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Why Your Baseline is Essential in Project Management

Setting a baseline is a crucial element of project management. Without a baseline, there's no way to measure performance or conduct an 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 – unless due authority is received from the project owner. A proper baseline process earns value and credibility for the project.

What is a Baseline in Project Management?

In the world of project management, there are many different types of baseline. The most crucial is the performance measurement baseline. This can be defined as the original objectives, scope, and resources required to finish the project, cost, and schedule.

Performance measurement baselines are 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. 

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, ensure it captures all work and deliverables necessary to accomplish the project's objectives. The schedule should represent the knowledge and strategy on how to execute the project. 

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 authorized to do so, 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't be changed. This protects the integrity of the historical data of past performance and won't alter the history of your agreement.

Common Baseline Problems

Mistakenly, many replan the baseline when a variance occurs. When this happens, the original or previous baseline is lost and little can then be learned about actual performance. This lost variance information is 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 continuously moving target. 

A third problem stems from a 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 don't keep track of the scope of work or changes to the scope of work, and view the baseline only from a time dimension. It's therefore essential you're using the right project management software when setting and adjusting baselines. 

Set Your Baseline in Concrete

Remember:

  1.  Set a baseline and measure performance against it.
  2.  Only change the baseline when authorized to do so.
  3.  When a baseline is changed, don't lose the original or your performance history.
  4. Set the original baseline and any later baseline revisions in stone.

Once you have the authority of the project sponsor, funding source or customer, along with the project's scope of work, a revised source plan and an updated schedule, the baseline can be set.

But baseline management is only one aspect of successful project management. Read our guide below to discover the five immutable principles of project success.

 

Editor's Note: This article was updated in 2020 for relevance and clarity.

The Five Immutable Principles of Project Success