How to Increase Confidence in Sprint Planning with Jira Velocity Charts

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How consistent is your delivery for each sprint? Is your team overcommitting or under committing? Are your estimates accurate?

And if not, why not?

Jira Sprint Reports (and specifically the Jira Velocity Chart) are ultra-handy reports that can answer these questions, letting you visualize what you deliver versus what you plan. It lets you predict the amount of work your team can get done in future sprints, and see and understand the problems that could be making your delivery less consistent than you’d like.

This article looks at why it’s one of the most popular Jira reports among Scrum teams.

What is the Jira Velocity Chart?

Jira Velocity Chart Story Points

The Jira Velocity Chart displays grey and green bars. The grey bar is the story points you have planned for the sprint, while the green bar is how many story points you’ve actually finished. Ideally, the two bars for each sprint should be the same height.

What’s great is that this neat and simple little chart got an upgrade in the Jira Software 8.9 release a few months ago. Previously only displaying the last 7 sprints completed by the team, it now shows up to 120 sprints, letting you choose a pre-defined timeframe or custom date range.  

Another new feature with Jira 8.9 is the horizontal grey line. This is the average velocity of your team, i.e. the average of the total completed work—the grey bars—over the last however-many sprints. In the old version of the Velocity Chart, you had to calculate the average yourself. And the fact that the chart can now show dozens of sprints instead of 7 means you get a much more insightful average, particularly if there’s high variability in your sprints.

The Jira Velocity Chart is a valuable tool when sprint planning. You’re able to get a sense of the volume of work you’re likely to be able to accomplish in the upcoming sprint, so you can decide how much you could feasibly commit to. Importantly, the chart lets you analyze the consistency of your delivery and assess whether process improvements can be made or requirements should be honed.

Calculating your Story Point Completion Percentage in Jira (A Useful Tip)

While the Jira Velocity Chart gives you a figure for the average velocity of what you’re completing, it doesn’t give you a figure for the ratio of completed to planned work. A figure like that lets you compare the velocity of different teams and assess which teams ‘seem’ more reliable. In other words, if Team A says they’re going to complete a body of work in the next 3 weeks and Team B says the same, which team is more likely to succeed?

Enter the Story Point Completion Percentage. This is calculated by dividing the number of story points delivered by the number of story points planned.

See the screenshot above, for an example.

Story Points Completed / Story Points Planned x 100 = Story Point Completion Percentage

[Figure] / [Figure] x 100 = [Figure]

Calculating the percentage for each sprint in a given timeframe provides an instant view of what’s happening all the way upstream, thereby giving you a better understanding of your velocity and what’s driving it. For example, there may be an issue with your sprint planning, or your estimates could be off. This in turn triggers conversations about why this might be.  

Note that the Story Point Completion Percentage is not a feature that’s currently available in Jira. You have to copy the figures and do the sum manually to get the percentage.

The Benefits of the Jira Velocity Chart.

The Jira Velocity Chart has the following benefits for Scrum teams:

  • It increases stability, reliability and confidence in sprint planning. If your team keeps planning for 70 story points but never finishes more than 30, the Jira Velocity Chart lets you visualise this and see more easily if you’re overcommitting and should plan for 30 instead. Equally, you may be completing more story points than you’re planning and so could feasibly commit to more in future sprints.
  • It allows you to explore whether the issue is to do with the quality of your estimates rather than your commitment. It might be that there are things affecting your flow that you’re not taking into account. External factors, such as waiting for a technical partner to do something, might be slowing you down. Internal factors, such as workplace interruptions and context switching, might also be putting the brakes on. At the same time, new efficiencies might be speeding you up. Work in progress (WIP) needs to be strictly controlled to ensure realistic results.
  • It lets you identify whether you need better stories or perhaps even better requirements. If your estimates aren’t accurate, it could be because you don’t have great user stories. And if you don’t have great user stories, it could be that you don’t have great requirements to begin with. The Jira Velocity Chart enables you to find out the root cause of what’s going on. 
  • It leads to more consistent delivery. By identifying the root causes of why your planning and completion aren’t matching up—whether it’s challenges to your flow or process, a lack of control of WIP, new efficiencies or substandard requirements—the Jira Velocity Chart boosts the team’s ability to assess their progress, identify areas of improvement, and make better and more realistic decisions on expectations. This in turn leads to more solid sprint planning and more consistent delivery on sprint goals, reducing any uncertainty or risk around forthcoming releases.

The Jira Velocity Report is a terrific reality check for Scrum teams. By better understanding your velocity and what’s driving it, you’re able to create a foundation of trust and legitimacy when setting expectations for future sprints.

Tom Harris Jira Reporting Old Street

Former Atlassian User Group London Leader. Experienced Atlassian Certified Consultant specialising in automating Jira Service Desk and simplifying Jira for non-technical teams. Expertise in improving real-time reporting and charts for Confluence and Jira.