Defining the project baseline
In the context of project management, in general, we talk about project baseline or timeline to refer to the time plan that includes every task to be developed over time to get the project goal product. This baseline will be the base against to compare the reality of the project.
There are other concepts of baseline concepts related to cost, scope, etc. This article focuses on the concept of time.
This time plan includes the tasks, their duration and the precedence relationships among them. The baseline will be, along the project development, the picture against which we can compare what it’s really happening in the project, allowing the identification of deviations of all sorts: tasks, progress, delays, critical path, durations, precedence relationships, etc.
The starting line will be the initial planning of the project approved at project launch, on which work will start from day one, and that determines costs, milestones and deadlines.
Since the development of a project is a journey in which it is often very difficult to predict the factors, in favor or against, the timetable to be presented, it is essential to maintain instant photos of the plan, with which to compare what it is actually happening, in order to:
- Take preventive actions to avoid delays and/or cause advances
- Take corrective actions that minimize delays
In order to work with baselines, it is essential to use tools to graphically compare the GANTT diagrams showing different versions of the plan. These tools highlight the differences and allow us to analyze possible alternatives if deviations occur.
Working with baselines
There will be just one baseline at a time during the project, however, it is common for stakeholders and project manager to work with other support baselines that can be used to better manage planning.
Since each project is a world, the project manager must decide which baselines will be used in each particular case. Some examples of base lines most commonly used are listed below:
- Based on time margins:
- Optimistic Baseline: it is the base line that do not include slacks.
- Pessimistic Baseline: it is the baseline in which all maximum slack for tasks are included. The critical path of this baseline will be longer than the optimistic baseline.
- Realistic Baseline: this baseline is more attached to reality and usually between the pessimistic and optimistic.
- Audience oriented: On certain occasions different baselines are often used according to the auditorium, for example, a baseline including margins will be used for customers, though other baseline less comfortable may be used when confronting the supplier. A very detailed baseline will be in place when discussing within project team, against a high level baseline that will be used in the face of internal management or customer.
Most of the use of working with multiple baselines is to be able to simulate different scenarios depending on the circumstances, improving the process of trend analysis, forecasting and especially alternatives to the critical path.
Approval of the baselines (Change Management)
Both changes in scope and cost affecting the time plan for project implementation should be subject to monitoring and approval process.
The process of launching a project includes, as one of the main outcomes, approval of the planned project planning. This first planning will become the first project baseline and will be the model against which to compare the temporal progress of the project.
We call Change Control Board to the planning committee that approves changes in the project planning, resulting in a new baseline. This change control board must also approve other changes (scope, cost, etc.).
At least there should be involved in the approval process of the baselines (change control board):
- The customer, who must accept the time, cost and external aspects arising from the approved base line.
- The project manager and key people within the team, to be actively involved in the process of defining tasks, determining the effort, time and priority of every task of the plan shown at baseline to approve. This group is essential in this process because, usually, the successful implementation of the plan depends on their involvement and acceptance regarding approved baseline.
- The project sponsor must participate in the defense and budget approval for the approve baselines.
During the project implementation, time will be tracked by comparing against the latest approved base line. It will the project manager’s goal to ensure compliance with this baseline and identify possible changes and if needed, propose to change control board the approval of possible changes.
Throughout the life of a project, changes in the planning will not always be necessary to raise for approval. It is the responsibility the project manager to determine which of these changes must be raised at the Change Control Board. As a rule, there should be raised those changes affecting the milestones committed or the end date of the project.
For the approval of a new plan that results in a new baseline, the project manager should provide at least the following information to the board:
- Causes of change planning
- Temporal impact of change by comparing the old and new baselines
- Economic impact of change
- Other impacts, quality, end product, etc.
This information, along with the new baseline itself, will be stored in the project records.
Baselines and project assets
The fact of working with baselines can generate a valuable asset for the management of future projects. Registering the evolution of the baseline and information related will generate valuable knowledge that will allow the improvement in next projects management by:
- Evaluating efforts and more time properly
- Making better WBS process
Salvador Sanz is a Program Manager in Equinix/Itconic (>25 years in IT).