Project baselines are an essential part of success project management because they allow project managers to track progress, adapt to any changes, and still finish a project on time and within budget. Without project baselining, the trajectory of your project could be impacted for negative.
In this article, we’ll show you how to baseline your project plan, so you can adjust your course, learn crucial lessons, and efficiently manage your projects every time. We’ll use monday.com Work OS as the framework for the most efficient project baselining.
What is a project baseline and why is it important?
A project baseline is essentially a defined starting point for your project. In other words, a baseline is an initial plan you create with stakeholders, defining the project expectations and deliverables, including schedule, scope, and and cost.A baseline allows you to monitor and assess your project’s performance over time, determine whether you’re on track and within budget, get an overview of your entire project, and identify areas to improve. Without a project baseline, you can face cost overruns, scope creep, and even project failure.
In fact, one study showed that among companies with low project management maturity — few or no standardized methods and checks and balances — over half of the projects exceeded budgets and passed deadlines. A 2020 study by the Project Management Institute showed that these companies complete just 46% of projects within budget and 39% of projects on time.
More mature companies, on the other hand, completed 67% of projects within budget, and 63% on time. Of course, the baseline isn’t the only difference here, but it’s a good step in the right direction. A baseline sets an important point of comparison to be used throughout a project’s life cycle.
Luckily, any size company can create a baseline. Let’s take a closer look at what a project baseline includes.
What do you need to create a project baseline?
To baseline a project, you’ll typically need four elements: milestones, budget, schedule, and scope. Let’s dive into what these terms mean and how they help project teams baseline projects.
- Milestones: These are the key points in a project you expect to reach by a specific date or range within the project’s start and end dates.
- Budget: Your budget is how much you plan to spend on the project.
- Schedule: When planning any project, you and your team member need to know its duration. The schedule baseline is your project’s planned timeline.
- Scope: Scope is the expected project outcome, any deliverables, and the problem they solve.
Beyond these four elements, you may also want to include other project documents like the work breakdown structure (WBS), activity or task list, and more, to add detail to each of these steps. Below, we’ll show you how you can create your own project baseline plan.
How do you create a project baseline plan?
The best way to create a project baseline plan is to start with your project charter — the statement of the scope, objectives, and participants in a project. From this document, you’ll be able to determine any milestones, a budget, and finally a schedule.
Let’s jump into how to go about creating a charter.
1. Start with your initial project plan or charter
On monday.com, you can quickly get started on your project charter with our general Project Planning Template. The pre-built template includes project scope, deliverables, schedule, milestones, risks, and other considerations you need to make before diving in. Here’s what an example project plan looks like on monday.com Work OS:
One super helpful feature on monday.com is that if you’ve created several digital documents, you can easily import or attach the information so it all lives on one board. You can also use our doc creation feature— monday workdocs — to create your charter right from within the platform and attach it to your project board. Once you’ve got your project plan in place, it’s time to start preparing the baseline by hashing out the project’s timeline and milestones. Let’s go into more detail on this one.
2. Solidify all phases and milestones
At this stage, you want to go through each project phase and make sure everything is in order: Is the flow of the project realistic? Are you going into too much detail straightaway and getting stuck on nuances? Aim to capture more high-level phases like research, design, prototyping, and more. Then, build out a few logical milestones within these phases. For instance, milestones could be when you finish your initial research, finalize a product sketch, and more.
3. Add realistic buffers to your budget and schedule
Creating accurate baselines is often about expecting the unexpected. Make sure you factor in all possible costs. This includes equipment, materials, payroll, consulting fees, insurance, and more. With all these factors at play, it can be hard to conceptualize the buffers and get a real idea of how they’ll affect your project.
Visualization of your project, its milestones, buffers, phases, and so on make it easy to know what’s going on and factor in the unexpected. With monday.com, you can easily create a responsive Gantt chart based on any timeline and bring your projects to life! Here’s an example Gantt chart for implementing new content and phasing out outdated pieces:
No matter the project—content related or not—on a Work OS like monday.com, you easily rearrange stages and add buffers wherever necessary, immediately seeing how they change your timeline. Our Gantt chart helps simplify complex projects, showing all components on a horizontal bar chart from the start and end date.
Note: For shorter or smaller-scale projects, you typically won’t need or want to touch the original baseline so you can see your expectations and where they fell short. But for those projects where you need to change your original plan, you’ll need a process for updating the project baseline.
4. Update your baseline throughout the project
When working on projects that span multiple years, the marketplace may change significantly, impacting the goals of your project. That means the original baseline will reflect a different undertaking. For these kinds of projects, you’ll need to update your baseline. Thankfully, there’s a super simple way to do this on monday.com Work OS.
On your project board, go into your attached documents in the File column and duplicate the baseline document. After you duplicate the original, you can save the amended version as your new baseline and add to it as you go.
For extra clarity, add the version names to each baseline document. And that’s it—you’ve changed your baseline in just a few minutes and kept your project on track with one intuitive, flexible software! When you make a change, you can use the Updates to keep project stakeholders in the loop without leaving the platform.
Make it easy to baseline your next project with monday.com
If you’re managing a large-scale project, your project plan isn’t complete without a baseline. It’s a reliable reference point, making it easy to identify if and when things got off track so you can easily adapt to and overcome any previously unforeseen issues and roadblocks.
Your baseline can also help you plan future projects as well, giving you an accurate estimate of resources needed and timeframes so you can avoid making the same errors. With monday.com, baselining a project has never been easier. Try out our Project Planning Template to create your baseline in minutes.