Establishing a baseline is an important part of any project. Project managers use baselines to measure progress, track performance, and identify problems throughout the duration of the project. But what is a baseline in project management? And how can it benefit your project?

What is a Baseline in Project Management?

A baseline in project management is essentially a starting point that you can use to reference your project’s progress. In other words, it is a standard that you set that allows you to make comparisons at project milestones, assess deviations to the baseline, and prioritize tasks. A project baseline is typically made up of three different components: schedule, cost, and scope. Often, each component is made into a separate baseline and used to reference specific goals or progress throughout the project. 

*You can use your baselines to track key elements of your project. For example, for the schedule baseline, you could set a 6 week start to finish baseline. Then you would know that if your project shifts to last beyond that 6 week deadline, there is a problem that you need to address. 

How to Create a Baseline

You can establish a basic project baseline in three different ways:

1 | Define the Project’s Scope 

The first step in establishing your project’s baseline is to determine your project’s scope. In project management, scope is basically the work your team needs to complete in order to finish a project. Some ways to define your project’s scope:

Having a scope baseline in place will allow you to measure progress throughout the project and prevent harmful incidents of scope creep

2 | Establish Your Schedule

Next you’ll want to develop a schedule. To do so, you’ll have to figure out what tasks need to be completed in order to finish the project. Then, you’ll want to fit those tasks together into a cohesive timeline with a clear start and end date. Through this process, you’ll be able to figure out which tasks depend on other tasks and identify potential overlapping tasks (bottlenecks) that need to be remedied.

  • To help create a cost baseline, you can use a Gantt chart, which is a visualization of the tasks you need to complete. The Gantt chart consists of tasks signified on horizontal bars of different lengths, which represent the lengths of time needed to complete each task. You can use historical data from other projects to create this chart, and edit and adjust it easily according to your current needs. 

3 | Estimate Costs and Resources 

Next, you’ll want to establish the costs associated with your project and the resources you will require. This includes labor costs, equipment costs, and resource and material costs.

  • Using the estimates you made in the previous steps, you can begin to estimate the costs involved in your project. A good start would be to add up the costs of all of your resources. Then, you’ll have a basic overall cost estimate. This can serve as your cost baseline. 

Here is a simple example of a cost baseline:

Project: Small Bathroom Renovation

Project Budget: 5,000

Start Date: September 1

End Date: September 30

  • Task 1: Demolition – $500
  • Task 2: Structure – $1500
  • Task 3: Plumbing/electrical -1,000
  • Task 4: Finishing/decorating – 2,000

Bonus | Discuss with Stakeholders 

A good step to take after you have created your baselines is to present them to your key stakeholders. Here is a good opportunity to answer questions, address concerns, manage expectations, and fix potential flaws. 

Can you change your baseline?

Changing your project baseline- especially after the early stages of your project-  is generally not recommended. However, sometimes significant changes do happen that may require you to adjust your baseline. In that situation, you should create a backup of your old project baseline and all of its data just in case your new baseline doesn’t work out. 

Problems You May Encounter When Establishing Your Baseline

  • Lack of Clarity – A big hindrance to your project’s success can be a lack of clarity stemming from poorly-defined goals. If you’re unsure of what you want to accomplish in your project, it’s next to impossible to create an accurate baseline. And, if you don’t have an accurate baseline it’ll be very difficult to measure the success of your project. 


  • Poorly Defined Scope – The way you set up your scope can impact the entire project. That’s why it is so important to create an accurate, thorough and detailed scope statement. You should ensure that there are enough details about each task and when they should be completed. Without these important details, it will be difficult to accurately estimate resources and develop an appropriate schedule and budget.


  • Inaccurate Estimates – Inaccurate estimates about resources, time, or the budget of a task can lead to delays during implementation. That’s why it is paramount that schedulers and project managers use reliable data when making any estimations.


  • Unclear Expectations –  If you didn’t discuss your project baselines with your key stakeholders and business partners, you may find that they have some expectations that do not align with reality. That’s why communicating your goals and objectives early on is an important step for your project’s success. 

The Benefits of Baselines in Project Management

  • Improve Your Planning and Scheduling –  Establishing a project baseline with clear milestones and timelines can provide great clarity for your team. They’ll easily be able to track the project’s progress, who needs to get what done, and manage expectations. All of this makes planning and scheduling easier and more accurate. 


  • Better Communication, Coordination, and Collaboration – Not only can establishing a baseline improve your planning and scheduling, it can unify your team. Having one clearly defined plan can reduce confusion and lead to increased communication and collaboration among team members.


  • Enhanced Cost Control – Establishing a cost baseline can help ensure that the project’s budget stays within its intended parameters. Budget planners will be able to see exactly how much they should spend on resources and managers can keep track of expenses in each task. 

Creating Baselines Using Project Management Software

Project management software can help you create your project baseline accurately and efficiently. Each program will have its own way to create a baseline that may be similar or differ from the above steps. 

Read about how to create a baseline in Primavera P6 Professional here.

Read about how to create a baseline in Microsoft Project here


Baselines are an integral part of a successful project. They provide you with a clear and measurable starting point that you can reference to keep your project on track. 

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