Project Baseline and How to Manage It
For every project there are three constraints of Scope, Time and Cost which determine the project baseline. The baseline is used as a performance measure to analyze and approve/reject changes or deviations to the project… In this article I’m going to describe what project baseline means and will also give an example of how to manage the baseline.
Fundamentals – What is a Baseline?
Generally speaking, project planning is about juggling around the triple constraints of scope, time and cost to develop a project management (PM) plan that defines a “feasible and preferable path” to project success. Usually, a PM plan is created upon approval of the Project Charter which states the initial requirements for the project to meet the expectations of stakeholders.
The plan is based on such documents as Scope Statement (including WBS), Schedule and Budget. These three documents cover the three constraints accordingly – scope, time and cost – and thus they determine the baseline parameters of the project. The baselines are used in measuring performance against all changes or deviations which must be analyzed, approved/rejected and documented.
Baseline is a starting point that defines from where to begin the project, how to judge obtained results each status reporting period, and how to compare the project against initial expectations. It is the fundamental aspect of the planning process to establish a project management plan and point out which changes are approved throughout the implementation lifecycle.
Every project has a unique set of goals relating to the triple constraints, so baselines vary from project to project. In order to effectively manage projects, project managers must clearly define the baselines and understand how deviations to the constraints impact the work and then develop strategies for responding to baseline changes.
Example – Managing the Baseline
Last year I was involved in managing one project dedicated to updating business management system to a more current version in our company. The current system was outdated and no longer supported by the developer. By doing the update we wanted to gain new features of the just released version (particularly, SQL server support and Active Directory authentication), so that the users would benefit from improved automation processes while the IT staff would benefit from fewer deployment and maintenance issues.
My team was assigned to this project. Upon approval of the project charter, we developed the Scope Statement, WBS, Schedule and Budget. So the three constraints (the baselines) were defined and stated. As a project manager, I developed the PM plan and got it approved by the sponsor.
Ideally, we would follow the PM plan from the very beginning till the end. But in fact the reality was not aligned with the plan, so there were deviations that should be approved or rejected. The point was, the new update put in greater hardware requirements, so we had to upgrade or replace our company servers. This situation caused changes to the scope baseline.
We added addition of tasks to the WBS, which pushed out the completion date and increased increase the funding required for project completion. As a result, as the scope baseline was changed, the time baseline and the cost baseline were changed as well.
In order to ensure that changes to the baseline parameters are properly considered, we established a formal change control process. Such a process consisted of 3 typical steps – Identify, Evaluate and Respond To changes.
Following the steps of the process, we must create a change request which included a description of the change, the reason for the change, and the impact on the baselines. Change requests were submitted to the sponsor for review and approval. Once a change request was approved, we made appropriate updates to the schedule, budget and WBS.
Besides the change control process, I should take of project quality which is one more key constraint along with scope, time and cost. Quality is a baseline parameter defined as meeting customer’s requirements.
Before implementing each decision to change scope, cost and time, I evaluated the impact in order to make sure the project deliverables wouldn’t be broken. I should balance between the three constraints to ensure that the customer’s requirements were met.