We often get asked about the distinction between re-baselining a project and creating a change order. I can see why there’s a bit of confusion there because in many respects they accomplish a similar outcome. However, they are fundamentally different processes that serve unique purposes.
First of all, let’s have a quick look at what a re-baseline is. Those of you familiar with P6 and MS Project will associate a re-baseline with a revision to the Schedule. For the purposes of this article, I’m referring to a re-baseline from the perspective of Scope and Budget rather than Schedule. Given that distinction, when you revise the baseline scope (re-baseline), you’re effectively adding project scope to the initial project baseline. The purpose of this is to further complete project scope that was not defined at the time the initial baseline was created. This is especially useful for larger projects that are broken up into phases. By using the revise baseline feature, you can fully define and baseline the scope of phase 1, and then add phase 2 to the baseline later, once it’s been defined.
Let’s say for example, that your project is broken into three phases: Engineering, Construction, Commissioning. In the initial planning stages, you may be able to fully scope out the Engineering phase and begin working on that without having full definition of the later two phases. You therefore create a baseline and budget for the Engineering phase; and begin that work. Some months later, you are able to scope out the planning for the Construction phase, so you add that to the project. Clearly the construction phase should be considered part of the initial project scope, so it’s added by use of a re-baseline – in other words, a Baseline Revision.
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To contrast this example to the use of a Change Order, the Construction and Commissioning phases aren’t changes to the project’s initial scope: they’re further definition to that initial scope. A change order on the other hand, should be used when a modification to the initial scope is approved. For example, let’s say that during the construction phase, civil excavation has uncovered hazardous materials that need to be disposed of. This introduces unanticipated scope and cost to the project and necessitates a change order to capture that change. This is not a baseline revision, it’s truly a change to the project’s initial scope and baseline.
Have a look at the screenshot below to see the difference between a budget revision and a change order in action.