How Assumptions Can Derail a Project…and What to Do About It


By Veronica Thraen / April 3, 2018

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A project is well underway. Things seem to be running smoothly, you’ve heard nothing about issues or roadblocks. You ask the team weekly if they are on track to meet the deadline and they assure you they are. But as the project gets closer to the finish line, you find out that things are not as rosy as they seemed.  Sound familiar?

How can you, as the team manager, avoid this situation without having to micromanage? How do you really know at any given time that the project is on track to meet the originally estimated timeline? By baselining your projects.

Taking a snapshot of the project plan (scope, schedule and cost) at the start of the project – and even throughout - will help you monitor the progress more closely and provide valuable information for future projects.

Here are some examples of what you will uncover by analyzing the baseline vs. actual project state:

Work effort or completion date discrepancies

There could be many reasons for task discrepancies or delays. Maybe vacations or holidays weren’t taken into consideration when planning the project. Maybe the team provided their best guess for work that they’ve never done before, or perhaps there were tasks that were overlooked and not originally added to the project plan.

Rather than assuming things are fine (and then reacting when they’re not), reviewing the baseline, collaborating with the team, and making adjustments as you go will give you much better insight into the overall project health. It will also help provide more reliable status reporting for stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle.

Frequency of changes

Once the project is complete, the baseline may be quite different than what actually took place during the project. Were new items added that were not in the original scope of work? Did the work effort or completion dates change dramatically and frequently? What can you do to control some of the fluctuations so that it does not affect the agreed-upon schedule, scope or cost?

Although some changes are necessary, others can negatively affect the project, especially if they were not critical or even communicated. Try implementing a simple approval process to control any scope changes. Taking time to analyze the impact and providing that information to appropriate team members will help determine if the change is feasible or required for the project.

Best practices for future projects

Baselining your projects provides a multitude of benefits for future projects. The team will become more accurate in their estimates, resource planning and scheduling will become second nature, and you will be able to reduce the amount of unnecessary changes. In the end, you’ll have better team collaboration, increased efficiency and improved chances of delivering your projects on time and within budget.

Being able to show improvements in project performance over time not only boosts your team’s confidence in their ability to deliver – it inspires confidence in your team’s ability to deliver real-time and cost-saving value to your company. Everyone wins!


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