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Unlocking Progress with Hill Charts


product owner

If you're a product owner seeking a powerful way to track and enhance community progress in your project, consider the effectiveness of Hill Charts. In this article, Will Webster explores the benefits and simplicity of incorporating Hill Charts into your project management toolkit.


Understanding Hill Charts


Hill charts have become one of my favorite tools due to their simplicity and effectiveness. These charts provide a clear visual representation of the journey from discovery to delivery, making them a valuable asset for any product owner.





The Discovery Quadrant


The Hill Chart is divided into two main quadrants, with the first focusing on Discovery. During this phase, you grapple with uncertainty, encounter unknowns, and tackle problems. The ascent in this quadrant might take a bit longer, reminiscent of the challenge of pushing things uphill.


The Execution Quadrant


Once you reach the summit and have a clear understanding of the tasks at hand, it's time for execution mode. Confidence and certainty guide this descent, making the process of pushing things downhill smoother and often quicker.


Three Benefits of Hill Charts


  1. Ease of Use and Quick Start Hill Charts offer a straightforward and accessible way to communicate progress. They serve as a visual reference for the entire cycle from discovery to delivery, acting as a valuable artifact for sponsors and a sense-making tool for team members.

  2. Interpretability Over Burn-Ups While burn-ups are commonly used, Hill Charts often prove more interpretable. Burn-ups can be challenging to produce and interpret, primarily focusing on changes in scope and forecasting completion dates rather than providing a holistic view of the scope.

  3. Superior to Percentage Completion Reporting Reporting progress as a percentage complete can be ambiguous and rely on guesswork. Hill Charts offer a more tangible and comprehensive representation, avoiding the pitfalls of false precision associated with reporting in percentages.


Embracing Hill Charts


I encourage you to integrate Hill Charts into your project management approach. Their versatility makes them an excellent complement to other artifacts such as backlogs, story maps, or roadmaps.


Acknowledgments and Inspiration


Credit for introducing Hill Charts goes to the team at Basecamp through their work in Shape Up. Additionally, thanks to the Perth Agile community for bringing these innovative ideas to my attention.


Applying Hill Charts Beyond Six-Week Cycles


While the six-week cycles in Shape Up may not suit all contexts, Hill Charts offer adaptability across various situations. Their applicability and usefulness make them a valuable addition to any project management toolkit.


Hill Charts in Professional Training


Explore Hill Charts and other essential tools in our Proven Product Owner training and internal coaching services. Whether through our in-person training courses or tailored support for internal capability uplift and agile discovery and execution, we're here to help.


About the Author


Will Webster, a Coach, Scrum Master, and Technical Leader, is the owner of Cohezion—a consulting, training, and coaching business. He thrives on helping build teams and embedding the capabilities required for excellence. Connect with Will for insights into effective project management and agile methodologies.

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