Why Project Managers Should Care About a Project Baseline!

During the many years I have spent in the project management field, I have come across many project managers (PMs) wondering why they need a project baseline. Many know at the start of a project the dates of submittals, project budget, project scope, and who will work on the tasks. All of this information is in one’s head and updates are communicated, as needed.

PMs have good intentions and work hard to reach project success, but the question lingers: how does one measure project success without having a project baseline? Let’s say a project will finish in five weeks. Is this good or bad? If your schedule baseline has a four-week completion, without it you can’t tell if there’s a problem, and subsequently figure out how to solve it.

Definitions

Let’s start with some definitions. A project’s baseline is a snapshot of the original plan. Its used to measure and compare your project’s progress against, as well as aiding in assessing project performance over time. A project baseline has three main components:

  1. Scope: breaks down all needed tasks to achieve project objectives and deliverables
  2. Schedule: contains start/finish dates, milestones, task dependencies, and resources
  3. Total cost: the total scheduled or projected cost for a task, resource, or assignment

These components are the road to successful project outcomes. Having a project baseline allows you to monitor current project performance and improve the accuracy of future estimates.

Setting project baseline is usually a straightforward process. Using Microsoft Project, we can create a project baseline and provide the project big picture for team members and stakeholders ensuring that everyone is aligned with project objectives. Capturing a project’s baseline usually follows these steps:

  • Get clear on the deliverables and develop them into a work breakdown structure. A process that I recommend using is a deliverable-based Breakdown Structure that demonstrates the relationship between deliverables and the scope.
  • Facilitate all work that needs to be done to create the deliverables.

  • Estimate the resources and duration for each task.
  • Estimate the cost for each task based on the resources and duration.

As you can see, you now have a schedule that has the three components mentioned earlier (Scope, Time, and Cost), and you can easily set the baseline that will help you achieve a better project performance assessment by providing insight into where a project has under- or over-performed.

Project baseline benefits are clearly seen during the project when a PM assesses the actual status versus the baseline that contains the approved estimation. Microsoft Project has many reports that may help PMs to track the project progress from time, cost, and resource perspectives.

Even after the project completion, you can see the actual outcome against your projections.

I believe baselining is a must for any PM or upper management professional who would like to know how a project is achieving its objectives and deliverables. Simply put, without a baseline you have no yardstick to measure against. Your comments are welcome below.

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Written by Ibrahim Abdulnabi
Ibrahim Abdulnabi carries with him 10 years of project management experience within numerous segments, including government, NGOs, construction and banking. Ibrahim's mission is to help organizations take control of their programs, present their projects in a way that inspires and impresses and pushes them to build confidence in their abilities, products and services. Previous employers have included PwC, Consolidated Consultants and Method Corp. Contact Ibrahim at abdulnabi.job@gmail.com.
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