The Dynamic Baseline Model / WIN-PM

Mark Seely

Mark Seely

Quang Duong

Quang Duong

The Dynamic Baseline Model (DBM) identifies five levels of complexity as the basis for solution optimization and performance anticipation.

The DBM has been the subject of lectures across Canada over the past decade. An article, “The Dynamic Baseline Model for Project Management” was published in the Project Management Institute Journal. The University of Ottawa added the DBM to the curriculum of its MBA program. The DBM has been adopted by the Treasury Board of Canada as the basis for its Policy on the Management of Projects2, applicable to government projects across the board. Subsequently, Canada’s central procurement authority for acquisitions, the department of Public Services and Procurement Canada has adopted the DBM as the basis for procurement streamlining and authority delegation.

Paper: PMI Journal, Seely and Duong,

Guest Article – Max’s Project Management Wisdom

The Dynamic Baseline Model Presentation


The Dynamic Baseline Model (herein after DBM) is a project management taxonomy for complexity classification. It results in:

  • informed project investment,
  • effective staffing and improved morale,
  • realistic contracting,
  • accurate performance assessment,
  • pragmatic value expectation and redirect.

This paper provides the material for the lecture series “The Dynamic Baseline Model –for Project Management” provided to MBA students at the University of Ottawa over the past decade. Many thanks to my co-author, Quang Duong, and to Professor John Rakos for bringing me into his classes over the years.



The DBM characterizes projects to five levels of complexity based on expanding horizons of project intervention. The five levels are defined by the following “break points”:

  • routine production vs. custom projects
  • custom projects to mature standard vs. evolutionary (learning) prospects
  • evolutionary prospects that are closed system (largely controlled by the PM) vs. open system governance
  • open system governance that is largely confined by the organization vs. networks that expand to public discretion.

Whereas Project Management is often considered as a one-size-fits-all solution, the DBM asserts that i) the five levels are naturally aligned, ii) the project proposition confronts this hierarchy at different levels of “disturbance” depending on the nature of the intent, iii) the project performance characteristic and optimal response will be determined by the lowest baseline in the hierarchy that is static – the only true reference for management of the initiative.

The term “Dynamic Baseline Model” refers to the level in organization decision hierarchy that is evolutionary for the intended prospect. The DBM hierarchy is:

  • Level 1: a “Rules-based” production environment,
  • Level 2: a “Methods-based” operations environment,
  • Level 3: an “Objectives-based” strategy environment,
  • Level 4: a “Principles-based” corporate vision, and
  • Level 5: a “Values-based” public orientation.

The DBM taxonomy is summarized in the table below with performance expectations that diminish as one move up through the hierarchy.

Level Institution Complexity System Culture Performance Expectation Static Baseline
5 Values Custom Dynamic Open – external Public Worse than 4 Public Policy Position
4 Principles Custom Dynamic Open – internal Corporate 0% Business Case
3 Objectives Custom Dynamic Closed – Program Corporate Low Statement of Operational Requirement
2 Methods Custom Detailed Closed – Project Corporate 85% Functional Specificaton
1 Rules Standard Detailed Closed – Process Corporate 105% Product Configuration

The DBM dispenses with the familiar commodity stereo types - “military procurement”, “Information Technology procurement”, “real property procurement”, and provides a lens to categorize a proposition based on the specifics of the situation at hand. In other words, within each of foregoing stereo types one can encounter various levels of complexity and it is the complexity that determines the project characteristics, not the commodity per se.

DBM in the historical context

The advent of rail transit, highways and power grids early in the past century enable factory mass production. Management science focused on techniques for efficient replication of consumer products in this mechanization archetype.

With the depression of the 1930’s and the consequential mass infrastructure spending of federal governments internationally, the industrial era spawned research into effective Project Management practice – enabling efficiency in infrastructure constructions.

With the invention of the transistor and the shortly thereafter, the integrated circuit, management science made room for further expansion of study to provide for systems engineering projects.

Shortly thereafter, in the mid 1960’s the ground work was established for the inception of the Project Management Institute – bringing to society a standard convention for managing new initiatives.

Meanwhile the cold war heightened demand for systems engineering laden development projects as friend and foe in the international brinksmanship pushed the envelope of the art-of-the-possible in a bid for supremacy.

