Better Burndown: Forecasts that reflect the Cone of Uncertainty

The humble burndown is very easy to create, interpret, use and abuse. 

They can be very simple, allowing for much discussion and interpretation (or just interpretation… tisk tisk):



or they can provide a pretty direct message:


Less is More…

During a course discussion with fellow PSD trainers a few years ago I made the statement that I don’t like trend lines.  They remove the discussion, the thought from this tool.  I preferred NOT to have any forecasts provided by a burndown, because even when aggregated from many teams I can easily make these judgments on my own.  In fact, I believe that, because the decision is not made fore me I actually come out understanding the nuances far better.


The Cut Line

I do think there is a compromise though and it provides a much better basis for the discussion we should be having: what are the possible scenarios ahead. 

Instead of a single trend line, provide at least 2, 3 if you must:

Pessimistic – What is may occur if things don’t continue to go our way.

Optimistic – What is may occur if luck is on our side.

Cutline – What we project might happen if things remain the same.  (What’s the saying?)


Better Discussions

This allows us to have the pointed conversation with our marketing, sales and business teams that we should not be promising, planning or basing important decisions on features that are close to the cut line for a particular sprint or feature.  We probably can begin creating collateral and sales pitches for those features that are near the pessimistic line.  We may also move some of the features near the cutline up if they will win us a customer or two. 

The key is look at the range of scenarios possible and make informed decisions.


All in all, I still don’t think we need the cutline projected, but I do believe that the coloring choices are important.  Some may wish to color the cutline green.  This is dangerous.  It’s not your go line.  The pessimistic line is the most risk averse forecast seen here.