progress to the same audience on a regular basis, for example weekly customer progress meetings, you are probably better off with a burn up chart.   It will allow you to easily show them you are making progress, even if they have been adding more work, or testing has revealed problems that are adding work to the project.


Convincing customers to stabilize project scope

Scope creep is the enemy of every software project.  In the face of scope creep burn down charts start to look like little progress is being made.  However a burn up chart clearly makes the scope creep problem visible to the customer.  This may even help you to convince them to stop requesting changes and allow the project to complete.


Fixed scope projects

There are certain limited circumstances in which a project may have a well defined fixed scope.  If a project is guaranteed to have fixed scope, the burn up chart communicates no more information than a burn down chart, so the simplicity of the burn down chart is preferable.



Intelligent Reports for JIRA can automatically insert burn up and burn down charts into professional Microsoft Word reports created from almost any aspect of your JIRA data. Intelligent Reports is the easy customizable reporting solution for JIRA, giving you complete knowledge of what is happening in your engineering team. Get customized progress reports, timesheet reportsSLA reports and more delivered automatically to your email inbox. So if you use JIRA, get a free 30 day trial from the Atlassian Marketplace today because your time is too important to waste writing up reports.



This article is part of a series on project progress charts. Articles in this series:

What is a burn up chart?

A burn up chart, or burnup chart, tracks progress towards a projects completion. In the simplest form of burn up chart there are two lines on the chart:

  1. A total work line (the project scope line)
  2. A work completed line
burn up chart A burnup chart clearly shows both completed work and project scope. The project will be completed when the lines meet.

The vertical axis is amount of work, and is measured in units customized to your own project. Some common units are number of tasks, estimated hours or story points (in agile project management methodologies). The horizontal axis is time, usually measured in days.

At each day you can see the amount of work completed and the total amount of work. The distance between the two lines is thus the amount of work remaining. When the two lines meet, the project will be complete. This is a powerful measure of how close you are to completion of the project, similar to a burn down chart.

Regularly checking progress charts such as burn down charts or burn up charts is an important part of project management, agile, scrum or otherwise. These charts can allow you to instantly identify certain types of problems, such as scope creep or a deviation from the planned project path. These problems can then be discussed and corrective action can be taken at an early stage, rather than when it is too late, the hallmark of an effective project manager. Sharing these charts with customers can also build confidence and trust in both your management, and the progress of the project as a whole. Burn up charts are particularly commonly used in agile and scrum software development methodologies.

The advantage of a burn up chart over a burn down chart is the inclusion of the scope line. It clearly tracks when work has been added to or removed from the project. It also allows you to visualize a more realistic completion date for the project, by extending a trend line from the scope as well as the completion line. Where the two trend lines meet is the estimated time of completion.

The scope line allows you as a manager to easily spot where work is being added which will affect the completion date. Whether this work is being added by the client or the team, it is an important signal that the completion date may need to be moved in response. The scope line also tracks where work is being removed to meet a fixed deadline. Again this is important to know as it may impact the quality or functionality of the project, and is something that needs to be clearly discussed with the client and team.

Although a typical burn up chart only has two lines, other lines are sometimes included. Firstly an 'ideal' line may be included. This shows the completion necessary at each day to meet the deadline. You can then tell if the project is ahead of or behind schedule by whether it is above or below the ideal line, and the distance gives you an idea as to how far ahead or behind schedule it is. (The ideal line is usually based on the most recent available total scope for simplicity)

burn up chart with ideal line A burn up chart with an ideal line, showing where the project is ahead of and behind schedule.

Another line that is sometimes included is the required burn up line. This line shows how much work must be completed to meet the deadline, given the current scope.

Lastly, several burn up charts can be superimposed on top of one another. This is typically done for multi stage projects, such as release versions or development sprints in a software project. The scope lines are cumulatively stacked, whilst the completed line is either combined for all releases, or only for the next release and previously completed releases on any given day. The advantage of this layout is that it is clear when work is being shifted from one sprint to the next, as opposed to being added to the total project scope.

More advanced, but also more complicated to read than a burn up chart is a cumulative flow diagram.

Why use a burn up chart?

The goal of any chart is communication, a burn up chart clearly shows work completed and project scope. It is an effective tool for communicating to the project stakeholders and clients how the extra feature requests they are asking for will affect the deadline, and at the same time for reassuring them that good progress is being made. In a project where clients are adding a lot of work mid-project, a burndown chart will not be an accurate reflection of the project teams output, and could lead to performance questions from the client. A burn up chart can quickly make clients re-evaluate whether they really need that extra bell or whistle.

