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Why Your Baseline is Essential in Project Management

A baseline is an important element of project management. Without a baseline, there will be no performance measurement and no earned value analysis for your project.

A sound principle of project management is ensuring the baseline is set at the planning stage and not altered later on unless due authority is received from the project owner. When revising the baseline make sure the original and any previous baselines are not lost. A proper baseline process earns value and credibility for the project.

Capturing the Baseline

At the initial planning stage, every care should be taken to describe the work, the technical deliverables, and how to deliver the project. The execution strategy will work as a foundation for a viable project plan.

Establishing and executing technical, operational, and performance baselines  are two of the five immutable principles of project success – download our  guide to discover the remaining three. 

When preparing the baseline schedule, effort should be put into ensuring it captures all work and deliverables necessary to accomplish the project's objectives. The schedule should represent the knowledge and project strategy on how to execute the project. 

The Agreement for Executing the Project

The baseline schedule represents the agreement or contract for executing the project or program.

Your performance measurement baseline, or baseline for short, is defined as the original objectives, scope and resources required to finish the project, cost and schedule. This baseline will be used as the benchmark to compare all future measurements. Every variance between the planned and actual performance demonstrates the deviation there is between the two. 

Revising the Baseline

During project execution, there will be changes to the schedule and scope of work which will impact your performance, resource plan and baseline.  At regular intervals, but only when authority to do so is given, a new baseline should be set for your project. This is also known as a baseline revision. Baseline revisions may be required due to performance deviations or because of changes to the scope of work. For the latter, a proper change process and a project management solution, which offers change management features, is required.

Changes to the baseline should only show the changes from the current time forward. Past performance can not be changed. This protects the integrity of the historical data of past performance. It will also not alter the history of your agreement.

Common Baseline Problems

Unfortunately, many replan the baseline when a variance occurs. When this is done, the original or previous baseline is lost and little can then be learnt about actual performance to plan. The same lost variance information might also have been useful for improving the accuracy of future project schedules.

Another typical problem is that new scope is routinely included in the baseline when a change is approved, making the baseline a continuous moving target. 

A third problem stems from lack of proper functionality in the supporting software which leads to automatic replanning of past periods when setting a new baseline. This changes both the project's history and the project agreement. 

Many software packages also do not keep track of the scope of work or changes to the scope of work, and views the baseline only from a time dimension.

Set Your Baseline in Concrete

Remember:

1. Fix a baseline and measure performance against it.

2. Only change the baseline when authorised to do so.

3. When a baseline is changed, do not lose its original.

4. Set the original baseline and any later baseline revisions in concrete.

5. When setting a new baseline, ensure you do not lose your performance history. 

With the authority of the project sponsor, funding source or customer, along with the increase in the project's scope of work, a revised source plan and an updated schedule looking forward (from the current time), the baseline can be set.

Re-planning of activities ensures credibility accuracy and usefulness of your performance measurement baseline

 

Baseline management is only one element of successful project management. Read our guide below to understand the five immutable principles of project success.

The Five Immutable Principles of Project Success