Schedule Baseline How to Create, Use and Optimize

Schedule Baseline: How to Create, Use, and Optimize

The schedule baseline serves an essential purpose in every project: A tool to measure the project’s progress against the stakeholder-approved project schedule. Additionally, as an output from the schedule development process, the project schedule baseline is used in conjunction with the scope and cost baseline to form the performance measurement baseline.

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What is a Project Schedule Baseline?

In schedule management, a project baseline is the foundational project schedule approved by the key stakeholders. Use it as a basis for comparing actual project performance to the original plan.  

Project Management Institute (PMI) includes project schedule questions within the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification exam. For this reason, some informally refer to the project schedule as “PMP schedule baseline.” PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – 6th edition provides the project schedule baseline definition: A baseline is the approved version of a schedule model that can be changed using formal change control procedures and is used as the basis for comparison to actual results.

Several terms refer to the project schedule baseline:

  • PMP schedule baseline
  • Schedule baseline (one of several project baselines)
  • Baseline schedule

PMP certification holders should know how to use the project schedule baseline to track the actual progress of the project against the project plan. Whether to access progress at a specific moment or over time, the project schedule baseline can help determine if the project schedule needs an update.

Benefits of a PMP Schedule Baseline

There are several project benefits as a result of creating a schedule baseline. For example:

  • Provide a point of reference to measure performance against to identify variances and take necessary corrective action
  • Improve communication among project stakeholders by providing a common understanding of the approved project schedule
  • Enable better project control as a basis for making necessary changes to the schedule

As any PMP credential holder can tell you, the overall project schedule is a powerful administrative project management tool when it is monitored and kept up to date.

Example benefits include:

  • more accurate schedule reporting throughout the project,
  • built-in schedule accountability for project team and stakeholders, and
  • input for more accurate cost estimates.

Components of a PMP Schedule Baseline

A schedule baseline has two primary components:

  1. schedule model (the documented planned project schedule) and
  2. documented stakeholder approval of the schedule model.

By no means is that all there is to a project schedule baseline. For example, within the project schedule baseline, the Project Manager will have information such as

  • activity sequences,
  • activity durations,
  • activity dependencies (including leads and lags),
  • activity start dates, and
  • activity end dates.

The detailed project schedule baseline will also include inherent assumptions and resource requirements. The project’s complexity will shape how much detail is needed for the project schedule baseline to be effective. The level of detail required on the schedule baseline should be determined as part of creating the schedule management plan.


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How to create a Project Schedule Baseline

Typically, the project manager will create the project baseline at a project’s start, following the defining and approval of the project scope. It is a written document (which can be a chart) that, along with the cost baseline and scope baseline, forms the overall performance measurement baseline to assess progress against the original plan.

The high-level process of creating a project performance baseline generally includes these steps:

  1. Define the project scope and objectives.
  2. Develop the project schedule.
  3. Allocate resources to the project activities.
  4. Obtain approval from the relevant stakeholders for the project baseline.

Then, the project schedule is updated as required throughout the project.

Project Schedule vs. Project Baseline Schedule

A project schedule is an output of a schedule model that presents linked activities with planned dates, durations, milestones, and resources.

Project schedule: current projected end date of project based on actuals

  • The output of a schedule model
  • Updated by the project manager pending schedule changes occurring during the project
  • Changed without formal stakeholder approval

A project baseline is the approved version of the project schedule. It can only be changed using formal change control procedures, is used as the basis for comparison to actual results, and is an output of the schedule development process.

Project baseline schedule: planned end date of project based on baseline data

  • The output of the schedule development process
  • Approved by project stakeholders at project start
  • Changed using formal change control procedures

How to adjust a Project Schedule

The project schedule baseline remains the same as the foundational plan for how long the project will take to complete. However, as things change in all projects, the project schedule (not the baseline) should be adjusted and compared to the baseline to identify significant differences and impacts. To make those adjustments, the project manager should know these critical items:

  • Budget. A budget is the approved estimate for the project, any work breakdown structure (WBS) component, or any scheduled activity.
  • Milestone Schedule. This type of schedule presents milestones with planned dates.
  • Performance Measurement Baseline. Integrated scope, schedule, and cost baselines are used for comparison to manage, measure, and control project execution.
  • Project Schedule. A project schedule is an output of a schedule model that presents linked activities with planned dates, durations, milestones, and resources.
  • Scope Baseline. This baseline is the approved version of a scope statement, work breakdown structure (WBS), and its associated WBS dictionary that can be changed using formal change control procedures. Use it as the basis for comparison to actual results.

Note that each schedule tool and document is an example of potential PMP certification exam question topics, so understanding these concepts is critical to earning the PMP certification.

Ways to use the Project Schedule Baseline

The construction of a project schedule baseline may take many components, depending on the complexity of your project. However, it can help a project manager meet project management best practices. For example, use a project schedule baseline to:

  • Effectively communicate schedule milestones and shifts.
  • Compare actual performance to the baseline to identify variances,
  • Have a more accurate cost baseline, and
  • Identify schedule risks in time to make adjustments, including activation of mitigation tactics.

Summary

The Project Schedule Baseline is used with the Cost Baseline and Scope Baseline to form the performance baseline of a project. A project schedule baseline is a document, often a chart, that compares the actual schedule to determine if and what adjustments are needed to stay within the project scope and cost parameters. It is a topic that may be on PMI’s PMP certification exam as it is a foundation of project schedule work.

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Megan Bell
Megan Bell
Project Manager & Writer at Project Management Academy
Megan Bell