Breakdown #4: Baselines and updates and touch bases, oh my!

In reference to project planning, the “baseline” is the marker by which you can measure schedule control (yes, I understand this is not the PMBOK definition, but for our purposes, let’s use the above). Therefore, similar to how you wouldn’t move the starting line of a race after the race has started, moving your “baseline” is something to be avoided wherever possible.

However, if the scope of a project has changed significantly, the resourcing structure, the timeline, or some other combination of factors which represent what I’d call a ‘reshaping of the fundamental nature’ of the project, then of course you should re-baseline.

In absence of that extreme, however, then we come to the next item: updates. I’m about to say something which may be strictly forbidden, but, I almost never update my project plans daily. Depending on the periodicity of status reporting, depending on the depth and complexity of the plan, daily plan updates can actually be more damaging than helpful. Why?

  1. They give the subjective appearance of control that is nonexistent (i.e., the difference between 3% progress on a task from one day to the next is…ludicrous)
  2. You can spend more time ‘updating’ the plan (because large plans with various dependencies and various starts/stops, etc. can quickly get complicated and sensitive to touch) than communicating with project team members and moving the actual project forward

So, I do my best to weight plan updates with touch bases, i.e., talking with the BAs, consultants, developers, testers, SMEs, product managers, architects, et al., with questions such as:

  1. What issues are cropping up today which need to be addressed?
  2. We have these tasks scheduled to complete by end of the week – any hold ups?
  3. Last meeting you mentioned this follow-up needed to be done, do you have it or do I need to step in or do you need me to do it?
  4. We’ve got an aggressive hiring plan, how did interviews go last week? Do you need a hand or if you think it’s going to be delayed, can we build the delay in now and try to mitigate it anyway?

In other words, instead of tinkering with a plan, a plan of which we all know doesn’t survive contact with the enemy, read: reality, get proactive about your planning by talking, and save the updates to when you have a cohesive and coherent view of the whole picture.

In short, this is my motto: baseline rarely, update regularly, and touch-base daily.

It’s worked pretty well for me. What works for you?

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