The baseline plan has one important goal: to act as the field of reference for the various stakeholders, one to which they can compare the actual state of the project at any point in time. Therefore, as soon as the project is approved, the approved plan must be “frozen” to generate the project’s first reference point and enable project control and evaluation. This “freezing” will take place after rechecking the work plan, the constraints and the base assumptions; validating the buffers added to the estimated duration; and ensuring the quality of the work plan
It is important to arrive at an agreement over the baseline plan and avoid beginning work on the project until such an agreement exists. Starting work on the project prior to this virtually guarantees a disappointed client and risks failure of the project as a whole. Therefore, an agreement over the field of reference should be reached as early as possible and postponing the issue for later in the project avoided. An agreement that fails to materialize at the beginning of the project is unlikely to do so later.
To freeze a baseline plan for a project, follow these steps:
- Check the project’s schedule and budget and settle any discrepancies before finalizing the baseline plan.
- Validate the buffers defined for project deliverables.
- Present the baseline plan to project stakeholders and obtain their commitment to its implementation.
- Obtain approval for the project’s planned budget and cash flow from the financial manager and from other managers.
- Obtain client approval for the planned project timetable.
- Publicize the project’s baseline plan to all project stakeholders and interested parties.
There are likely to be many changes throughout the project’s course: content, resources, timing, and even goals and objectives. The project manager must stay up to date on all the changes and present the updated plan on the one hand, while comparing it to the original on the other. The original baseline plan forms the field of reference to which the updated project plan will be compared continuously.
Recommendation: Once the baseline plan is finalized, do not delete any tasks listed in it, even if these tasks are later cancelled, since doing so will affect the comparisons made with updated work plans. Tasks that prove unnecessary to the project should be listed as inactive rather than deleted altogether.
The baseline plan does not change very often in the course of a project. In fact, updating the baseline plan is an unusual occurrence, one that only happens when there is a significant change made to the project or when there is a new agreement with the client. A fundamental change in the project—a change in the target date due to significant changes to the work plan or an agreement with the client—is a legitimate reason to update the baseline plan. Being behind on the schedule without client approval does not provide justification for updating the baseline plan.
Whenever there are smaller changes in the project plan that should be documented for comparison, an interim work plan that includes all changes in task start and completion dates should be kept for tracking purposes.