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Baseline Management

Baseline control is a concept that is fundamental to many aspects of project management. To truly manage an effort, a plan must be created and approved, and progress must be measured and compared to the plan.

Changes to the plan must be controlled to preserve its integrity as a management tool. A contract level (Level 1) baseline schedule, consistent with contract requirements, is required for all projects. This schedule is typically a contract deliverable early in the project. Most projects (except for simple studies and level-of-effort work) must establish a Level 3 baseline schedule to measure and manage the work for comparative and variance purposes throughout the project.

On projects that include conceptual planning or preliminary engineering, the official baseline schedule is sometimes established only after completion of these early phases of work. Similarly, on a project with multiple phases, it is common for the entire project to be “rebaselined” when transitioning to a new phase. For example, during detailed design, the construction plan often evolves so that the baseline schedule bears little resemblance to the current schedule upon kickoff of the construction phase.

Approval of Baseline Schedules

Baseline schedules for cost reimbursable projects normally require client approval. On lump-sum projects, a company typically “owns” the schedule and we are obligated to meet only those dates required by the contract. The approving manager must approve the baseline schedule for any lumpsum project. Project schedules for cost reimbursable projects with any form of schedule incentive or penalty must be approved by the approving manager before they are submitted to the client for approval.

Contractual requirements and overall execution strategy drive the development of the schedule. During the review and approval process, the project manager provides documentation of the key points that form the basis of the schedule to ensure that all parties have a mutual understanding and common expectations.

Changes to the Baseline Schedule

The baseline schedule is revised, as appropriate, with approved changes. As contractual scope or requirements change, those changes are reflected in the baseline schedule. The project’s change order form should include a required field for identifying schedule impacts and a field to indicate whether the baseline should be updated to reflect the change. If a change does not impact schedule, this should be stated in the change.

Some changes impact schedule but are not valid changes to the baseline (e.g., productivity issues or supplier performance.). These changes represent variances from the baseline. In extreme cases, variances from the baseline may accumulate to the point that the baseline schedule no longer is a useful comparison to the current work plan. If so, it may be appropriate to rebaseline the schedule (i.e., to replace the baseline with an entirely new version without the logical audit trail of approved changes). Approval of a new baseline is a formal process that must be approved at the same level as the original baseline.

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