by Jim Vaughan

Project Managers Should Not Fear the Baseline

Feb 14, 2010

Project managers should use baselining as a tool to improve, not to demonstrate failure.

There seems to be a growing phenomenon in the US, and I believe worldwide, that nobody takes responsibility or ownership anymore. OK, this is not new but I believe it is growing. This fear of ownership is in turn creating a fear of commitment. We see this throughout society. I also see this in the world of project management.

Baselining a project is a way of making a commitment to an end date. The project is tracked from that point forward against the baseline plan that was committed. I wrote earlier about how this is like a game of kick the can as we track actual progress against the plan. The problem becomes that most projects track poorly against this plan.

The poor performance of the project usually has less to do with the project manager or the project team and more to do with the systemic failures of the organizational culture to provide the proper tools and governance to allow the projects to succeed. These systemic issues really become the moose on the table that no one wants to talk about. As a result the PM and/or the project team are blamed for the failure.

Not producing a baseline that we can use to track the project against is a way of disguising the fact that the project if off track and allowing the PM and the team to survive until the scapegoats are sought after the project fails. Everyone hopes that they will not be the ones that are sacrificed when the failure become evident.

While it is true that the creation of a baseline and tracking against that plan will expose project problems earlier, I contend that this will also increase the opportunity for success. At a minimum this would minimize the failure gap of the project. Identifying problems early allows for corrective actions to be taken to put the project back on track. This then should be every project manager’s approach to tracking their projects. This will increase the opportunity to be successful and decrease the possibility of being the first on the chopping block.

As noted earlier the problems that will be uncovered are likely due to failures within the organization. Identifying these problems will not only help the current project but will also help future projects if the failures are corrected. Additionally the PM and project team will not be held solely accountable for resulting failures in the project.

The baseline is not something to be feared. Rather it is the most important tool that a project manager has at their disposal to increase the possibility of success. So don’t fear the baseline. Embrace and utilize it to create success for you and you project.