Burnup looking like a Hockey Stick?

When was the last time you looked at the burnup chart? This burnup chart draws a good portrait of how the team is handling the work and creating value. Are you worried that your burnup chart is morphing into a Hockey stick? Go ahead.. grab a copy of the burnup chart!

Burn up chart-Hockey Stick-individual sprint

Burnup Chart – Hockey Stick for an individual sprint

Burn up chart-Hockey Stick-for a release

Burnup chart-Hockey Stick for a release

Burn up chart-Stepping Stone-for a release

Burn up chart-Stepping Stone-for a release

Let us pause for a moment and look at your Story Burnup chart. This chart can take on many forms, as beautifully described by ScrumDesk in this article. How does it look? Does it look like a straight horizontal line (showing no progress)? Does it look like a Hockey stick as depicted in the two charts above, or Stepping Stones as depicted in the last chart? Or, perhaps, in between!

You have to pay close attention to this chart on a regular basis. The Story burnup chart can tell you a lot about your teams’ mentality and mode of operation.

If your chart looks like a hockey stick, then it is telling that the teams are scrambling to close the stories and burning midnight oil. This hockey stick can hurt you, a lot!

Quality is the first one to take the hit!

It hurts you in multiple ways! To begin with, I would question the quality of work completed (or at least, marked as completed) as a result of this 11th hour scrambling. Apart from quality, you have several other issues such as:

  • overworked team members
  • frustrated teams
  • frustrated business and Product Owner (PO) becuse they are not getting what they want.  They are giving acceptance at the last minute and not satisfied with the quality
  • dejected, demoralized teams

Burnup and Root Causes

There are several reasons why your Burnup morphs into a Hockey Stick, such as:

  • Team members working in silos
  • having too much stuff open or too many User Stories open and in progress,
  • The team is spread too thin across many User Stories, too many balls in the air!
  • Team not clearly about the end state for the stories. Do they have Acceptance Criteria listed?
  • Missing definitions of READY (DoR)  and DONE (DoD)
  • This hockey stick is an indicator of poor quality (or absence) of Backlog grooming activity.

Product Owner (PO) should be able to give you clear Acceptance Criteria. You can also focus on improving the quality of backlog grooming sessions, to come out with better stories, with better understanding of the functionality sought and the end state, the validation criteria.

Red Pill and Blue Pill



The hockey stick chart also suggests that there are lot of delays in closing the stories. These delays could also be caused by impediments not being reported or not being worked on agressively. Trade this hockey stick for stepping stones that lead you to the top line!

Pick your Pill! Hockey stick or Stepping Stone style Story Burnup Chart… Click To Tweet

If this Hockey stick is so painful for the team, then what can we do to change it to turn into more favorable Stepping Stone chart (on the right above)? We can approach this in multiple ways. Below are the Top 5 ways you can prevent your burnup chart from morphing into a Hockey stick.

1. Change the question

It starts with mindset change, shift in the thinking, shift in the way team approaches the work. We have to shift our focus from completing tasks to completing and getting acceptance on the User Stories that deliver Value to our customers.

(Accepted) User Story = You serving up slice of VALUE to your CUSTOMER đŸ™‚

If we tweak the questions a little bit, it will help us shift the mindset. At the After Party (after Daily Scrum has just finished), ask the team: What stories can we drive to completion and Product Owner Acceptance? What is stopping us from getting acceptance on the stories?

This will help you shift the focus to completing the stories. As you discuss this at the After Party, ask for volunteers to own and act as steward for individual user stories. The steward is someone whose primary job is to continue to drive that user story to PO acceptance.

2. Story Swarming

Encourage the Story Steward to use Story Swarming to drive the story to completion and acceptance.

Swarming: A small teamlet, smaller sub group within the team to swarm on the story and drive it to acceptance.

Remember, just completing story is not enough, you want to get PO acceptance on them for you to mark it as DONE.

3. WIP limits:

Ensure that the WIP limits are adhered to, and adjust WIP limits (with team’s consensus) that ‘forces’ team to focus on User Story acceptance, before that start working on another story.
Restrict your team to few stories open at a time and challenge them to finish the story before they start working on new one. Ask them to stop starting and start finishing!

4. Visible Progress (or lack there of)

Above all, make and regularly update the Story burnup chart. This chart can be an invaluable tool for the team to showcase their progress. Make it visible to the team, and discuss it with the team at a regular frequency. Even if you are using electronic tool (such as Rally or Version One), ensure that you have a printed copy of the chart displayed prominently to the team.

5. Impediment List

Encourage team members to report any impediments as soon as they are known. Keep a running list of these Impediments, and aggressively work towards resolution or alternatives to ensure that the team can continue to make progress. Make the list itself visible to the team, as well as the progress being made on resolution of them.
These steps will help you slowly bend the hockey stick into the shape of steps leading you towards the top line. It is a chart that shows that team is getting small number of stories accepted every few days during the sprint. It is a proof that there is no 11th hour scramble. It’s a proof that team is swarming and working collaboratively towards closing the User Stories.

5 things to do before this hockey stick hurts you. Warning: This hockey stick can hurt YOU!… Click To Tweet

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One thought on “Burnup looking like a Hockey Stick?

  1. Good point about focusing on closing stories to deliver value. I find the value of burndowns limited. I think the flow of items on the task board from left to right is all you need to get a good overview of the progress of the sprint.
    I would also be careful to draw conclusions based on the burndown. The thing with metrics and measurements is, “you get what you measure”. If the teams know that a smooth burndown is what’s expected/desired then that’s likely what you’ll get over time. What other behavior could this lead to? A desire to close stories/tasks prematurely? The team taking on less work to safeguard against missed targets? Team less willing to learn though experience? Team less courageous?