Don’t Neglect the Baseline Basics
by Ramiro Rodrigues
The baseline is a fundamental concept that still seems confusing for many project professionals. In essence, the baseline comprises initial reference data captured prior to the start of a project. This information allows the team to compare the status before and after a project to determine its impact.
Imagine you’re at a software development company and your senior leader has put you on a project to develop a system with 10 different but integrated features. You begin by trying to detail the scope, deadline, costs, risks and all other details you believe to be relevant. Once you’ve collected that information, you’ve reached the end of the planning stage
That’s the moment when the baseline is saved. With this snapshot of information, you know exactly where the project should be at any given moment in its execution. Right after that—when the project execution begins—you start to draw an actual line, which collects and displays data of what’s happening in real time.
In our example, imagine you were asked to change the planned programming language to something unfamiliar to the team, therefore changing many of the product’s features. In this scenario, our scope’s “actual line,” resources and risks will be quite different from the “baseline” that had not foreseen this change.
So, what should the project manager do? It wouldn’t be very smart to resist all changes that come up during execution—these types of shifts can be quite normal in projects. In these cases, the best thing to do is to start the planning process over and move forward. Still, the baseline will continue to serve a purpose in helping leaders identify gaps and finding the amount of effort necessary to reach project completion.
By project conclusion, another great benefit of this resource emerges: You can compare, with consistent data, the planned results versus actual results. Moreover, a comparative review of the baseline could expose weaknesses in leadership or organization. Indeed, baselines help teams capture valuable information for lessons learned and improvements that can be applied on future projects.
How do you use baselines on your projects?