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Get Your Projects on Track: Remember the Baseline!

~ By Kenneth Darter

Hand, magnifying glass and Gantt chart

The baseline of a project schedule is the key to monitoring and the reporting of status on the project. Without the baseline, the project manager is just throwing darts at an empty wall with no targets or running laps with no timer going.

The baseline is the measurement stick. It's the proof that a project can be finished. A project without a baseline is like life without a watch. That might seem nice on a summer day, but eventually you will get hungry. Without a watch, you won't know whether the restaurants are still open.

In short, the baseline helps you get the project completed. It helps you meet the objectives of the stakeholders. Here are some tips to help you remember the baseline and use it to the best advantage on a project.

From the Beginning

The baseline is vital from the very beginning of the project. You may not have all the tasks loaded into the project plan, but even the milestone high-level tasks should be baselined.

Most project schedule tools will have a way to capture this baseline data. MS Project even lets you capture multiple baseline dates. You can track the schedule through many different iterations of the baseline. As you fill in details and start to break down the work needed for the project, all tasks must meet those high-level baseline dates.

When conflicts or problems arise, the project manager should carefully address each issue. The manager must resolve whether the baseline dates need to change or something else needs to change, such as scope, resources or budgets.

Having firm baseline dates in place from the initial phases of the project will help everyone understand and trust in the commitments being made.

Actual Versus Target

As the project progresses, the project manager or project management office should continually measure what actually happens against what the baseline shows should have happened.

The metrics that show actual work against the baseline dates. This can be very informative when you are presenting the status of the project work or communicating with the project team on their performance.

It may seem like things are going well. However, it's impossible to argue with cold, hard data. There are many different ways to measure and report this.

You can count the days late and the days early. You can show a percentage of how many tasks are currently late. Or you can create other metrics. Many project management tools have these reports built into the tool.

However you measure this information, it should be useful and understandable to the audience viewing the data.

Reporting Regularly

With your carefully created baselined schedule and multiple spreadsheets and fancy presentations, you are ready to go out and manage the project. You're ready to stay on the baseline deadlines.

To do that, though, you need to be communicating regularly with all concerned parties and reporting what is going on in the project. Without regular communication, then the baseline schedule is just a pretty picture you can print and post on a wall while it gets ignored completely.

Constant communication is the key to helping the team stay on top of the project and meet the baseline dates. It's the key for the project to be successful. Determining how to report and communicate this information is up to the project manager.

However, how it's reported should fit the culture and personality of the team in order to be truly effective.

Summary

The schedule baseline is essential to delivering a successful project. Always create a baseline from the beginning of the project. Measure progress against the baseline regularly. Communicate progress to all concerned parties on the project.

The baseline is the key to measuring progress. It's your measuring stick. Use it to keep your projects on track and to deliver the best results.


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