With the advent of the desk top PC, the 1990’s ushered in another significant change in the management landscape as project management practice was applied to enterprise solutions, distributed networks, Information Management, Information Technology projects and Business Process Reengineering.

Today we are experiencing the unfolding new world order wherein societies are joining the melting pot of cultural fusion and the project management practice is once again part of this formulation for success.

Two noteworthy conclusions from our history in this regard are: management practice has continued to expand to address more diverse and complex project determinacy through time, and; the policy frameworks that we become familiar are generally targeting an archetype that is out of pace with the new reality.

The five levels
Level 1: The Rules-based Archetype

The first level of the DBM resides within the lowest level of the management hierarchy. This is the “production” environment in which regulatory frameworks – rules, policies, procedures, templates, and automation are the appropriate focus for management excellence.

Henry Ford provided a case in point with his innovations that led to the mass production of the motor car. The statement, “you can have any colour you want, as long as it is black” signified that, in order to improve yield and achieve success, the requirement baseline was locked to a standard and proven product configuration. Consumers were then forced to adopt what he produced and not the other way around.

Familiar tools of the trade at level 1 are material requirements planning, economic order quantity, production control systems, queuing theory, line balancing etc. Coupled with effective automation strategies, stakeholders reasonably expect that the objective initiated in a current year should augment in coming years, following a learning curve of improvement. With this, the Level 1 performance target is greater than 100% (relative to the base year).

Level 2: The Methods-based Archetype

This second level represents a higher level or “horizon” in the management hierarchy. Here standard rules of corporate conduct need be adjusted to enable the non-standard measures associated with one-off project innovation – there are no established rules on how to build a dam.

The Hoover Dam, constructed within only a few years in the 1930’s, entailed careful application of custom methods, in accordance with the practice eventually captured and normalized by the Project Management Institute in its Project Management Body of Knowledge. The methodology programmed resources into a common effort to divert a river, establish labour camps, pour the immense concrete structure etc. Their success remains today a marvel of engineering.

The essence of the archetype is a disciplined organizing sequential framework, starting with a clear articulation of the objective for the project, conveyance of that undertaking to the assigned Project Manager through a Project Charter, establishing a Work Break Down Structure that “unpacks” the objective into sub work elements – in essence, “eating the elephant a bite at a time”.

Carried out appropriately, projects at Level 2 are anticipated to substantially achieve their initial objectives. Slight degradation in performance is to be expected as risk planning and control procedures undertake remedial actions to keep the work on track.

Level 3: The Objectives-based Archetype

The challenge inherent in Level 3 delivery is the following dichotomy – projecting practice into the future for something that has not only never been done, but, for which there is no current proven approach. Hence, development entails trial and error learning between project approval and project delivery.

The Apollo Program of the 1960’s is a case in point. President Kennedy launched the initiative publicly by saying “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win” (ref. J.F. Kennedy).

he tool of choice here is evolutionary prototyping. Investigate issues, model sub elements as appropriate to prove concept (or not), while monitoring the cash flow to establish an Estimate At Complete. With this, real-time decisions can be taken that either reaffirm the investment, change the product or cancel the initiative.

As Kennedy had foreshadowed, there is no Level 1 rule book for this, one can’t simply frame the requirement in the Level 2 convenient pack of methods as the fundamentals on whether this is achievable, and how it would be achieved have yet to be learned. Rather success turns on the project team lending themselves to the limits of science to investigate how to succeed and whether, while in progress, the ambition remains supported.

With this investment in mind, it is important to consider that the ability to affect corrective courses of action diminish exponentially as work proceeds. Once resources are expended in “baking the cake” it quickly becomes challenging to change the recipe.

Management Vs. Governance

Proceeding beyond four, the main consideration here in projecting forward is the transition from Management Control to Governance Influence. At level four, the quest is open system determinate. Here, not only is the product side viability yet to be established, the objective for the project will only be determined in the future as the project leader enters the realm of the corporate network.

To note, though the term “governance” is not new to the project lexicon, quite often it is used in the sense of “senior level management”. It is important to reflect upon the distinction between these terms and their proper intent.

Level 4: The Principles-based Archetype

“Principles” here is intended to mean “enterprise principles” – the cultural underpinning of the organization that is to achieve the corporate mission and vision. Without a fixed objective as a fixed reference, the only common denominator between project practitioners and the broader end-user base they are impacting is the enterprise principles. To note, it is the end-user that will decide the success criteria for the project at some future time.

