Baselining a project plan is essential to facilitate accurate tracking of project progress. Project schedules that lack baselines make progress reporting a combination of guesswork and blind faith, yet it is surprising how often this occurs.
Setting a baseline is typically the final act of planning. It should only be done once the sponsor has approved the project plan for implementation, thereby signifying the transition of the project from planning to execution. All documents that reflect the approved project plan should be designated as baseline records, but most importantly it is the detailed schedule that needs baselining to facilitate accurate tracking of progress.
Before actually setting the baseline, there are two important pre-steps:
- Ensure the schedule has been quality checked
This includes validating the WBS (see A Checklist for Work Breakdown Structures), and verifying the integrity of the duration estimates, dependencies, constraints and resource assignments
- Obtain approval of the schedule from the project Sponsor
This should include a review of all major incremental milestone dates and the level of schedule risk associated with each – not just the final deadline.
Quick and Simple
Saving a baseline in Microsoft Project is a quick and simple thing to do and here’s how:
- Select either Project, Set Baseline… (Project 2010), or
Tools, Tracking, Save Baseline… (Project 2003/7)
- Click to select Baseline
(rather than Interim plan which is normally used for saving draft versions of plans)
- Select Entire Project
Microsoft Project now copies all current schedule information such as Start/Finish dates, estimates and costs into Baseline fields so they can be used as comparisons with Actual information once the project gets underway (see image below).
- Select View, Tracking Gantt to see the baseline schedule displayed together with the current schedule.
An updated project schedule showing current progress on each task (Start/Finish columns, blue/red bars) compared with the original baseline (Baseline Start/Baseline Finish columns, light grey horizontal bars). Also shown is the total slack on each task (positive slack/blue horizontal lines displaying the late schedule, negative slack/red horizontal lines).
Microsoft Project provides for re-baselining via the “Baseline 1”, “Baseline 2” etc. dropdown selections in the Save Baseline dialog. The options for displaying the Gantt bars for any baseline can be set up in Format, Bar Styles (click Insert Row to assign bar and color options for any re-baseline, e.g. for Baseline 1 select “From” as Baseline1 Start and “To” as Baseline1 Finish).
However, once set, the baseline schedule should only be altered (re-baselined) under extreme circumstances (such as a Sponsor-approved major scope change), that render the original baseline schedule obsolete and no longer a meaningful target to aim for and report progress against. Continually re-baselining is not project management – it’s playing politics.