How Project Baselines chart the course for your project’s success

Picture this: You’ve got a big project on your plate. There are different streams of work and a whole range of diverse expectations across the organisation, multiple tasks to tackle and various teams to rally. How do you know if you are progressing on the right path? Enter the unsung hero of project management – the project schedule baseline.

Baseline is not a new concept as most of you would already know. But it’s often not recognised that the project schedule baseline is the backbone of your project. It’s like having a map on a treacherous journey – it keeps you on course when things get wild.

In this article, we dive into the world of project schedule baselines. We’ll break down what they are, why they’re essential and how to wrangle them so you don’t miss out on the magic and arrive at your destination in the best shape possible.

What is a project schedule baseline?

The Project schedule baseline is like a masterplan for your project. It’s the blueprint/ roadmap that outlines when things need to get done and how long each task should take. Think of it as your project’s North Star—it’s the version of your schedule that you and your team agree on before you start the actual work. It keeps everyone heading in the right direction and creates the space for conversations and adjustments where needed.

Now, why is it so important? Well, imagine you’re on a long road trip where you have to get to your destination for an important event, and you’ve created a map with the best route, with all your pit stops and overnight stays marked out. Then add the complication of others coming with you in their own cars.  The map becomes even more important. Without that map, you’d all be driving blind, right? Guessing which route to take, how long the journey would be and when to stop – hoping that you all got it right and made it to the destination on time. The same goes for your project. The baseline gives you a clear roadmap to follow, making sure you and the teams you are working with hit your deadlines and deliver the goods on time.

What’s in a project schedule baseline?

So, what’s in a project schedule baseline?

It includes the project start and finish dates and the granular details of all the key tasks, deadlines, and milestones that you’ve planned out. It’s your go-to reference point throughout the project to see if you’re on track or if you’ve veered off course.

Once you’ve got this baseline set, any changes or delays that come up will be compared against it. It’s  the standard you measure your progress against. So, if you need to make adjustments along the way, you can see how far you’ve deviated from the original plan and can then work out what actions need to be taken.

How you can use baselines to assess the impact of changes

So imagine you’ve got this awesome plan for a project at the project inception. The tasks, effort and due dates are all laid out and are looking good. But then, life happens, as it often does. A change pops up and you manage to contain it. Then before you know it, another change sneaks in, followed up by a bunch more tagging along.

And this is where things get tricky. You can contain a change and try to minimise it’s impact on the plan. But as multiple changes pile in, they start to have their own legs, until the original plan becomes a mess.  It’s like trying to rearrange a puzzle that’s already half-finished. Some pieces might fit better in a different spot, but moving most of them around can throw off the whole picture. If you don’t have a baseline to refer back to, it’s hard  to figure out the impact from the chain reaction of changes and then work out how best to be flexible while keeping things in check.

Techniques for Developing a Robust Baseline, including putting AI to use

Now we know that a baseline is important to manage changes and impacts on our project.

So let’s look at how to lay down a solid foundation for your project – the kind that won’t buckle under pressure. Here’s the tip: to create a robust baseline, you’ve got to tap into the treasure trove of historical data. Think of it like digging through old photos to see what outfits were trending back in the day – except instead of fashion, you’re looking at what worked and what failed in past projects of a similar nature. We’re talking historical data that includes previous project schedules, reports and lessons learnt over the past few years.

Once you have got your data stash, it’s time to sift through it and look out for trends and patterns that can help you steer clear of trouble zones. Maybe you’ll spot that certain tasks always take longer than expected, or that certain approaches tend to backfire. And don’t worry – you don’t have to do it all by yourself. Your business intelligence team can make use of the existing data in your systems or existing reports to draw insights for you to start with so you don’t have to be the one doing all the digging.

Or actually, even better, use the Copilot feature in Microsoft if you are using a Microsoft platform. You might be able to ask Copilot to sift through past projects to sniff out risk patterns for you.

Rallying Around the Baseline

So now you have prepared an informal idea of a baseline and you want to make sure your baseline isn’t just your own brainchild – it has to have the fingerprints of all the players in the game.

First things first, round up your crew. That means reaching out to all stakeholders involved and having their input from the get-go.

Then, it’s time to lay out your baseline like you’re telling a story. Break it down in simple terms, like chapters in a book, highlight the key points you need to hit along the way and make sure everyone’s on the same page and heading for the same conclusionyou’re aiming for.

But where the magic really happens is… when your stakeholders have a chance to chime in with their thoughts, concerns and suggestions. Maybe they’ve got insights from their experiences or fresh ideas that could take your baseline from good to great. It’s all about collaboration.

Once you’ve soaked up all that input, it’s validation time. Take a step back, look at your baseline through the eyes of your stakeholders and make adjustments as needed. It’s super important for everyone to feel like they’ve got skin in the game and that their voices have been heard when creating this map for your project’s success.

And there you have it- a baseline that’s fairly realistic, polished, validated and ready to roll. By bringing your stakeholders on the same journey, you’re not just building a project – you’re building a team.

I hope you found this information useful. If you’d like to find out more about building project schedule baselines, or understand how our PPM platform, Altus, can help do some of the heavy lifting for you to capture and use your baselines effectively, we’d love to hear from you.

Picture of Li Si Wong

Li Si Wong