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7 Incorrect Ways to Use Microsoft Project: Not Using the Baseline Functionality

This is the fifth article of this series highlighting common incorrect uses of Microsoft Project. The images are built using the Microsoft Project 2013 Pro edition, but this series can be useful for all versions of the product. This article will be about the baseline functionality – it is often forgotten or ignored by project managers. I will be talking about why you should want to have a baseline in your project. Again, this is a very theoretical subject and you should always check with your company first to see if there are any policies regarding baselining a project.

Flaw #1: Date-Related Planning

Flaw #2: Capacity as Activity 

Flaw #3: Lack of Structure (Work Breakdown Structure)

Flaw #4: Too Much Detail in the Schedule

Here is a nice definition of a baseline:

“In project management, the baseline is the original range, total cost and schedule of a project. It is used to measure the amount of deviation of performance from the original plan. Before the execution of the project, the baseline must be properly defined and documented.”

Now why would you want to know the original information of your plan? Because it will give you valuable insight on the progress you are making compared to the progress you should have been making.

Here are two pictures of the same project. One with the baseline and one without:

Schedule without a baseline

Schedule without a baseline

That looks like a nice schedule, right? Well have a look at the same schedule but now with the baseline in place:

Schedule with a baseline

Schedule with a baseline

Now even though both pictures have a nice WBS and don’t have too much detail or any of the other flaws, it is clear from the second picture that the project didn’t go as planned.

Without a baseline, you are in the dark about the health of the project because you don’t have any information that tells you about your original ideas. If a project costs 1,000,000 euros at the end, is that good or bad? The answer depends entirely on your first assumptions. Did you expect the project to be 900,000 euros? If so, then you did well. But if you planned to only spend 25,000 euros, you did not do very well.

Now how to get a baseline in your project? Using MS Project 2010 or 2013 just go to the Project tab, and you’ll see the “set baseline” button. It’s that simple, don’t mind the option to add up to 11 baselines, that’s for another article 😉. Showing the baseline is even easier, just use the Tracking Gantt: a view different from the normal Gantt because of the baseline information.


This article was originally published on Erik van Hurck’s website, The Project Corner. You can visit his website for more helpful tips.

Written by Erik van Hurck

Erik van Hurck is a Senior PPM consultant for Projectum, a western European Microsoft Partner with offices in Denmark and The Netherlands. On top of that Erik is a Microsoft MVP. As such, Erik assists enterprise customers to adopt the new Project Online cloud solution for Project and Portfolio Management. Erik has a personal blog (www.theprojectcornerblog.com) and is also a writer for the Microsoft Project User Group (MPUG.com).

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