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Baselines in Microsoft Project

How to set, view, and adjust baselines in Microsoft Project

Microsoft Project lets you baseline your project plan so that you can compare your original plan to its current state. This article will show you how to baseline your schedule, and how to make adjustments to the baseline as needed.

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Setting a Project Baseline

  1. Start with a simple Microsoft Project plan that does not have a baseline set. To verify that the project hasn't been baselined yet, click on Add New Column:

    Add baseline fields to Microsoft Project

  2. Add both the Baseline Start and Baseline Finish fields to your project plan:

    Insert Baseline Start and Baseline Finish into Microsoft Project

    Initially, all of these fields will have a value of "NA". That's normal, since the baseline hasn't been established yet.

  3. To set the baseline, go to the Project tab, and choose Set Baseline:

    Set the initial baseline in Microsoft Project

  4. When the Set Baseline window appears, you'll have some choices about how you want to set the baseline. Initially, just take the defaults, setting your baseline schedule in the "Baseline" fields that have been preselected:

    Default settings for establishing a project baseline

    By default, Microsoft Project will set your baseline in the standard "Baseline" fields, and will baseline your entire project. If you prefer to use a different pair of fields to store your baseline, or if you wish to only baseline a portion of your project, that can be configured on this screen.

  5. After clicking OK, Microsoft Project will populate the baseline fields that we added earlier. The "Start" field has been copied over to "Baseline Start", and the "Finish" field has been copied over to "Baseline Finish":

    Microsoft Project Baseline Start and Baseline Finish fields

Changing Start and Finish Dates

By definition, when you change the start and finish dates of tasks in your project plan, the baseline will not change. Let's try changing the duration of "Task D" from 45 days to 60 days:

Change the duration of a task in Microsoft Project

All of the cells highlighted in light blue have just changed as a result of the change in duration. The finish date of "Task D" has changed, as have both the start and finish dates of "Milestone E" which depended on the finish date of "Task D". The "Phase 2" summary task also changes, due to the shift in its subtasks.

Notice, however, that none of the baseline fields are highlighted. Even though the project schedule has undergone significant changes, the baseline remains the same, helping us preserve the history of how the project schedule looked originally.

Comparing Plan vs. Actual

By default, Microsoft Project doesn't display baseline information:

Microsoft Project Gantt View without Baseline information

If you want to show baselines in the Microsoft Project Gantt chart, here's how:

  1. Right-click anywhere in the Microsoft Project Gantt chart, and then choose Show/Hide Bar Styles > Baseline. In this example, we'll select the first version of the baseline, called Baseline:

    Turn on baseline bar styles in Microsoft Project

  2. Microsoft Project will draw the baselines along the bottom of the main bars in the Gantt chart, like this::

    Baseline bar styles in Microsoft Project

  3. If you don't like the way that baselines are drawn in Microsoft Project, OnePager Pro will give you more flexibility to show plan vs. actual using the same baseline data that you've already set up Microsoft Project. If you don't already have OnePager Pro, you can download a free trial and try it with your Microsoft Project plan.

    Here's an example of how the same baseline information looks in OnePager Pro:

    Microsoft Project baselines displayed in OnePager Pro

Re-Baselining a Project Plan

Some people would argue that you should never re-baseline your project plan. After all, a baseline is a baseline, so if you truly want to compare plan to actual, you should leave the baseline alone once it's been set.

However, there are some cases where re-baselining a project plan is appropriate:

  • The project was paused or cancelled, and then restarted at a later date
  • Significant changes to requirements, resources, or budget have taken place, and it's necessary to reschedule the project based on the new constraints

In these circumstances, it's OK to re-baseline the project plan, but we recommend leaving the original baseline alone, and tracking the new baseline in a different set of Microsoft Project fields. To do this:

  1. Go to Project > Set Baseline:

    Re-baseline Microsoft Project

  2. When the Set Baseline window appears, choose a different baseline from the dropdown:

    Choose a different baseline

    In this example, our original baseline used the "Baseline" fields, so our new baseline will use "Baseline 1" instead.

Editing a Project Baseline

The baseline of your Microsoft Project plan is merely a pair of start and finish fields that are a copy of your regular start and finish fields at a given point in time. If you ever need to make adjustments to your baseline, you can edit these fields just like you can edit your regular start and finish fields:

Edit Project Baseline

Last Modified: May 6, 2019