How Baselines Are Like Ancient Burial Rituals, Google Maps, and Cliches

Establishing a program baseline is much easier said than done. To examine the challenges Project’s face, we need to have a common perspective on what constitutes a baseline. Below are three common definition of a project baseline:

  • “The approved version of a work product that can be changed only through formal change control procedures and is used as a basis for comparison.” – Project Manager Book of Knowledge
  • “A project’s baseline is defined as the original scope, cost and schedule.” – Various Sources
  • “The integration of planning, scheduling, budgeting, work authorization, and cost accumulation management processes provides the capability for establishing the performance measurement baseline (PMB).” -ANSI/EIA-748-A Intent Guide

What it boils down to is that planning a project is such a crucial element to the successful execution of a project, that the elements that make up the plan should be preserved. Now that we have a common reference of a baseline, let’s explore how…

…baselines are similar to King Tut.

King Tut died untimely and unexpectedly and his tomb was prepared hastily.Some project plans can be described as being developed quickly or the project came at the most inconvenient or unexpected time. After King Tut’s death, a series of rituals began to ensure the preservation of his three soulsKa, Ba, and Ahk.Most projects are also believed to have three souls; cost, schedule, and performance, with preservation in the form of a baseline. King Tut’s burial rituals are estimated to have taken place over 70 days.Most projects take 30 to 90 days to develop a baseline. King Tut’s burial rituals were followed by an elaborate funeral procession conducted by the new Pharaoh, the royal family, the vizier, the generals and court dignitaries with mourners, priests, and slaves on looking. A project baseline review is conducted by significant stakeholders and is often observed by the actual project members in what constitutes a formal meeting for the organization. After King Tut’s funeral he quickly faded from public consciousness until six centuries later when archaeologists discovered the nearly intact tomb and placed many of the artifacts on exhibit for the public to see. Similarly in many projects, after the baseline is established (approved) it is filed away and forgotten once the project is underway. More often than not, when a project is not meeting stakeholder expectations, someone is sure to drag out the “baseline” and use its artifacts to address the projects shortcomings.

…baselines are similar to Google Maps.

In order for Google to provide it’s web-based mapping services there has to be a reference by which places are mapped, ok so let’s start with the world. Google uses satellite imagery and data to obtain geolocational points of reference.To develop a solid plan, many project start at a higher level of detail and begin integrating the information about scope and constraints so that it forms the lines that will make up the picture (the project plan). As the project’s picture comes into focus, the need for more detailed information arises. Google answered their need to obtain higher resolution imagery for cities through aerial photography and cameras attached to cars, trikes, trolleys and snowmobiles.Projects answer the need for more detailed information by decomposing the project elements into smaller pieces and refining the information another layer down. With a clear picture, we are ready to begin our journey. Google use a route planner to present multiple routing and traveling options, coupled with estimated time to travel and traffic status to aid the traveler in making an informed decision on how to get from one location to the next. When a project understands its picture (scope and constraints) it provides the map by which alternatives can be developed to determine the best route to complete the project. If a traveler encounters unexpected delays on the chosen route, Google Maps provides the traveler the ability to obtain information that will help them to decide to stay on current route, take a detour route, reroute, change mode of transportation or abandon the trip.Similarly, a baseline provides the ability for a project to collect information about its current state and compare it against expectations. This will provide the information needed to make an informed decision on how the project should proceed: continue with plan, re-plan, re-baseline, or terminate.

…baselines are becoming cliche