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The Baseline/Target/Actual Comparison

You have certainly heard of the Target/Actual comparison. In the project environment, many
people talk about the Target/Actual comparison when they probably mean the
Baseline/Actual comparison.
A project baseline is defined when the original plan (original scope, cost and schedule) of
the project is frozen, whereas the project schedule is a living document. The baseline is used
to measure how performance deviates from the plan. The projects baseline must be
completely defined and documented before project execution and control activities can
Is Target the same as Baseline? In a business sense, one speaks of Target Cost when it comes
to the costs that should be incurred at the achieved level of performance according to plan. In
engineering, the Target Value is a predetermined value, which should be achieved by a
dynamic value the actual value. Now what exactly is the meaning of Target Value in the
project environment?
In project control, one tries to go one step further with the Baseline/Target/Actual
comparison than with the usual Baseline/Actual-comparison. Here, the project progress is
measured and analyzed not only qualitatively but also quantitatively. The analysis of the
differences and the calculation of the Residual Values then provide the basis for predicting
the final cost of the project.
Figure 1 shows what exactly is meant by the Baseline/Target/Actual comparison. Here, the
Baseline/Target/Actual values have the following meanings:
The Baseline Values correspond to the values of the frozen base planning. They apply to the
whole project duration; this implies left and right of the reporting date (time now). The
Baseline Values are only changed at an exceptional case", e.g., if the project scope changes.
The Actual Values correspond to the Actual Costs, which were entered in the accounting
system. The Actual Values can only be obtained for the past. Therefore, they are left of Time
The Residual Values are not shown in Figure 1. They correspond to the Remaining Cost of
the still unfinished work, until the work package or project is finished. The Remaining Costs
Figure 1: The BASELINE/TARGET/ACTUAL comparison of projects
Time now
Past Future
are estimated by the project manager or the work package manager according to the
remaining work.
The Target Values correspond to the sum of the Actual Costs and the Residual Values. The
Target Values are predictions. Therefore, they are right of Time now, meaning in the
future. They define the current planning.
From this description you will see that on the left of Time now only the comparison of the
Baseline and Actual Values is possible. In the future, which is on the right side of Time
now, only Baseline and Target Values can be compared with each other. Only on Time
now, can Baseline, Actual and Target Values be compared. This corresponds to the "real"
Baseline/Actual/Target comparison in the commercial sense. Following, you will find a
simple example of a Baseline/Actual/Target calculation.

Phase Planned
Conceptual Design 200 220 0 220
Program Specification 300 330 0 330
Coding 600 400 220 620
Documentation 100 20 70 90
User Manual
400 0 400 400
Debugging 500 0 500 500
Sum 2100 970 1190 2160

Figure 2: Example of a Baseline/Actual/Target calculation at a software project

At this point, you might ask: What else do we need? This way, we know exactly the Actual
status of the project and what is still ahead of us. I admit: Using the Baseline/Actual/Target
comparison, you can obviously make better predictions, as you determine the Residual
Values and obtain the Target costs. But even the Baseline/Actual/Target comparison does
not provide you with enough reliable data. What you lack is the current physical completed
work, i.e., the physical degree of completion and the resulting calculated completion value,
which corresponds to the Earned Value.
The Residual Values are mostly based on subjective estimates and are often too optimistic,
in other words too low. To obtain better conclusions about the project status, you can use the
Earned Value and the performance figures of Earned Value Management. With these, you
get more reliable conclusions about the current project status and more reliable predictions.