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6 min read

Jira velocity charts: How to use them to improve sprints

Precise data makes for easy planning. Learn to calculate velocity and create velocity charts that offer insight into your project team’s performance.
From Team '23

Tempo Team

Project management hinges on accurate performance estimates. Project managers need a realistic picture of their team’s capabilities to construct a project schedule that doesn’t overwork staff or disappoint stakeholders.

Velocity charts assess your team’s capabilities so you can calculate precise sprint deliveries and project timelines. Over time, more data will increase the chart’s accuracy, improving your forecasts during future project and sprint planning.

Once you learn to create and interpret velocity and comparison charts using Jira, you can track team performance, improve production consistency, and gain insight into project progression.

What is the Jira velocity chart?

In project management, velocity measures the work a team accomplishes within a set time frame. For agile teams, this is the length of a sprint – two to four weeks.

Your project team’s velocity tells you how long it will take to reach a milestone and whether it will produce the required deliverables on schedule. Some project managers use project velocity to gauge their team’s overall performance. 

Most project management platforms can calculate and create a velocity report. Delivered as a visual chart, this report compares the number of story points the team plans to complete against the number delivered, then tracks the results by project (or by sprint for scrum teams).

If you use an agile framework, scrum masters can create a velocity chart in Jira and use the data to plan future sprints.

Velocity graphs support project teams in several ways:

  • Useful for creating burndown charts to monitor a project’s overall progress

  • Helps predict the team’s performance in future sprints by illustrating consistent completion patterns

  • Indicates changes in productivity and performance that project management must address

Whether you use waterfall or agile development, each bar should ideally be equal in height, meaning your predictions were accurate. If not, this could prompt a search for bottlenecks or illustrate that you’re overcommitting your team. Whatever the reason, discrepancies indicate areas for improvement. 

How to calculate project velocity and more

The formula for calculating project velocity is straightforward. Simply divide the total work completed by your chosen time period. 

Velocity = Total work completed / Time

So, if your project team takes three weeks to complete 84 tasks, the velocity calculation would look like this:

Velocity = 84 tasks / 3 weeks

Velocity = 28 tasks per week

Based on this number, you can predict team productivity in other circumstances. Say a project involves 223 discrete tasks:

Project completion = 223 tasks / 28 tasks per week

Project completion = 7.964, or ~8 weeks 

Calculating velocity per sprint

Another valuable velocity calculation is your scrum’s average velocity per sprint. Consider a team’s performance over four iterations. Here’s the formula to calculate the average velocity:

Average velocity = Total number of completed story points  / Total number of sprints

In this case, 

Average velocity = (22 sp + 28 sp + 16 sp +24 sp) / 4 sprints

Average velocity = 90 sp / 4 sprints

Average velocity = 22.5 story points per sprint

This information helps you find areas for improvement. In Sprint 3, the team completed significantly fewer story points than the average. What happened that week to affect performance, and how did they bounce back in Sprint 4? 

It also helps predict the reliability of the team’s performance for future sprints. For example, if the chart shows a consistent completion pattern, you can estimate team members’ output with reasonable accuracy.

Comparing actual performance vs. estimates

If you want an indication of actual versus estimated performance for a sprint, you can calculate the story point completion percentage. The formula looks like this:

Completion percentage (%) = (Story points completed / Story points planned) ✕ 100

If you’re a scrum master and you estimated your team would complete 40 story points in a sprint, but they only complete 29, it would look like this:

Completion percentage (%) =  (29 completed / 40 estimated) X 100

Completion percentage (%) = (0.725) X 100

Completion percentage (%) =  72.5%

This may indicate inaccurate capacity estimates or the presence of an issue or bottleneck. Either way, there’s room for improvement. During the sprint retrospective, use this data to identify whether this was a one-off event or the start of a trend. Then, make a plan to increase the completion percentage for the next iteration. 

How to read the velocity chart

Jira’s velocity chart is a bar graph constructed from several data points:

  1. Y-axis: The vertical axis represents the benchmark you’re counting, such as the number of story points, issues, or tasks. For scrums, story points measure the effort required for sprint completion.

  2. Commitment: The gray bars indicate the number of story points (or other metric) the team is estimated to complete during a sprint or other interval.

  3. Completion: The green bars signify the actual number of story points (or other metric) the team completed within the sprint or period.

  4. X-axis: The horizontal axis displays the number of sprints or work periods completed by the team.

A story point, task, or issue must be 100% done, or work will roll over to the next sprint. 

Jira users must remember a few critical points:

  • The velocity graph generated is board-specific, including only the issues matching your saved filter. 

  • Issues from the sprint backlog are only considered a “To Do” item when mapped to your scrum board’s leftmost column (Add status). 

  • Only issues mapped to the far right are considered “Done.”

The benefits of the Jira velocity chart

Adding velocity as a metric and using the chart to track your team’s performance over time produces several significant benefits, especially for Agile teams.

1. Improved reliability

The velocity chart allows you to visually analyze your team’s performance. For example, if you commit to completing 60 story points per sprint but regularly fall short, you’ll see you’re over-committing. If the inverse is true, you’ll learn your team has a reliable capacity to commit to more work in future sprints.

As you add more data points to the chart, your predictions will become precise and provide an accurate picture of what your team can accomplish. 

2. Identifies bottlenecks

A velocity chart illustrates the team’s performance over a sprint, epic, or project. If you encounter any issues or risks tied to a dependency (aka a bottleneck), you can spot and address them before they block outcome delivery.

3. Isolate issue source

With a chart, you can explore whether velocity issues stem from inaccurate capacity estimates, external factors (e.g., delayed deliveries from a partner), or internal problems (e.g., workplace interruptions or context switching). 

4. Consistent delivery

Once you address the source of your team’s productivity issues, the velocity chart allows you to assess the progress and efficacy of your solutions. You’ll have the necessary data to make practical decisions regarding capacity during sprint planning. With consistent and reproducible results, you remove uncertainty and risk in future project deliverables.

Final words

Velocity charts provide valuable insight into the inner workings of project teams and scrums. They can yield more informed estimates and indicate processes that require optimization. However, you need accurate data to create a functional velocity graph.