Estimating completion date using a burndown chart

Estimating completion date using a burndown chartUsing time series modeling for Agile project estimationMichael LarionovBlockedUnblockFollowFollowingMar 5One of the techniques in Agile planning is a burndown chart.

According to Wikipedia, it is a graphical representation of work left to do versus time.

It is an extremely simple chart, but also extremely important, because it allows answering a very important question: when are we going to be done.

Indeed, when the line crosses the x-axis, this is the date we are done.

The problem is, as we showed in the previous examples, this approach does not take into account uncertainty.

The project velocity varies over time, and we can predict the time we are going to be done only with a certain degree of probability.

Here I will be using ARIMA to model the time series data and do forecasting.

Book progressWhen I learned the burndown chart technique, I started using it for everything that requires tracking of progress, including books.

I like to set goals for myself as to when I have to finish the book.

Otherwise, I’ll never get done with the book.

The natural method of tracking book progress is a burndown chart, so I tend to use it for all the technical books I read.

In this example, I share the data for a very important book on machine learning, that I read back in 2018.

Every week I update the number of pages read, and Excel calculates for me the number of remaining pages.


plot(x='Date', y='Remaining');I was trying to read 50 pages per week, and if I was under my goal one week, I would try to compensate in the next week by dedicating more times to the book.

I was tracking data in Excel document, and was using a very simple chart with a linear trend line:Linear trend line works… sort of.

It does not reflect the reality as soon as my variation increases.

Shouldn’t I use machine learning methods instead?ARIMA modelARIMA, according to Wikipedia, stands for autoregressive integrated moving average.

It has three important parameters: p, d, and q.

p is responsible for the degree of an autoregression, i.


how the previous results influence the current result.

q represents the degree of moving average, i.


how previous noise influences the current result.

If we assume that the current result is influenced only by the current noise, then we can set q to zero.

Finally, d represents the degree of difference.

This means, that rather than fitting the actual result, we are fitting the difference between the current and the previous result.

It is also equivalent to the time derivative.

When d = 1 we fit the first derivative, when d = 2 — the second, etc.

In our example we see that we can model the data as a straight line with a negative slope, so we can set d to 1.

We also assume, that the reasons for variance in the previous week has no effect on the current week, so we set q to zero.

Finally, in our simplistic model, we assume that the current week directly depends only on the result of the previous week, and not on the data for the preceding weeks.

Hence we will fit the model (1,1,0).

ARIMA Model Results ==============================================================================Dep.

Variable: D.

Remaining No.

Observations: 4Model: ARIMA(1, 1, 0) Log Likelihood -15.

400Method: css-mle S.


of innovations 10.

857Date: Fri, 01 Mar 2019 AIC 36.

800Time: 15:01:36 BIC 34.

959Sample: 1 HQIC 32.

760 ===================================================================================== coef std err z P>|z| [0.

025 0.

975]————————————————————————————-const -41.

8044 3.

849 -10.

862 0.

008 -49.

348 -34.




Remaining -0.

5563 0.

330 -1.

688 0.

233 -1.

202 0.

090 Roots ============================================================================= Real Imaginary Modulus Frequency—————————————————————————–AR.

1 -1.

7975 +0.

0000j 1.

7975 0.

5000—————————————————————————–According to this summary, the model does not fit very well, but we should not forget, that our time series is very short.

In fact, this is very typical of time series to contain relatively few data, so if we apply more complex models, we either get a warning from ARIMA.

fit() method, or the model will overfit.

Below we simulated the case when we forecast the end date of the book starting week 4.

forecast(4)We see that after only 4 weeks of data the model seems to be overfitting, because the forecast follows the squiggly pattern we had during the first 4 weeks of this book.

The forecast comes just below 10 weeks with 95% confidence interval between 9 and 11 weeks.

forecast(5)After week 5 the model no longer overfits.

Now the width of the 95% confidence interval is almost 2 weeks!forecast(6)I think I had way too much time in week 6, so I managed to catch up in my reading.

Now the forecast is around 9 weeks, but look at the confidence interval: it is almost 3 weeks!.This means that I could finish the book anytime between 8 to 11 weeks.

forecast(7)After week 7 the confidence interval started to go down.

The forecast is now around 9 weeks.

forecast(8)Not much change in the forecast, however, the confidence interval decreased furtherforecast(9)Here is where the model seems to break down.

The forecast is around 9, and the confidence interval is between 9 and 10.

The reason is that the ARIMA.

plot_predict() function estimates the uncertainty of the result, not the point the curve hits the x-axis.

To do the latter correctly, we will have to update the statistical model we use in estimating the confidence intervals.

forecast(10)Our week 10 forecast does not make much sense.

Obviously, we need one more week, but the forecast shows zero right now.

Perhaps a more complex model can address the issue, now that we have more data to make sure the model won’t overfit.

Conclusion and Next StepsWe have shown, that instead of a trend line in Excel, we can use ARIMA model to forecast the progress of the project, estimated at every stage of the process when we will be done, and have the model give us confidence intervals to build in uncertainty in the estimation.

It should not be too difficult to build this model into popular Agile development tools.

I will also start using this tool for tracking the progress of the books I am currently reading.

You can find the code for this article in my github repo.


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