Project Management Terms – Baseline

A baseline is a reference that is being used as a base for future measurement. In Project Management, the term baseline refers to an accepted and approved project plan. A project baseline is a must for a project manager to monitor and evaluate the success of a project. Without it there is no possibility to compare the current status of the project with the initial estimated one.

Once the project plan gets approved the manager should save it as a baseline plan. For a project there can be saved multiple baselines depending on the project size and how often the project plan changes. Ideally, once the project baseline is created it should not be changed anymore. However, it is sometimes inevitable to adjust it due to a new requirement that implies a major change to scope or cost. Also in rare cases the project was not well scheduled in the initial phase. In these cases the best solution is to keep the initial baseline and to save the adjusted schedule as a new baseline. This way there will be several interim baselines that can be used to remember the potentially bad project management or the team members that did not deliver as promised.

Types of project baselines

Since a project baseline includes many data from a project it is difficult to manage it as a whole and usually it is broken into several parts. This makes the complexity of baseline management easier to deal with. Project baselines generally include:

  • Scope baseline – the technical, physical and functional requirements for deliverable products
  • Schedule baseline – the project schedule and all of the elements supporting the schedule
  • Cost/Budget baseline – an approved budget usually in a time distribution format used to estimate, monitor, and control overall cost performance on the project
  • Quality/Risk baseline – the set of known possible changes (uncertainties) that could impact the performance of the project

Other definitions from external sources:

  • The value or condition against which all future measurements will be compared.
  • A copy of the project schedule for a particular time (usually before the project is started) that can be used for comparison with the current schedule.
  • A formally approved version of a configuration item, regardless of the media, formally designated and fixed at a specific time during the configuration’s life cycle.
  • A way to track project progress by comparing original plan estimates against actual progress. A baseline contains original scheduling, resource and cost estimates.
  • Management plan and/or scope document fixed at a specific point in time in the project life cycle and used as a basis for reference.
  • A planning and control instrument in the form of a summary of attributes such as quantity, quality, timing, costs, etc, that establishes a formal reference for comparison and verification of subsequent efforts, progress, analysis and control. Can be for project, business or technical management control.
  • The work scope, the schedule plan of milestones and activities, and their time-phased budgets together constitute a Baseline.
  • A defined quantity or quality used as a starting point for subsequent efforts and progress measurement. Can be a technical baseline or a cost baseline, etc.
  • A set of dates and costs frozen at the start of the project and used as a basis for comparison as the project progresses.
  • The gate controlled elaboration of functional, performance, and physical characteristics, mutually agreed to by buyer and seller, and under formal change control. Typical baselines are User Requirements Baseline, Concept Baseline, System Specification Baseline, Design-to Baseline, Build-to Baseline, As-built Baseline, As-tested Baseline, As-fielded Baseline, etc.
  • Reference levels against which the project is monitored and controlled.
  • A reviewed and approved release of artifacts that constitutes an agreed basis for further evolution or development and that can be changed only through a formal procedure, such as change management and configuration control.
  • An element of the business case for a program, describing costs and performance levels that would be achieved if those operations continued unchanged over the planned period of the program. The baseline is used to compare the costs and benefits of the options evaluated in the business case.
  • The set of assumptions and methods which are used as the basis for the evaluation of risk in a project and its subsequent management. Risk analysis is impossible without a baseline which would, for example, include information on the objectives of the project, values of key financial parameters like discount rates, assumed levels of cash flows, financial model adopted, etc.