The baseline concept is of the utmost importance in project management, therefore a professional project manager must understand and apply it if he or she wants to be a successful project manager.

The probability of making a successful project is increased through planning and control. It is virtually impossible to do a successful project if it is not planned before, if what is planned is executed and if what is executed is controlled.

In project management we need benchmarks that allow us to determine “where we are” to make a comparison for control purposes. These benchmarks are known as baselines in project management jargon, references developed during planning that allow us to establish “the road map” to complete the project and achieve its objectives. Once established the baselines allows us to determine at any given time if we are following the plan or not and how much we deviate from it, and thus how far we move away from meeting the project goals and objectives.

In order to have a successful project is not enough only to have baselines. Although they are an essential component, baselines should be complemented with other tools a techniques of scope, time, cost, human resources, communications, risk, procurement, stakeholders, quality and integration management, which correspond to the knowledge areas established by the Project Management Institute (PMI) in its compendium of best practices for project management known as the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).

The first of these knowledge areas baselines, scope baseline, was developed in a previous article, therefore, this might be seen as a sequel were time management, and more specifically, the schedule baseline is discussed. Although it is ideal to read both articles, because they complement each other, they can also be read separately since each one is focused on a different knowledge area and its correspondent baseline.

According to the PMI (2013) time management includes the processes required to ensure that the project is finished on time. Time management is complemented with cost management, which includes the processes required to ensure that the project is executed according to the approved budget. Both time and cost management of course depend on a previous correct definition of the project scope which falls within the scope management which includes the processes required to ensure that the project includes all the work required, and only the work required to complete the project successfully.

For sakes of this article, we’ll use as example a project which includes the design, construction and start up of an industrial facility. What do we need in order to plan this project and improve our chances of having a successful project? First it is necessary to determine clearly what we have to do, that is part of the scope management. Assuming that the scope is correctly planned, we’ll continue on with the time management planning processes in order to create the project time baseline.

Having defined the scope of the project it is necessary to determine its expected duration also comparing said expected duration with the required duration and make the necessary adjustments to meet the project objectives related to time/dates. Most projects include as part of their objectives the achievement of completion for a particular date or may also include compliance to interim dates, dates that represent milestones in the project development.

In order to establish the project duration, it is necessary to take the work packages, located in the lower levels of the WBS, and subdivide them further in the activities needed to create those work packages. Once all the activities are established it will be necessary to define the sequence in which the activities will be carried out. This sequence should consider particular aspects of the sequence that technically makes more sense, for example, prepare the foundations reinforcement steel and cast the foundation concrete prior to the erection of the structures, considering the time needed for the concrete to acquire the minimum strength necessary to withstand its workloads, etc. Once the sequence is established the resources required to complete the activities must be determined, taking into consideration its expertise, availability, productivity and cost. Then activities duration should be calculated considering resources quantity and productivity and the magnitude of the task at hand. Finally, all this information is consolidated in the project schedule, where the sequence in which the activities will be carried out, their start and end dates and duration determine the overall project duration, as well as the specific dates for any required project milestones.

It should be noted that these steps are usually developed iteratively until it is possible to meet the project time goals, which are established then in the project schedule. Currently there are several software tools available on the market to help do these iterations as required for a given project. Some of this software tools allow also to include scope referenced coding as well as resources and activities costs, among other project relevant aspects.

On the other hand, it is possible that for the given project scope it is not possible to achieve the project time goals, even after different scenarios and several iterations are analyzed. If that is the case, then the inclusion of additional resources, and typically with the correspondent project cost increase, must be considered. Project charter analysis as well as communication to stakeholders will be then critical to assess what is the best balance between project time and cost goals. Also, scope and quality might be revisited if the pre-established scope-time-cost-quality goals are proven impossible to achieve.

Once the schedule has allowed to fulfill the project objectives and is approved by the stakeholders, this is defined as the Schedule Baseline (SBL). The SBL will be the comparative element to manage time in the project also to determine progress and performance and even to make forecasts of whether a milestone or the scheduled project date of completion, can be achieved, as planned.

For the industrial facility example, the SBL should establish the start and finish date for each activity as well as any other relevant milestones, for example, construction drawings and technical specifications completion, construction permits approval by relevant institutions, major contracts award, construction works start, construction works finish, facilities commissioning completion and facility startup, among others. Moreover, during execution, the SBL should be used to assess the project progress by comparing the work actually done with the work planned on the project schedule and establish reasonable forecasts by whether the project time objectives might or might not be met.

For a given project scope, having defined the project schedule for that scope, it is necessary to determine the project costs, among other essential project aspects, these aspects will be developed as part of future articles by the author.

By Carlos Brenes, MAP, PMP

Professor of the Degree and Graduation Seminar course in the Master in Project Management Program at the University for International Cooperation.