Baselines are often perceived as a “hygiene factor” when it comes to project administration – they don’t make your pulse race any faster, but they are required for performance monitoring. As this is their primary function, some organizations feel that establishing schedule or cost baselines is of marginal value given their current PM maturity.
Can baselines help us other than to provide a set of data points for comparison purposes?
Here are a few value propositions, and I’d encourage you to provide me with other use cases:
1. In the absence of baselines, all we have are current forecasts and expectations on the part of our stakeholders and customers. Baselines provide a tangible means of defining and setting these expectations.
2. For someone that has just arrived on the project, baselines provide some insights into the project’s past and can help the newcomer gain some insights that could not be derived by merely looking at current project metrics.
3. Baselines can provide a metric to assess the overall predictability of project & portfolio planning. One could measure the number of re-baseline occurrences over the lifetime of a project as well as the driver for these changes (internal or external to the organization). While this “churn” might have been generated with the best intentions (e.g. providing customers with a better deliverable or stemming from an external funding impact to a project) it comes with a cost as the effort required to assess and implement project changes has to be paid by someone. With this data in hand, the organization could look at justifying the adoption of agile methodologies or could use it as a KPI to measure the success of reducing the volume of internally-driven changes.
Anthony Robbins’ quote for individuals equally applies to projects: “If you don’t set a baseline standard for what you’ll accept in life, you’ll find it’s easy to slip into behaviors and attitudes or a quality of life that’s far below what you deserve.”