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.

December, 2015


The baseline concept is very important in project management, therefore a project manager must fully understand and apply it if he or she wants to have successful projects.

The probability of making a successful project is highly increased through planning and control. Those who have participated in a project know that it is virtually impossible to do it successfully if it is not planned before, if what is planned is executed and if what is executed is controlled.

Pretending to implement the project without a plan would be difficult and exhausting because it would force us to be continually improvising. It would be like trying to reach an unknown destination without a map. Even with a plan, pretend to execute it without controlling it will force us to rely on chance to ensure that the plan is followed and that no unforeseen circumstances arise which will require adjustment. It would be like having the map stored and not use it to find out if we ‘re right on track or if we’re totally lost.

From the above, it is clear that there is a need of some guidance that will allow us to establish our route on the map and once the route is established, determine our location at any time, and if we are where we should or not. We need then benchmarks that allow us a comparison for control purposes. In project management these benchmarks are known as baselines, elements developed during planning that allow us to establish “the route ” 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.

It should be noted at this point that in order to have a successful project is not enough only to have baselines. Although they are an essential component, it is necessary to know in detail what we have to do, how to do it, when to do it, how much it will cost, what resources we have to use and how we will ensure that information flows properly. It is also essential to establish how we will minimize the potential effects of threats and how we will maximize the impact of opportunities, what goods and services we will have to procure, how we will manage the various stakeholders in the project, as well as to establish the elements that will be assessed to determine whether the project was successful or not, and finally integrate all efforts and components to do the project in the most efficient way.

The above referred aspect correspond to scope, time, cost, human resources, communications, risk, procurement, stakeholders, quality and integration management, 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 which is developed in this article, scope management, is with time and cost management, one of the most visible aspects in projects. These areas are complemented by other knowledge areas in order to successfully manage projects.

According to the PMI (2013) scope management includes the processes required to ensure that the project includes all the work required, and only the work required to complete the project successfully. Scope management is complemented with time management, which includes the processes to ensure that the project is completed on time and cost management, which includes the processes required to ensure that the project is executed according to the approved budget.

For example, lets assume that we are assigned with the project management of 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. We need to establish the project requirements, for example the piece of land where it should be built, facility and its components dimensions, number of users, flows and needed relations between spaces, internal and external applicable regulatory aspects, services and required systems, possible future expansions, etc.

In addition to the requirements it is advisable to develop a document where a detailed description of the project is done and which explicitly defines what is part of the project, and what is not part of it. For example, in our case the project might include the industrial facility with its raw materials reception area, processing and storage area for finished products, circulation areas, container truck yards, access roads, support infrastructure and surveillance and control booth, while the administrative building and parking might be excluded from the scope to be made at a future stage. Moreover, it is necessary to establish in this document the acceptance criteria of the various components of the project and the existing restrictions, for example, that the project should be completed by a specific date, it may not exceed a certain amount of money and that it must fully meet the user’s functional requirements in order to achieve the organization strategic goals. Finally, assumptions must be documented, meaning aspects that are assumed to be true during planning but need to be confirmed in the future to assess its validity. The main function of this document, called Project Scope Statement (PSS) is to establish, scope wise, clearly and unambiguously what is to be done in the project.

Having established what will be done in the project, for purposes of better understanding, ease of estimation and eventually control, it is necessary to subdivide the various major project components into smaller components. This is done using a technique known as decomposition, and is reflected in the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). The WBS is a graphical representation of the project scope, it is a tree structure where each component in the top-level is subdivided into its component elements. The subdivision is done until the work package level is reached. The project WBS function is to decompose the project scope into smaller and smaller elements, eventually getting to elements small enough as to be easily planned and eventually executed and controlled. The WBS also establishes which components should go underway to complete a particular project deliverable and as the sum of its completed deliverables to complete the hole project. It must be noted that the WBS is not a list of tasks or activities, it is actually oriented to tangible elements to be produced in the project, which are known as project deliverables. The activities necessary to create a work package in the WBS are defined in a separate process as part of the time management planning for the project.

For our example of the industrial facility the WBS might have on its upper levels components such as Preliminary Studies, Design, Construction, Commissioning, Project Management, etc. Likewise, these components might be further subdivided. Take for example the component design, it could be subdivided into Conceptual Design, Schematic Design, Construction Drawings and Technical Specifications. Thus the decomposition would continue until a level at which the components can be estimated based on their respective activities is reached, meaning that it can be established what resources and of which type will be required, how much time it will be required, what will be the associated cost, etc.

Because components in the WBS are typically described in a very general way, it is necessary to expand its description so that there is a clear understanding of what corresponds to each component, which helps to achieve that the expected result corresponds exactly to what is needed. This work is done through the WBS Dictionary (WBSD). Some of the elements that might be included in the WBSD are: Detailed description of the component, code, responsible, applicable milestones, associated work packages or activities, acceptance criteria, technical references, among others. In the case of the industrial facility, for example the WBSD of such a component as Construction Drawings might establish that it is referred to architectural, structural, electrical, mechanical drawings and process and instrumentation diagrams. It might further establish that there should be five sets of printed drawings as well as the electronic files of the Building Information Model (BIM) in a specific format. It might indicate that drawings must meet regulatory entities requirements to grant the construction and operation permits, that the lead consultant will be responsible for development and versions control, and that drawings must be ready for a specific date, which by the way will constitute a project milestone since building construction permits depend on this work package.

The three elements mentioned above, namely the PSS, the WBS and the WBSD conform the Project Scope Baseline (PSB). The PSB allows the team, during project planning to define what the project scope is, during project execution to know what needs to be done and additionally allows the verification and control that the required scope is being produced, as appropriate, to meet the project objectives.

Having defined the project scope, it is necessary to determine the project duration as well as its costs, among other essential project aspects, these aspects will be developed as part of future articles by the author.