A project baseline is your starting point — the clearly defined scope, cost, and schedule of a project. You should determine the baseline during the planning phase of your project, then compare your actual progress to what you originally planned.
A baseline is useful in providing a solid plan for project teams from the start and keeping everyone organized across each phase while rectifying any complications.
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Measuring Progress with Baselines
The process of project baselining means setting your standards for success. Start by determining the constraints. How long will the project take? What are your team's project deliverables? What's the budget? Doing this before your project begins gives you a greater chance of hitting your targets.
A baseline project plan will help you stay within these parameters or navigate changes more easily. At any point during your work, you can return to your project baseline to see where you’re at versus where you wanted to be. A baseline document also lets firms analyze risks and changes, comply with planned project budgets, and clearly communicate progress to stakeholders. Fifty-seven percent of projects fail because of a communication breakdown, which a project management tool and baseline document can help you avoid.
The three key aspects of a project performance measurement baseline are scope, budget, and schedule. With all three elements combined in one document, you can more efficiently understand how a few days’ delay in your work will affect the budget or cause you to pull in employees from another department to make up for lost time.
Project Baseline Scope
Developing a scope baseline will help you deliver higher quality work. When your project scope isn’t clearly or accurately defined, it negatively impacts your deliverables because you’re either rushing, working out of order, or are left with fewer resources at the end. Creating a detailed scope statement enables you to avoid these quality management issues.
Your scope statement should address these questions:
- What are my project’s goals?
- Who is working on this project?
- Which departments are involved?
- What should we do first?
A scope statement should break down the project into phases and give each one several smaller milestones. This is called a work breakdown structure. The work breakdown structure is a hierarchical flow that includes all project work and deliverables, so you can see which parts are directly connected and may cause delays, budget overrun, or scope creep.
While you’re working on a project, be honest with yourself about your firm’s productivity effectiveness. As you advance through each phase, milestone, or time period, ask yourself, what is actually being done currently to complete this project and accomplish its objectives?
Project Baseline Budget
A cost baseline tells you how much money you have to spend on a project and where exactly that money will go. Using a cost baseline for every project equips you with data to compare current work to how much you’ve spent in the past and may help you identify ways to reduce project costs. Organizations that invest in project management best practices, such as baselining, waste 28 times less money!
Playing around with the budget in your baseline helps you weigh the risk of spending more to make more and serves as a way to justify all expenses, especially to clients. Sharing this with project stakeholders may help your firm increase the budget on a project if it’s going to produce a better result for you and your client.
Project Baseline Schedule
A project schedule baseline sets the timeline for your team’s work and helps you efficiently see how changes to the plan may increase project completion time. Establishing a schedule ensures you’ve accounted for all tasks, delegated who is working on what, and appropriately timed out check-ins with your team. A well-planned schedule confirms you have the resources you need, including staffing, to meet your project goals without overburdening employees.
You can also create a contingency schedule if you run into project delivery delays or human resources issues. On the opposite end, try to be more ambitious by holding yourself accountable for time-based goals for sales, conversion, and other key metrics.
What if you deviate from the baseline?
Once your project is underway, analyzing its “planned vs. actual” budget, scope, and schedule help you understand your planning and productivity effectiveness. When a project significantly varies from its baseline plan, it helps your firm learn, grow, and do better next time. Perhaps your initial plan was unrealistic, or your team is weak in some areas of execution. You may need to provide them with more training or resources to improve.
If baseline estimates aren’t met, you might have to reevaluate your project goals, extend its timeline, or increase the budget. Once your work concludes, conducting a thorough review of what went wrong (and right) will help ensure it doesn’t happen again.
You will also create a new baseline to finish the project as strongly as possible. That doesn’t mean you throw out the original, as it can still serve as a guide for what the ideal outcome of a phase or specific project element is.
BQE Solutions for Project Management
A project baseline will help you establish an agreed-upon plan with all stakeholders, communicate status, make employees aware of their responsibilities, and monitor and control a project’s success more effectively.
So many factors threaten your firm’s ability to deliver projects on time, within budget, and set you up for long-term success, which is why it’s essential to implement solid project management practices. Doing so can make your company 28% more likely to meet its targets.
BQE’s CORE provides project management software that firms can use to calculate baseline and manage projects more efficiently. CORE helps firms improve project delivery, performance analysis, team member coordination, and budget management through more precise project planning, time tracking, and expense reporting software.