Unfortunately burn up charts are slightly more complex to interpret than burn down charts, so will often require some short explanation to people not familiar with them. However because of the extra information represented in a burn up chart, this explanation is usually more than worth the time, with the possible exception of large group situations.

How to create a burn up chart

A burn up chart can be created with many tools, from pen and paper to a spreadsheet program such as excel. The easiest way to create a burn up chart tracking a particular project is to use a project management tool with a good reporting system, such as Intelligent Reports for JIRA. Using reporting tools, burn up charts can be instantly or even automatically created using the data already tracked in your project management system. There is no excuse for not regularly reviewing progress charts such as burn up charts or burn down charts to check on the progress of your project, and take corrective action if any problems are discovered.

Intelligent Reports for JIRA can automatically insert burn up charts into professional reports created from almost any aspect of your JIRA data. Intelligent Reports is the easy customizable reporting solution for JIRA, giving you complete knowledge of what is happening in your engineering team. In minutes you could have customized progress reports, timesheet reports, SLA reports and more delivered automatically to your email inbox. So if you use JIRA, what are you waiting for? Get a free 30 day trial from the Atlassian Marketplace today.

This article is part of a series on project progress charts. Articles in this series:

What is a burndown chart?

A burndown chart is a plot of work remaining to reach a given goal on the vertical axis, and time on the horizontal axis. Each point on the chart shows how much work was left to do at the end of that day (or week, month or other time period). Regular review of progress charts such as burndown charts or burn up charts for the project you are managing can immediately identify problems and allow you to control them early. Identifying problems early and highlighting corrective action you have taken will impress your clients and gain you their confidence and trust.

A burndown chart.  The remaining number of tasks is plotted in blue, and the green dashed line is the ideal burn down line. A burndown chart. The remaining number of tasks is plotted in blue, and the green dashed line is the ideal burn down line.

To read a burndown chart imagine an "ideal" line running diagonally from the top left to the bottom right corner. Some burndown chart may actually have this line indicated on the chart. The ideal line represents the required burndown to reach the goal, or the ideal position to be in at the end of each day. The actual burndown line can be compared against this line to provide a simple measure of the progress of the project. If the actual line is above the ideal line the project is behind schedule. If the actual line is below the ideal line the project is ahead of schedule. The distance above or below the line shows how much the project is ahead or behind.

The amount of work remaining in a burndown chart is typically estimated by the number of tasks remaining to be completed. This is due to simplicity and the smaller amount of volatility in the numbers compared to time estimates associated with the tasks.

Burndown charts are an important visual informational tool used by effective project managers. Burndown charts are particularly common in the agile and scrum project management methodology, where they are often used to understand and track the progress of a development sprint or release.

Why use a burndown chart?

The popularity of burndown charts stems from their simplicity. It is a simple concept to see that the number of tasks must reach zero by a defined date. The human visual system also makes it very easy to extrapolate a trend from the data and see whether the goal will be reached in time or not. Thus burndown charts are useful aids to explain and demonstrate the progress of a project to anyone, regardless of whether they match your level of experience in project management. Therefore it is often a good idea to creating a burn down chart for use in presentations and demonstrations to clients and non-technical management.

Some managers also consider burndown charts to have a motivational value. Seeing the line creep ever closer to zero will encourage and motivate project participants, and clearly demonstrate that progress is being made. Personally, I believe that other charts of project progress such as burn up charts have the same motivational power, and so motivation should not be used as a reason for choosing a burndown chart over a different progress chart.

In summary, consider making a burndown chart if simplicity is your most important communication goal, and simplicity overrides the problems with a burndown chart.

How to create a burn down chart

Burn down charts are easy to create manually using pen and paper, or they can be created by entering the data into a spreadsheet program such as excel. Alternatively software tools such as Intelligent Reports make it trivially easy to create a burndown chart for your project by using data already contained in your project management system. There is no excuse for not making a burndown chart on a regular basis to review the progress of your project.

Intelligent Reports for JIRA can automatically insert burndown charts into professional reports created from almost any aspect of your JIRA data. Intelligent Reports is the easy customizable reporting solution for JIRA, giving you complete knowledge of what is happening in your engineering team. In minutes you could have customized progress reports, timesheet reports, SLA reports and more delivered automatically to your email inbox. So if you use JIRA, what are you waiting for? Get a free 30 day trial from the Atlassian Marketplace today.

This article is part of a series on project progress charts. Articles in this series: