Before you start a project, you have to think about time. It’s the most important variable that can impact your plan. How can you get what you need to be done in the time you have to do it? To accomplish this, one must create a schedule.
A schedule is a key to project planning, but schedules are really just a framework. Once you act on it, executing your project task by task, the schedule changes. How can you make sure you stay on schedule and keep your project on track?
That’s where creating a baseline comes in. By creating a baseline project plan, and a baseline schedule, you have the means to compare where you are in executing the project—and if that aligns with where you intended to be at that time.
What Is a Schedule Baseline?
Whether you call it a baseline schedule or a schedule baseline, the term refers to the finished and approved schedule. The schedule baseline can be used as a tool to measure performance by reporting on schedule variance. That is, the schedule baseline can be used to compare where you planned to be at a certain time in the project against where the data shows you actually are.
Related: Project Scheduling Templates
As you know, the schedule for a project is a collection of tasks that must be completed over a specific timeline in order to reach the final deliverable for the project. Therefore, the schedule baseline is a way to capture this finalized schedule and use it as a benchmark to measure your progress in executing the project.
The schedule baseline captures changes in your schedule that occur due to the development of risks. Using a baseline schedule means you can see these variations in your schedule sooner, rather than later, and make adjustments quickly to stay on track.
Why Use a Baseline Schedule?
The obvious reason to use a baseline schedule is that, well, it helps you stay on schedule. Without one, it’s like you’re working outside of the current context of your project. There’s no way to know where should be in the schedule because there’s no benchmark to compare your progress to.
Projects rarely go by without numerous issues cropping up. There can be a minor mishap or a major one. Regardless of the severity of the problem, the repercussions can inevitably ripple through your schedule, leaving deadlines disrupted in its wake. You’ll need to reallocate resources to steady your project.
That means changing parts of the schedule to respond to the changes and stay on track to meet your final deadline. In the constant flux of changes and setbacks, though, the schedule baseline stays firm. It’s the constant in the sea of change that is a project, allowing you to navigate successfully when a storm takes you into uncharted waters.
Of course, there are many different types of baselines. All of them are important. The baseline schedule keeps you on target and is related to the baseline project plan, in that the schedule is part of the larger project plan. But the baseline schedule incorporates business assets and resources, so you can allocate them correctly to stay on schedule.
How to Make a Schedule Baseline
Before you can baseline your schedule, you need to have a schedule. That starts by collecting all the tasks you’ll need to execute to lead to your final deliverable.
Use a work breakdown structure to work backward from your final deliverable. This tool makes sure you don’t leave out any steps. To make a successful schedule, you need to first thoroughly define every task. Having planning meetings with your team and stakeholders will help make sure you don’t leave any important steps out of your schedule. You can also use historical data when researching similar projects.
Once you have all your activities lined up, you’ll need to estimate how long they’ll take to complete. There are a number of techniques to help you get an accurate figure. For quicker results, there’s analogous estimating, which refers back to the time it took to complete similar past projects. There are also three-point estimates, which use a formula to calculate parameters of most likely, optimistic and pessimistic. Of course, there are other tools. Choose the one right for you and your project.
Projects are big and tasks are small. Milestones are the steps between those two points. They are usually used to mark the end of one project phase and the beginning of the next. However, you can use a milestone to determine any major point in the project.
Some of the tasks you collected are going to stand alone, while others are going to be dependent on others. That is, they won’t be able to start or stop until another starts or stops. These dependent tasks can cause problems later on in the project if you don’t identify them.
Tasks don’t complete themselves. You need to attach resources to them. Resources can be team members, materials, tools, etc. These all have associated costs and also estimated duration to determine how long you’ll need them for.
Now you have a project schedule. Setting the baseline is just freezing this data—taking a snapshot of it. You’ll need that to compare your progress as you move into the execution phase of the project.
In the next section, we’ll show you how easy it is to do this in ProjectManager or, if you prefer, you can watch this short tutorial video.
How to Make a Schedule Baseline in ProjectManager
Once you’ve made your schedule, save it. Now, you have a schedule baseline and can use this document to compare to your actual progress when you execute the project. But there is a more efficient way to calculate your project variance.
Time is a valuable resource in any project, and using cloud-based project scheduling software like ProjectManager is how you can save time and money while boosting your project’s productivity. Here’s how it works.
First, you’ll want to build out your schedule on our online Gantt chart. Import the tasks or use one of our industry-specific templates to start. Just like any schedule, you want to add the start and end dates. Then, the Gantt charts your project over a timeline. But here’s where things get interesting.
Break up the larger schedule into more manageable parts with our milestone feature, which can divide the project into phases or indicate major deadlines. The Gantt can be further customized by color.
Then, link dependencies, so they don’t sneak up on you during execution. If there are changes during execution, our Gantt can be edited simply by dragging and dropping the task to the new date.
Setting the Baseline
As noted, setting the baseline is how you measure project variance when you’re executing the tasks. Therefore, once you’ve completed your plan, you want to set the schedule baseline. All you have to do with our Gantt tool is to click the advanced settings. There, you’ll see an option to set the baseline. It’s that easy.
When you have set your baseline, the planned start and finish dates will populate the baseline start and finish columns. These dates will not change unless you reset your baseline and override them.
Our one-click reports include a project variance report that will compare your actual to planned progress. This is a great way to calculate project buffer, which is how much time you can add to a task without impacting the overall schedule.
ProjectManager is an award-winning tool that helps managers schedule and gives them the tools they need to keep that schedule on track. From scheduling baselines to tracking project variance, you have control. Organize tasks, assign resources and monitor it all in real-time.