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Working with baselines

What is a baseline

A baseline saves a snapshot of the plan at a specific point.  It is used to either refer back and display the “original plan” or to run calculations against; for instance variance to baseline finish.

The baseline functionality in planning software (notably MS Project) allows a baseline to be recorded so that the “live” plan can move in response to the inevitable challenges the project will face. This prevents the plan from being only used to show where the team is ahead or behind the original projection and preserves the usefulness of the plan.

When to baseline

  • A baseline is often set at a specific point in the project, for instance, the Business Case sign-off to initiate the project execution.
  • Re-baselining is usually done under formal change control when one or more of the scope, budget or timescale have been formally changed.
  • Re-baselining can be an emotive subject as sponsors often want to maintain a view of what was originally signed off. We can address this need either by saving a version-controlled copy of the plan or, if using MS Project using multiple baselines.

Using Baselines in MS Project

  • MS Project has 11 baselines to choose from; Baseline and Baseline 1 - 10.

MS Project Baseline dialogue box

  • This means that you can have the “original” baseline saved in Baseline however you can have 10 other interim baselines.
  • Note that in MS project there are two similar terms: Baseline and Interim plan. The baseline saves the current start / finish for tasks as well as work done, costs etc. The interim plan only saves the dates. This could allow even more “baselines” to be used if you’re only interested in the dates.
  • This plethora of baselines can also allow you to reserve one (for instance Baseline10) for less formal uses. I have used this to save the previous month’s version of the plan as a snapshot so that it is possible to highlight changes in the last month to the monthly programme board or senior stakeholder meeting.
  • To display variance to baseline, for instance in a milestone report you can use the built-in field Variance to baseline. By default, this is set to display the variance to Baseline (rather than one of the other baseline1-10). This behaviour can be changed in the options.

How to change the baseline for Variance calcs in MS Project

Displaying the baseline

  • MS Project has a view called “Tracking Gantt” which displays the baseline tasks and milestones in grey beneath the current plan.

Tracking Gantt in MS Project displays both the live plan and the baseline

  • By default, this displays the Baseline tasks however if you want to use one of the other Baselines you can change this by modifying what is displayed in the Tracking Gantt Chart, as shown below. As this requires some work it can be a good idea to copy the existing Tracking Gantt view and edit the copy so that you have both the original Baseline and your new version available.
    • Double click on a white space on the Gantt chart to display the “Bar Styles” dialogue

Bar Styles control how the Gantt chart displays information

Scroll down the list of things which the Gantt can display. Anywhere where Baseline is shown change the From and To boxes from Baseline to Baseline1 (or your preferred baseline):

Change which baseline will be displayed on the Tracking Gantt

  • Note that the Timeline “plan on a page” in MS Project doesn’t display the baseline. However, SummaryPro allows you to display the Baseline data which is copied across from your plan.

Setting to allow baseline to display in SummaryPro

  • If you want to display an alternative baseline simply change the view in your plan to display the desired Baseline.

SummaryPro POAP showing the baseline

Miles Goodchild

Miles Goodchild has been a Program and Programme Planner, PMO lead and Project Manger since 1998.  He enjoys using MS Office, especially Project, Excel and Visio to make life easier and simpler.  In the course of this he created SummaryPro.  In this blog he shares some of the tips and techniques he has learnt over the years in the hope that they will be useful to you.