How to Use Baselines with Microsoft Project Online

A baseline for your project is a group of nearly 20 points of reference in five categories: start dates, finish dates, durations, work, and cost estimates. These baseline fields you as the user are able to set to record the original project plan when that plan is completed and ready to kickoff. As the project is executed, additional baselines may be saved, with up to 11 total for each project. These additional baselines help to measure approved scope changes in the project.

Because the baseline provides the reference points from which you compare actual project progress, the baseline data should include your final estimates for task duration, start and finish dates, costs, and other project variables that you want to monitor. Most often it is these variable that are used as key performance indicators (KPI) in executive dashboards and reports (stoplight repots).

In construction, the baseline may represent a contractual obligation for the project. If your baselines constantly differs from current data, your original plan may no longer accurate. Perhaps the scope needs to be reviewed. Gold plating?

If project stakeholders agree you can modify a baseline at any time during the project. Setting multiple baselines is useful for long projects or projects in which the baseline is rendered irrelevant by significant changes to scheduled tasks or costs.  The process to update a baseline and save a baseline is very similar.  Except that the process to update a baseline is usually performed on a group of selected tasks. Be sure to roll up to summary tasks when saving a revised baseline.

Interim plans

An interim plan, on the other hand, is a set of current project data that you save after the project begins and that you can compare against the baseline to assess project progress. An interim plan saves only two kinds of information:

  • Current start dates
  • Current finish dates

You can set up to 10 interim plans for a project with MS Project Professional. If you need to keep records of extensive project data during the planning phase, it is a good idea to set multiple baselines instead of using interim plans. For example, you may want to set a baseline at each major planning milestone. Then, if you need to save only task start dates and finish dates after the project begins, you can set multiple interim plans. For example, you may want to set an interim plan on a monthly or quarterly basis.  Initiation

The Initiation phase of a project is typically when a request for a project is submitted. The information gathered varies, and depends on the approval process for projects. The Initiation phase of a project usually includes the creation of definition documents that may include the project charter, proposal, and initial project schedule. Depending on an organization process, the schedule created may be for estimating purposes only, and will be high-level and use generic resources.

Planning

The Planning phase is typically after a project has been approved and is when when a project manager becomes involved with the project. The project manager will take the assigned project and specify a start date, work with resource managers through resource planning and replace generic resources with real resources based on remaining availability. Once the project has been finalized and determined ready for execution, a baseline is saved. The baseline is very important, as it is used to track the projects progress from the agreed-to dates, cost and scope.

Execution

The Execution phase of a project involves executing the work of the project as outlined in the tasks. The project manager will coordinate the resources and other elements of the project to carry out it’s objectives and product it’s deliverables. Weekly or bi-weekly status reports will be created to communicate project progress to management. The following are performed in Execution:

  • Tracking Project Progress – Meet with team members and gather actual project data. Update actual progress from your project team on a weekly basis, or at any other frequency based on your project lifecycle.
  • Analyzing Project Variance – While gathering and applying actual project data it is important to analyze variances between the current project schedule and that all important baseline saved prior to project kickoff. Review variances between Start and Finish Dates.  Look at the Gantt chart, or more specifically a Tracking Gantt.  Any issues to the original plan baseline information such as cost and schedule variances should be identified and corrective actions applied.
  • Change Control – Submit change controls for any approved scope changes.

Closure

  • Gain formal acceptance of the project, then subsequently close the project. Release resources to work on other projects.
  • Hold a Lessons Learned meeting to evaluate successes and failures. Document the lessons learned and then use this information to update documents and standards and/or project templates.

This Video

In this video we use Microsoft PPM to demonstrate the use of baselines to track project progress.  The Microsoft PPM solution incorporates Microsoft Project, therefore, the process is virtually identical in both products (including Project Server).