The Project Baseline – A Project Management Definition

To track a project’s progress and performance, it’s essential to have accurate benchmarks to measure against. That’s what project baselines are for. Here, we’ll cover what a project baseline is, its role in effective project management and change management, and the types of project baselines.

What Is a Project Baseline?

A project baseline is a pre-defined scope, cost, and schedule for a project. The project manager must determine and document the project baseline before execution and control activities begin.

What Does a Project Baseline Do?

The project baseline provides a measurement of how project execution and project performance deviate from the original baseline. Your project’s performance measurement would only be meaningful if you had an accurate baseline to begin with.

The Project Baseline and Change Management 

Once project execution starts, the project’s baseline is put under change control to help you evaluate any further change and its impact on the project. No meaningful measurements can be made if the scope, cost, and schedule are not under strict change control disciplines.

Read more at TechRepublic: 10 essential elements of change control management

The project baseline isn’t necessarily set in stone. Rather, it’s iterative. The key is documentation. If any change is approved, then your new baseline is redefined as the original plan plus the approved change. It is a good idea to keep records that show how the plan has progressed and changed over time.

The Project Baseline and Effective Project Management

However, just because the project baseline is ultimately flexible doesn’t mean your scope, timetable, and budget shouldn’t reflect the most accurate, up-to-date information you have at the time. Frequent requests for changes to the project requirements may reflect poorly on the project manager and their team. 

For instance, if you have rough estimates of a project’s cost and end up overspending during the project’s execution, you end up with only a rough estimate of how much you overspent. For internal and external stakeholders, accuracy is important, underscoring the importance of a solid project baseline at the outset. 

Numerous changes indicate that there was an incomplete initial requirements analysis or the lack of meaningful communication with users and customers early in the project initiation phase.

Types of Project Baselines

The project baseline concept includes at least three different types of baselines.

  • Cost baseline: breaks down the project budget, usually into categories
  • Scope baseline: defines project scope or deliverables; includes a work breakdown structure (WBS) that helps track project progress
  • Schedule baseline: sets the projected timeline and dates for milestone completion that helps monitor for schedule variances

Read more: Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), the Basic Block for a Project Plan

Project Baselines Help Manage and Meet Client Expectations

Having a project baseline is essential before starting a project, as it promotes transparency and prevents unexpected delays, roadblocks, and expenses. To create a project baseline, project managers must accurately define the finances and resources necessary to complete the project. Include set baselines for cost, project scope, and project schedule. 

If the project changes, document the modifications and communicate changes to internal and external stakeholders along the way. The project baseline not only helps with effective project planning and communication but also to meet, even exceed, client expectations.

Recommended Project Management Software

If you’re interested in learning more about top rated project management software, the editors at Project-Management.com actively recommend the following:

Lauren Hansen

Lauren Hansen is a writer for TechnologyAdvice, covering IT strategy and trends, enterprise networking, and PM software for CIOInsight.com, enterprisenetworkingplanet.com, project-management.com, and technologyadvice.com. When she's not writing about technology trends, she's working out or spending time with family.