A Different Approach to Project Charters

What is a Project Charter?
A project charter is a document that is used to clarify the purpose and plan for a project. There are limitless variations of project charter templates available. All project charters include a statement of the problem to be solved, the goal of the project, the business case and the scope of the project (and may include a high-level process map). Charters may also include the customer(s), a high-level project plan and schedule, key stakeholders, estimated financial benefits, team members and their roles, assumptions and constraints.

Why Should My Team Create a Project Charter?

Well, for two really good reasons…
1. If done well, the content of the completed charter document is a valuable tool for communicating about the project to anyone new to the team, or anyone who suddenly finds themselves more than superficially interested in your project. Very often, senior leaders fall into this category

2. The real value of a project charter (IMHO) is found in the process of creating the document. If done conscientiously, the chartering process will drive the team to consult closely with the project champion and/or customers to ensure common understanding of the why, what, how, when and who of the project.

If you’re anything like the hundreds of people I’ve taught or coached through six sigma projects, you look at creating the project charter as a fill-in-the-blanks exercise that you can do by yourself in an hour so that you can quickly move on to the “real” work. Taking that approach my friend, would be a critical mistake.

Try thinking of your project charter this way.

Someone has the original idea for a project. I.e., they have gathered much information and synthesized many factors. They have an idea that makes perfect sense to them – so much sense that they champion the creation of a team, and support the allocation of resources to it. Somehow this project lands in your lap. It makes sense to you, at least the way you understand it. Now, what do you suppose the probability is that your understanding of the project and the originators idea of the project are the same? Based on my experience with many dozens of projects, I’d say that probability is very small.  That’s why we go throught the chartering process!

Many organizations will go through the trouble of creating a PowerPoint template that must be filled in – as if the purpose of the charter is to pitch! I recommend using a simple text document. It will be much easier to edit, email, paste into other formats, etc. should you need to.

I suggest using plain English headings/section titles that read in a logical fashion. Remember, you already know what this project is about. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who is reading this for the first time because they’ve got to come up-to-speed on your project in a hurry.

Suggested Headings:

Here’s what our project is about…
Here’s why it’s important to do…
Here’s what we want to achieve (The Vision)
Here’s what we expect of our team member
How will we accomplish this? (Objectives)
Who are the Customers for this project and what are their requirements?
Critical success factors
How will we measure success?
What is the current plan?

Try this approach to a Project Charter and see if you don’t find it easier to create as well as more useful for your project team.

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