Introducing the Cumulative Flow diagram

Dec 30, 2019

The Cumulative flow chart shows the amount of work in different stages of your workflow during the lifetime of your project. It allows teams to visualize their effort and project progress, and to see the if work is piling up or causing bottlenecks. It is an essential tool for assessing the health of a Kanban process.

Here’s an example of a cumulative flow:

Each coloured area of the chart represents the number of tasks (or story points) in a specific workflow state at a given moment. The horizontal axis indicates time, and the vertical axis indicates the number of tasks. You can identify bottlenecks by looking at the widening areas in the chart. Are tasks piling up in a specific workflow state?

Here’s how to read this chart:

  • The chart is trending upwards because the done state (orange colour) is accumulating tasks over time. This is desirable. If it were flat, it would mean that the progress has stalled.

  • The other coloured areas have roughly the same amount of tasks from day to day. This means that the throughput is stable and new tasks are entering the workflow in parallel to those that are leaving it.

  • The colours corresponding to the work in progress states are not expanding which means that the WIP is in control. The only time WIP should increase is when new members are added to the team.

Sign up for a free trial to give it a try with your own data!

Viewing a cumulative flow for an epic

The Epics screen has now an option to show a link to the Cumulative flow chart in the right column. So for each of your epics, you can see the Cumulative flow with a single. To enable this, go to chart settings and select Cumulative flow as one of the columns:

Once you click Save, the new column is added to the Epics screen:

Clicking the chart icon shows the cumulative flow for that epic.

Viewing a cumulative flow for a sprint

You can now view the cumulative flow for the currently running sprint or for any of the previous sprints. To get the chart, select Cumulative flow from the quick menu:

It complements nicely the burndown chart as you can see not only the progress but also how tasks have moved from one workflow state to another during the sprint.

Here’s a video showing Cumulative flow chart in action:

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This article was written by Sami Linnanvuo

Sami is the founder & CEO of Screenful, the company that turns data into visual stories. You can find him on Twitter.