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What is a Baseline?

4 minutes to read4th of May 2020
Collecting data points in a project is a simple process; users enter task data during the project and the project manager organizes and maintains that data at the project level. The data collected throughout the lifespan of a project is used to tell the story of that project. A baseline is a value set by the approved work and stored for reference and comparison. It provides a mechanism to control and guide execution an ensure appropriate outputs are being delivered as expected. By using a baseline to help tell that story, a project manager is able to provide the most accurate and meaningful narrative.

A baseline can involve data sets from multiple sources that measure different types of data such as Scope, Schedule, Cost, and Performance:

  • Scope Baseline: Used to manage work to ensure proper delivery of the product, service, or result. The Scope Statement and the WBS are used to define the Scope Baseline values.
  • Schedule Baseline: Used to measure project pace. It uses the dates and/or durations established by the approved schedule to ensure timely delivery. 
  • Cost Baseline: Used to determine profitability. This is found by creating a cost estimate for each piece of work in the project, then totaling these estimates at the project level to compare against the actual cost of the work and of the project.
  • Performance Baseline: Used to evaluate resources. It pulls together information from scope, schedule, and cost to manage, measure, and evaluate resource performance.
Comparing the baseline value with the current value at strategic points during the project can inform critical decisions. The triple constraints mean that when scope, schedule, or cost are directly impacted, at least one of the others will be indirectly impacted.
  • Change in scope will either impact schedule or cost.
  • Change in schedule will either impact cost or scope
  • Change in cost will either image scope or schedule
Critical knowledge is gained by comparing baseline performance against actual performance that influences change management decision making. If the project is ahead of schedule, will adding scope change the delivery date? If the project is under budget, can the schedule be prolonged without impacting cost? Quantifying values isn’t enough, by setting a baseline, project managers are able to create a yardstick to qualify success with data-driven analysis and informed decision making.

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