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What Is a Project Baseline in Project Management

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One way to know whether your project process goes according to the initial plan is to have a baseline. Setting a baseline means knowing your budget and deadline before you initiate a project.

Without a fixed point of reference, how would you know if your project is going smoothly?

A project baseline helps compare your current progress with what was initially planned. By drawing conclusions, you understand where you stand. Moreover, a baseline is there to help you adapt to the situation and monitor progression in a way that you complete the project on time and within the budget.

In this article, you will learn how to set a project baseline plan and keep consistently high performance.

What Is a Baseline in Project Management?

A project baseline is a fixed plan that is used as a reference point. Essentially, project managers set baselines to define:

  • Expected project outcome
  • Project objectives and deliverables
  • Project schedule
  • Project scope
  • Project cost

These details are discussed and approved with stakeholders and the board of managers.

A project baseline is later used to assess the project to see if there are any problems with it. These problems may not be obvious to you at first; however, as you monitor your project, you notice fluctuations that aren’t supposed to happen.

Why Should You Set a Project Baseline?

A clear project baseline is more than just identifying the scope and course of work. Project managers use it to evaluate the project in progress and determine whether their teams are on track and haven’t exceeded the budget. It is natural for projects to be changed and adapted to problems; however, major modifications may throw project managers off course.

Take this example: You run a project that needs to be finished within 6 months and not exceed $50,000. If the allocated budget is exhausted when your team has been working on a project for only half of the dedicated time, then you have a red flag that there is a major project.

The absence of a project baseline may lead to cost overruns and even probable failure.

How to Set a Project Baseline?

Follow these four steps to set a baseline:

Step 1: Create a Project Scope

  • Project outcome
  • Project deliverables
  • Project milestone
  • Scope statement

Your scope statement should include explanations of the deliverable and workflow. Your project will run smoother if you break down the tasks/phases into individual and smaller assignments. Remember to give a detailed description of what should be accomplished in each of them, too.

Step 2: Schedule Your Plan

  • Assignments’ deadlines
  • Project’s final deadline

Now that you know your milestones and tasks, you need to estimate the start and end dates of the project. Every task should also be time limited. When you are done splitting bulk tasks, you will need to delegate roles and responsibilities to your team members.

Step 3: Estimate a Budget Plan

  • Allocating available resources

The final step of setting a baseline is to identify and allot the resources to each task. This will also help you estimate the total cost of the entire project.

Step 4: Stakeholders’ Approval Process

Finally, you need to present your project baseline to the stakeholders. Expect to explain your plan and reasoning behind each of the estimates.

During a kick-off meeting, go into detail about everyone’s responsibilities, your plan, and especially the costs.

It may happen that one of the stakeholders will have doubts about your project. Be advised to re-evaluate the baselines and, perhaps, identify a more realistic budget and goal.

Types of Project Baselines

Every project should consist of three main components: scope, schedule, and cost baselines. Each evaluates the desired outcome, timeline, and budget. Let’s have a look at each of them closely:

Step 1: Scope Baseline

The scope baseline is based on a set of requirements. Simply, this baseline describes what you are trying to achieve with this project. Every phase of the project has a milestone that defines its completion.

The scope baseline is further divided into all three elements:

  • Scope statement – The statement defines the tasks, deliverables, risks, and objectives
  • Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) – A detailed breakdown of the tasks into smaller chunks
  • Work Breakdown Structure Dictionary – An additional element of WBS that contains detailed information about every task, milestone, deliverable, etc.

Step 2: Schedule Baseline

The second type focuses on the project schedule. It estimates the project’s start and finish dates, durations of tasks, and more. When project managers start working on a project, they will compare the progress with the approved project schedule baseline. Consequently, if a project takes longer than expected, the cause of the delay would need to be found and eliminated.

Some of the main elements are:

  • Scheduling tasks and delegating them among team members
  • Proving a duration for each assignment
  • Allocating resources for each deliverable
  • Assigning roles and responsibilities
  • Predicting risks that may arise during phases

Your schedule baseline may vary from this one as every project has different expectations, requirements, and needs.

Step 3: Cost Baseline

The cost baseline determines how much money your project will cost. It doesn’t stop there; the baseline should also indicate how much of the investment should be allotted to each stage of the project.

It is another point of reference that will help to keep your costs within the accepted limit. Ideally, you should be able to accomplish the project without exceeding the costs.

Your chances of successfully finishing the project will be much higher if you accurately forecast each of the baselines. When synchronized, each type contributed is collectively referred to as a performance measurement baseline (PMB).

Example of a Project Baseline

Suppose your company is launching a new game. It will be released in a few months, but your employer wants you to run a pre-order marketing campaign to generate hype around it. The goal is to gain the interest of the general public to boost sales during the launch day.

A simple project baseline would look similar to this:

  • Scope baseline: 1,000 pre-orders
  • Schedule baseline: Three months
  • Cost baseline: $5,000

Now that you have all baselines set, it is to follow the steps described above.

  • Step 1: Set clear and realistic goals and milestones you want to achieve throughout the process. For this example, the successful project outcome is reaching 1,000 pre-orders.
  • Step 2: Plan the tasks and break them down into small assignments for your team members. It could include promoting the new game through popular streamers or releasing a trailer.
  • Step 3: Allocate the money needed to pay for the endorsements and content creation.
  • Step 4: Discuss the baseline with the stakeholders to receive their approval to begin the project.

Final Word

Baselines help to keep projects in line and on track. One of the biggest advantages of a baseline is that it acts as a reference and a motivator, pushing your team to adjust and adapt in order to achieve the desired results.

The three project baselines you need to evaluate are scope, schedule, and cost. All of them work in synergy and help you measure the timeline of deliverables and budget.

Writing the baseline by hand or creating endless spreadsheets is a time-consuming and untrackable way of managing projects. Instead, your company should consider investing in project management software that can ease and automate processes.


Find answers to the most common questions people ask.

Should you change a project baseline once it’s approved?

A baseline is a fixed reference point to measure and assess your project progress. Moving it due to delays isn’t how it works. By changing the project line, you won’t be able to estimate how well your project performs accurately.

Why is a baseline in project management so important?

The PMB comprises three key types of baselines: scope, schedule, and cost. Setting them and controlling them separately helps project managers track and assess the performance of a project. If there are extended delays and extra costs, they can notice it quickly thanks to the fixed reference point.

Consequently, project failure or overbudgeting can be avoided in a timely manner if project managers adapt the process to the current situation.

In theory, it sounds very general, but when you have a baseline, you know what outcomes you need to achieve – no less, no more.

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