Setting a Project Baseline
- 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 both the Baseline Start and Baseline Finish fields to your project plan:
Initially, all of these fields will have a value of "NA". That's normal, since the baseline hasn't been established yet.
- To set the baseline, go to the Project tab, and choose Set Baseline:
- 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:
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.
- 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":
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:
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:
If you want to show baselines in the Microsoft Project Gantt chart, here's how:
- 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:
- Microsoft Project will draw the baselines along the bottom of the main bars in the Gantt chart, like this::
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:
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:
- Go to Project > Set Baseline:
- When the Set Baseline window appears, choose a different baseline from the dropdown:
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:
Last Modified: March 11, 2019