Define Your Baselines

One of your responsibilities as a project manager is to plan and seek agreement for a project management baseline; some refer to it as your project baseline or performance measurement baseline (PMB).

The project baseline is largely defined by a triangle of project constraints, namely the defined scope of work, an agreed schedule and the approved budget for resources. The successful project manager is assessed based on how successful he/she manages and delivers his/her project baseline.

The project manager must spent sufficient time with the core team to define all the work that needs to be done. Any missing tasks will result in not having time and resources allocated. In many instances, the problem is discovered only during the execution phase. Some of the often-forgotten tasks include seeking management or regulatory approvals, providing users’ training, creating operational manuals, preparing site, and planning for risks and contingency.

Good project managers focus on the “doing things”. That is, work activities that have to be performed and deliverables that have to be created. By focusing on the “doing things”, project managers can give due consideration to required time and resources to deliver.

In other words, you always consider the triangle of constraints. For example, doing up a contingency plan requires time and resources to be allocated for preventive and mitigating actions. These must be identified in work breakdown structures, included as activities in the project schedule, and has budget allocated for necessary resources.

An agreed scope baseline is best described by a project scope statement, detailed work-breakdown structure, functional specifications, and tangible deliverables with clear acceptance criteria. Any deviations from an agreed scope baseline are then referred to as scope changes.

The schedule and budget baselines are worked out based on the agreed scope baseline. Incidentally, the project scope drives many other project planning processes, including quality, staffing, communications, risk, and procurement.

When seeking agreement and approval, the project baseline of scope, schedule, and resources must be recognized as a set interrelated project constraints. For example, when a customer requires a change in scope, there must be an adjustment in either schedule or allocated resources. Often, this is not well perceived by management and key stakeholders.

In practice, a flexibility or priority matrix helps define how you will balance and adjust your triangle of constraints.

When agreeing on project baseline, project managers with concurrence of the management and key stakeholders will have to decide what is most flexible (or least important) and which other is least flexible (or most important) in a flexibility or priority matrix. This agreement will then help decide on adjustment of each constraint when a change comes about during both the planning or execution phase.

Without a project baseline, there is no clear statement about what is promised, what is included and what is not. Without a baseline, there is also no basis to manage or control changes.

While there are still unreasonable demands from some project stakeholders, it cannot be realistically assume that the project team will be able to perform any change without impact to schedule, cost, quality and morale. Change is unavoidable. However with a good project baseline, it can be managed effectively.

Author: Alan Puan, PMP®, PMI-RMP® EPM Training Services Pte. Ltd.