Project Baselining: One Eye on History, One Eye on the Future

/Project Baselining: One Eye on History, One Eye on the Future

Project Baselining: One Eye on History, One Eye on the Future

Do any of these statements ring true?


  • I need a way to determine how much my gate dates slipped over the life of the project.
  • I want a slippage report which shows how far we landed from our original key milestone assumptions at project start versus at project launch.
  • My project managers have a rosy outlook when the project starts, but by the time the project is finished the financial outlook has shifted dramatically.
  • I need a way to see when a project has significantly changed so I can review it.
  • I need to be able to set thresholds for my projects, so I can see when a project exceeds these set thresholds.

If they do, than Project Baselining may just be the solution for you.

What is Project Baselining?

If a Baseline is any starting point used for comparison, than Project Baselining is simply applying that concept across key data on your projects to provide an easy comparison tool. Early in the project, specific data values – like cost, schedule, and scope – are “locked” to compare changes over time.

When do we set a Baseline?

Typically, we want to lock baseline data values around the first or second gate of a project; Once we’ve established the baseline, we want it to stay this way to use for comparison purposes throughout the life of the project.

What to Baseline?

A common example of data we may want to lock are Gate Dates. A common issue on many projects is that the Gate Dates get pushed out. Sometimes this is due to scheduling conflicts, other times a result of project slippage. Regardless, we want more visibility into how much our projects are deviating from our original goals.

But, Gate Dates aren’t the only information that can be baselined. We can identify key financial values as well. This allows us to see how our project’s financials change over time. The following chart shows several baseline values we can choose to track our projects:

Metric Baseline Current Value Delta
Gate 2 Date 1/1/2018 1/20/2018 -19 days
Gate 3 Date 1/1/2019 2/1/2019 -31 days
Gate 4 Date 1/1/2020 1/5/2020 -4 days
Gate 5 Date 1/1/2021 1/26/2021 -25 days
Total Project Budget $5.5mil $6.2mil $-.7mil
NPV $10mil $12mil $2mil
Total Revenue $35mil $39mil $4mil
Budget to Gate 2 $.75mil $1mil $-.25mil

 

Moving targets: can I manage updates to my Project Baseline alongside my Starting Baselines?

If our Baselines capture data at a specific point in time, enabling us to compare where we’re at to where we started, then is there a way to capture the moving target of what we’re shooting for at the present time to see how close we are to these new targets?

An Updated Baseline is the Baseline that we’re currently tracking towards. Over the life of a project, management may approve a change in the Baseline, which then becomes my Updated Baseline. If we extend the concept of Baselines to include what our Updated Baselines are, we can now actively monitor our progress against the Updated Baseline in addition to the divergence from what we are now calling the Starting Baseline. Here’s an example:

Metric Starting Baseline Updated Baseline Current Value Delta from Updated Delta from Target
Gate 2 Date 1/1/2018 2/1/2018 3/1/2018 19 days 29 days
Gate 3 Date 1/1/2019 1/1/2019 2/1/2019 31 days 30 days
Gate 4 Date 1/1/2020 1/1/2020 1/5/2020 4 days 4 days
Gate 5 Date 1/1/2021 1/1/2021 1/26/2021 25 days 25 days

 

How do I prevent my project managers from editing the Updated Baseline whenever a project slips?

If project managers all have the ability to change the Updated Baselines, it might look like all your projects are being delivered on-time and under-budget. This defeats the purpose of Baselining by removing visibility to the project’s slippage, making it more difficult for management to make the right decisions. Therefore it’s important to manage who can update the Updated Baseline.

By adding role-based permissions, defined people or teams – like management or leadership –  can be the sole owners of the Updated Baselines for all of their projects, giving them and only them the ability to update targets. Then, at our gate meetings, we can discuss the delta from the target as well as discuss updating targets for the next stage given the results of the current stage.

Can my Project Status automatically update based on how I’m doing against my Updated Baselines?

Having our Updated Baselines allows us to easily see and report on projects that are not meeting expectations. This enables us to highlight problems as they’re happening and quickly take corrective action against these problems.

One way we can help highlight this is through our Project Status. Instead of having project status be a Red/Yellow/Green based on subjective criteria, by automating our Project Status with Updated Baseline data we can make the Project Status consistent and robust. This stop light color coding can be established to give management an at-a-glance view of how projects are doing against their Updated Baseline and can be surfaced on various charts/reports.

To do this, we need to know how far off from our Updated Baseline a project needs to be before we start getting concerned. At this point, we want to add in an Allowed Variance. Allowed Variance is the amount of difference from the Baseline we want to allow before we start highlighting a project as departing from the Updated Baseline. Here’s an example of what this might look like:

 

Metric Starting Baseline Updated Baseline Current Value Delta from Starting Baseline Delta from Updated Baseline Allowed Variance
Gate 2 Date 1/1/2018 3/1/2018 1/20/2018 19 days -29 days 25 days
Gate 3 Date 1/1/2019 1/1/2019 2/1/2019 30 days 30 days 25 days
Gate 4 Date 1/1/2020 1/1/2020 1/5/2020 4 days 4 days 40 days
Gate 5 Date 1/1/2021 1/1/2021 1/26/2021 25 days 25 days 50 days
Project Budget ($M) 5.5m 6.5m 6.2m .7m -.3m .25m
Total Revenue ($M) 40m 30m 28m 12m 2m 1.75m
NPV ($M) 32.6m 22m 21.1m 11.5m .9m 1m

 

By using Allowed Variances, the system knows exactly when to start highlighting problems on our projects.

Reap the benefits of Project Baselining

Project Baselining, as a technique, provides us a way to reign in changes to our project, along with effectively monitoring the project over time.

It doesn’t take much effort to reap the benefits of Baselines. Using Sopheon's Enterprise Innovation Management solution, Accolade, to manage your projects already gives you the Current Value information as your project managers make updates to their projects over time. The Baseline information can be set to calculate automatically, and as long as we enter the Updated Baseline and Allowed Variance, all of our deltas and the Project Status can calculate automatically as well. This allows us to be notified proactively when a project is approaching, or has exceeded, its Allowed Variance so that management always has an updated picture of their projects.

You can help resolve some of the most common issues of gated project management processes (like Stage-Gate®) and give yourself a valuable set of data for analysis. Accolade is uniquely positioned to manage much of this process for you, while at the same time providing visibility of this data to key decision makers in near real time.

Stage-Gate® is a registered trademark of Stage-Gate Inc.

2018-09-21T11:02:12-05:00June 28th, 2018|

About the Author:

Curtis Foster
Curtis is an Innovation Management Consultant at Sopheon. He provides over seven years of Product Development, Innovation, and Process Improvement expertise across a wide variety of industries. Curtis is an expert in implementing technology to improve and enhance Innovation and Product Development processes.