Ultimately, we are all in it together for the overall greater good of the enterprise.

A common fallacy in Level 4 implementations is the notion of establishing a closed system work Break down structure on what is in reality an open system problem. At Level 4, any sense of control is approached through balancing dynamics to the enterprise at large with dynamics in the project baseline. Establishing this balance requires effective governance (i.e. not management). The Work Break Down structure, to the extent to which it will sit still long enough to grab a picture, would be in the form of an hour-glass, not the familiar triangle.

With its external determinacy, the Level 4 performance features a forward looking dynamic objective that expands through time as the end users’ needs evolve coupled with a rear word looking imbedded Level 3 product development that is finding its way. It’s a bit like firing a gun then finding a target – ready, fire, aim!

Level 5: The Values-based Archetype

Here “Values” refers to a notional common set of societal values. At Level 5 the project baseline evolves with the pulse of societal desires – spurning evolutions within evolutions.

Today’s solution tailoring

Effective solution tailoring respects problem solution-matching as indicated with the following”

Example Aligns With Approach
Purchase of commercially available product Rules-based Project Management
Pre-facilitated Supply Arrangement
Commodity Management
Material Requirement Planning
Construction of a building to fixed and proven engineering baseline Methods-based Project Management
PMBoK generic procedure
Invitation to Tender
Firm Price Contract
Liquidated Damages
Development of new State-of-the Art military requirements Objectives based Project Management
Evolutionary Prototyping
Systems Engineering Methodology
Request for Proposal
Award Fee / Incentive fee
Enterprise reengineering to adopt a common service protocol Principle based Program Governance
Relational Contracting
Public policy change to Values based Public Governance


I think the line from Ghost Busters sums it up best:

Egon Spengler: Don't cross the streams.
Peter Venkman: Why?
Egon Spengler: It would be bad.
Peter Venkman: I'm fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, "bad"?
Egon Spengler: Try to image all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.
Raymond Stantz: Total protonic reversal.
Peter Venkman: Right. That's bad. Okay. Alright, important safety tip. Thanks Egon.

Sub-optimization comes in two flavours – Under Targeting and Over Targeting.

Under Targeting

Under targeting is the common problem for complex initiatives – rendering the solution response simpler than determinacies will permit.

“Things should be rendered as simply as possible - but not simpler than possible”
- A. Einstein

The allure of a simpler-than-possible solution is a major concern in complex project environments where:

  • stakeholders are under pressure to communicate attractive expectations in the short term,
  • project practitioners are heavily vested the simpler tactical products,
  • parties engaged lack the experience to discern the nature of what they are undertaking,
  • investors cannot causally link actions to investment outcomes.
“For every complex question there is a simple answer . . . and its wrong”
- H. L. Mencken

In an under targeted mismatch, the leadership is essentially relinquishing control of the critical considerations material to a successful outcome.

Over Targeting

Over targeting is also a problem where initiatives that lend themselves to more basic and precise implementations are unwittingly subjected to broad open governance oversight. A typical example would be an organization that has learned the lesson to correct undertargeting that then applies is this as a panacea. Here the mismatch is more of a sub-optimization of the response – the world as we know it will not come to an end.

Using the dynamic baseline model

There are a variety of uses for the DBM in complex environments.

STEP 1: Informed project investment

Project Orientation At the project concept phase, the DBM provides a diagnostic to attach a complexity level to each of the optional project implementation options. Here, it is recommended that stakeholders for projects categorized as DBM levels 3 through 5 be provided options and implications of alternative lower levels of implementation.

STEP 2: Effective staffing and improved morale

At the project recruitment phase, the DBM provides a basis for ensuring management comportment and experience appropriately align with the complexity at hand. Performance expectations are established based on a pragmatic insight and the challenge this poses for project practitioners is better understood.

STEP 3: Realistic contracting

At the contracting phase, the DBM provides a basis for establishing a contract approach optimally suited to the selected proposition – rules based contracts for level 1, methods bases contracts for level 2 etc. For the higher DBM level prospects, consideration can be given to outsourcing approaches, synergistic partnering, relational contracting and the like.

STEP 4: Accurate performance assessment

During implementation, the DBM provides visibility into any delta between the project precepts (e.g. project charter, contracted provisions etc.) and unfolding realities enabling proactive realignment considerations.

