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Why you Should Baseline Your Plan

April 3, 2013 – Posted on ProjectManager.com

Looking through recipe books gives me great ideas about the kind of dinners I will cook during the following week. But when I try to make the recipes, they never turn out just like the picture in the book. That’s probably because I rarely have the right ingredients, so I make changes to the recipe as I go along! The end result tastes fine, but it doesn’t look like the picture of the food made by the professional chef.

The professional chef’s starting point – the recipe and the photo – is the baseline. That’s what you think you will achieve when you start to cook. What you get at the end is often very different! Not necessarily wrong, but just not what you thought you would get because of the changes you made along the way.

Project plans are no exception. At the beginning of the project you put together a project schedule with your team, using online project management software or other tools. Then you work towards completing that plan. Changes are approved, risks appear, people leave and others join the team, and over the course of the project the plan adapts and ends up looking different to how it did at the beginning.

Experienced project managers will have taken a baseline of their plan once they first put it together. A baseline is a snapshot of the plan at a fixed moment in time. It is the original approved version of what you set out to deliver.

You might be wondering why it is worth bothering to keep a copy of this plan – after all, if everything is likely to change, surely it is more valuable to refer to the most up to date version? Well, yes, it is. You do need to manage the project using the most recent plan. But it is useful to have a copy of the original baseline for comparison. Here are some reasons why.

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