I love using burndown charts, but they only work for finite chunks of work.

Since I also help out groups that do continuous operational work, I wanted to develop a similar tool that would work for them. In operations, the task list is a producer-consumer queue that fills at one end and is depleted from the other. So this is what I use.


Along the horizontal axis are labels for blocks of time, similar to sprints. The vertical axis shows the number of work items, or the cumulative size of the work items.

At the end of any given time block, there will be some items not yet completed. These are added to the pile, and the chart gets higher. As those items are completed in future time blocks, they are removed from the chart.

The total height of the stacked areas represents the number or cumulative size of all work items "on the go" at that time. The height of any specific area section shows the number of work items remaining from the period where they were introduced. Counting the number of coloured zones in any vertical cross section shows how many old time blocks still have something lingering around.

The best part is that slope becomes a powerful indicator of velocity and focus. It encourages you to get rid of the oldest items, so that items from old time blocks are visibly wrapped up. As the pace of work increases, the slope becomes steeper and steeper.

Here's the question: Is there a name for this kind of chart? I'm having trouble finding similar examples. I've been referring to them as "continuous burndown" or "stacked work" charts.

  • I hope this is suitable for PM.stackexchange. If another site is more suitable, please suggest it.
    – Nic
    Mar 5, 2013 at 6:12
  • Hi Nic, a new user was asking what you used to make this chart. You might consider adding that in for context, if you think it might help answer your question. Good luck! :)
    – jmort253
    Mar 11, 2013 at 2:00
  • 1
    It's kinda similar to a cumulative flow diagram, although that separates the series into workflow steps rather than when the work started. open.bekk.no/cumulative-flow-diagrams-with-google-spreadsheets
    – Ben
    Mar 11, 2013 at 14:04
  • @jmort253 The chart was created in Excel 2010, as a Stacked Area chart. There's nothing unique other than how data is arranged.
    – Nic
    Mar 11, 2013 at 20:42
  • @Ben I appreciate the link to Cumulative Flow charts. It's a related idea, although this kind of chart has a focus on Operations Management, not Project Management.
    – Nic
    Mar 11, 2013 at 20:44

2 Answers 2


That type of chart is called an "area chart".


  • 7
    I think the OP was asking if it had a name in the PM context he's using it, not the more general name for a two-axis chart with stacked data presented as filed areas.
    – Adam Wuerl
    Mar 5, 2013 at 21:04

Cumulative Flow Charts?

As Ben said, looks like you may be looking for the Cumulative Flow Charts. They do have sprints along the horizontal axis and the size of work items along the vertical axis. However, each colored area will represent a state. They are used by Agile/Scrum teams to identify bottlenecks and monitor the health of the process.

I am not sure your chart is even valid. Week 1 (blue color) runs from Week 1 to 6???

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