How to Baseline a Project [video blog]

by Jennifer Bridges, PMP (formerly, Jennifer Whitt)

Welcome to our whiteboard session today on what baselining is all about. Well, it’s one of those terms that is often overlooked, but it can be the difference between a successful or a failed project. It can be as simple as that. It’s one thing that the project manager has control of taking to the Change Control Board, but many times it’s overlooked just, in essence, of getting caught up in the project and trying to get things done. Let’s take a look at a baseline and see what a baseline is all about.

I always reference definitions, so you can Google “baseline” and see what it is. There are different references. There are different methodologies. I’m usually going to be referencing the “Project Management Body of Knowledge” by PMI. This one specifically is the fourth edition.

The way PMI references a baseline is it’s an approved plan for a project, plus or minus any changes. Things, we know, do change on a project. We finally get the project documented, we get the schedule, we get the baseline, and we get everything done, but as soon as we do, we know it changes. Those changes result in a budgeted minus actual, so things that we have budgeted in the plan minus actuals that we’re tracking against, the actual scope that’s produced, the actual time that’s charged, the actual budget that’s used. Those differences equal a variance. So the variance, when we start looking at those things, we start looking at performance and we start looking at thresholds and we look at is that acceptable or not acceptable according to the project.

What are the things that we baseline? The things that we baseline are the schedule. We baseline the schedule. We baseline the cost. We baseline the scope and any other sub-plans within the project. So these three – the schedule, cost and the scope – are what many consider the performance measurement baseline. That’s what the performance of the project is based upon along the way, and these components are what are used for EVA, the earned value analysis.

So why set up a baseline anyway? Well, the baseline is what everyone is agreeing to. The baseline is agreed upon by the Change Control Board, which includes the stakeholders and all other parties that are approved in the project plan to have approval and say for the project, and it’s what the project is measured against. So for sure you want to baseline. But what happens, many times I’ve seen, is once when the project is started or talked about, many times the project begins initiating and being implemented without a baseline being set. They get down through the project and the baseline isn’t set, so then trouble begins to occur. You want to do it because it’s agreed upon and measured against.

When should we set it? Again, it should be set prior to the project implementation starting. It’s done in the early stages, and that’s what gives the project approval, because the Change Control Board is setting the baseline and is telling you what the agreed upon schedule is, cost is and scope. So the question is, and here’s where the difference between a successful and failed project is, when is it updated? It’s updated when changes occur and the CCB, Change Control Board, approves the baseline to be moved. Typically, when changes occur, the Change Control Board agrees that the schedule can be moved, maybe the cost, maybe more budget is allocated, or the scope is changed. If the Change Control Board approves that, then they will approve updating or changing the baseline. That is simply the difference between a successful and failed project. That is what the baseline is all about, and that’s why you want to do it.

If you found these tips from Jennifer Whitt, PMP of value and are a PMP looking to earn PMI PDUs, you might be interested in her self-paced, downloadable courses at PDUs2Go.com.

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