On a trip to Paris, I headed away from, instead of toward, the Seine River and wound up elsewhere. A little freaked, my wife panicked and started to worry about our safety. My reply was simple, “Be lost with confidence and no one will bug us.” Working on a project without a baseline is like being lost with confidence. While the day in Paris was an unexpected surprise, project managers need to minimize unexpected surprises. Below, are my thoughts on baselines.
- Baseline as a Yard Stick. A baseline can measure project performance. At the very least, a baseline lets the project manager know if it’s completed on time. At best, it communicates that the project is on time, within budget, and the resources are correct.
- Basis for Restoring the Project Plan. Most projects have surprises, and how a project manager reacts is in the direct proportion to success. A recovery plan that gets the project back in synch, comparted to the baseline or original plan, clearly communicates action toward success while creating confidence moving forward. Without a baseline, it seems as if the project plan is being made up along the way.
- A De facto Baseline. Owners often approve a baseline, but not really. For a variety of reasons, a baseline sits in an approval queue while the project moves forward. Smart contractors or project managers use the baseline submitted as something to measure against. This becomes a “de facto baseline.” If the contractors has a detailed plan, then the de facto baseline serves the purpose. Moreover, unless the project comes to a complete halt; it can’t wait for an approval baseline.
- Baseline Support – not Solve – Litigation. A project baseline is a measuring stick. It can clearly show impacts to the project plan. Yes, schedules are used in court. However, a baseline by itself doesn’t settle a claim. It’s used as an early warning so litigation can be avoided. But once in court, the superintendent’s log is far more valuable.
- Earned Value Requires a Baseline. Once a baseline is set, Earned Value Management metrics can be used. These industry standard metrics provide a gauge to how the project is doing. There is no magic “earned value button” in software, but by simply creating a baseline, you can make earned value available. Yes, earned value management is a science, but not rock science.
I could have used a map in Paris, but for various masculine reasons, I didn’t. A project baseline is the map to project success. It is a guide to provide a true direction for a project. In almost 30 years (I’m ancient) of project management, I would estimate that a little less than half of all projects I worked set a project baseline at the beginning. Even fewer used a baseline correctly. Too bad; it’s a powerful tool.