STEP 5: Pragmatic value expectation and redirect

Where a project has failed, the DBM provides a rationality for pragmatic repair and redirect.

Project transitioning

From the outset, most initiatives start in a state of fairly open mindscaping. At the completion, most initiatives have an establish product configuration. Hence, complex projects (those that survive) transition from high levels to the lower levels through time. This transitioning is the epitome of the Systems Engineering Methodology sequence that tracks the migration of open business case brainstorming through to a Statement of Operation Requirement level baseline through to a Functional Baseline, and finally, to an as built spec.

Similarly, the DBM provides the facility to monitor the project trajectory – not against it original objective per se, but rather measuring the extent of alignment with the with the external determinacies – assessing whether the initiative is coming into sharper focus or diverging from it.

Knowing where the project is in this “inertial frame” and deciding when to lock to a lower level baseline will often make the difference between a project that exhausts expenditures and falters and one that remains on track to an adjusting outcome.


Projects are not all the same. It is the project complexity that is key to solution tailoring.

With the DBM, project management as a discipline can be reasonably reduced to simplest form using the five levels – a five speed model. Projects should not be reduced to a simpler form. Where accuracy is key - where requirements, investments and/or enterprise reputation are at stake, the DBM will provide the optimal response.

Appendix 1: Learning

The DBM can be used to depict the evolution in thinking that project practitioners acquire as they gain experience with complex projects.

We all start our formative years in the education system with a Rules Intuitive (Ri) approach to learning. We are tested on “rights” and “wrongs” accordingly.

Through expanded learning, the methods intuitive (Mi) approach to learning opens our horizons to deal with unplanned realities we may confront with the appropriate tactical response.

Objective Intuitive (Oi) is the next level of learning where we gain the capacity to think strategically – positioning our agenda within the realm of competitors in our network – a key dimension of “effective leadership”.

Principles Intuitive (Pi) enables us to think beyond strategy to deal effectively with the diversity of cultural belief systems and highly evolutionary patterns of behaviour.

Values Intuitive (Vi) enables us to the think beyond institutionalized protocols to facilitate societal cultural diversity.

The DBM suggests that these five steps in project learning exist as discrete horizons or protocols of conduct. Practitioners remain within their learned protocol and protect their perspective from competing perspectives unless and until a significant learning event (think crisis) forces consideration of a greater outlook.

The DBM also suggests that practitioners at a particular level gain perspective on realities that are only one level beyond their station.

This would suggest that, in a situation where one asks various project practitioners for the right answer to project solution, one should expect at least five different answers – only one of which is right.

Appendix 2: Career Path

The DBM focuses on alignment of skills with Level of complexity.

For example, using the Myers Briggs framework, the personality types described in the tool align with the needs at each level as follows:

At Level 1: iSTj (introverted / Sensing / Thinking Judgemental), may favour the “regulatory attributes of a Rules-based supervisor.

At Level 2: iSTp (introverted / Sensing / Thinking / Perceptive), may favour the “organizer” attributes of a Methods-based manager.

At Level 3: eNTj (Extroverted /iNtuitive / Thinking / Judgemental), may favour the “Field Marshal” attributes of an Objectives-based leader.

At Level 4: eNFp (Extroverted / iNtuitive / Feeling/ Perceptive) may favour the “champion” attributes of a Principles-based facilitator.

Of course, type casting individuals is a sensitive business. This results here may not be proven, but it certainly is fascinating to watch!

If, as the DBM suggests, there is a natural linkage between individuals personality types and their affinity for particular levels of management, providing advice on individual and enterprise career planning should take these natural inclinations into account.

As is often the case, career planning ear-marks promotions from Level 1 program achievers to progress to Level 2 custom training, and one ear-marks promotions from Level 2 program achievers to progress to Level 3 to become your strategic leadership and so forth. Such a system defeats the possibility that natural inclinations play a major role. If, through the sequence, the top achievers in closed systems thinking have a natural affinity there and thereby an aversion to open system thinking, you will have promoted the closed minded to the open systems management, while the open thinkers lose interest and “get clogged” in the level 1 filter – a self-defeating approach.

Appendix 3: Mini Case Studies
Case 1

Case 2

Case 3

Case 4

Case 5

Case 6

Case 7