Jul 26, 2017

Expert Series 6: The Project Charter: Destination, Map and Key

Posted by Pam Toth | 0 Comments

Project Charters are contracts and should be treated as such.

Editor's Note: We continue our Expert Series with another column from Owens Corning project management guru Pam Toth. Her sponsor's-eye view of project chartering shares her personal experience with this key aspect of project sucess.

For me, leading a project without a charter is like driving in a new town without a map or maybe even without a destination.  The effort will move forward, maybe not in the direction you need it to and it will end up somewhere but it may not look at all like you thought it would be.

The process of chartering an initiative is the very first and most critical project management component and requires full collaboration between a project sponsor and project manager.  It is the foundation to setting up the project for success.  There is no better way, in my opinion, to ensure alignment with the project manager on expectations, vision, deliverables and the path to get there.  It is the first opportunity to build and set the tone of the sponsor-project manager relationship.  Project Charters are contracts and should be treated in the same regard as you would when hiring a contractor to get work accomplished in your home.  The more detail and specifics you can include, the lower the risk is of going down the wrong path and having to backtrack.  Clarity is key.  This is not a document to leave anything to the imagination. 

As I’ve gotten ol … uh, um, well ... more experienced, charters have become even more critical to me and my ability to drive results.  Plain and simple, my memory is horrible!  Seriously though, the more I put down in black and white during the planning phase with the project manager and other stakeholders, the less likely I have to use the words, “Remember when we said we did not want” or “I thought we decided X."  Many a long drawn out conversation has been reduced a quick reminder by referencing a document that was created and aligned by all parties.

When projects are large and complex enough to require one hundred percent of a project manager’s time it does seem a bit smoother in execution due to the complete focus.  Sponsor and steering teams are not so lucky to be able to completely focus their time on one project.  A charter brings a level of structure and efficiency to their work.  I am able to quickly engage and re-engage as the project needs ebb and flow.  It is exactly what a project sponsor and steering team needs.  The ability to quickly break down barriers and make timely decisions that allow the project to continue as planned.  I don’t want to spend time having to get up to speed and I suspect project managers would rather spend their efforts on driving progress.

Same holds true for project team resources.  Even those 100% dedicated resources can lose sight of the overall vision and outcomes as time goes on.  Project Charters serve as the guiding star.  It should be visible and understood by everyone on the project.  They can quickly get the team focused should a detour occur.  And we all know detours occur in every project.

Now that you have a charter and everyone is marching to the same beat, you’re good to go, right?  Well, not so fast.  Chances are good the charter will need to change as the team learns elements of the project or business conditions change.  The project manager is responsible to keep the charter up-to-date and communicated to everyone involved.  You will be doing a great service to outline the change process right alongside the building of the charter itself.  Having a plan and setting the right expectations again allows the work to be more efficient when the need arises.

As you come to the end of the project and you can see light at the end of the tunnel, no need for the charter, right?  I don’t think so. smile  Pull that map out one more time and align with the project manager, team, and other steering members on the disposition of each expectation.  There will be items easily categorized as complete.  Others may be in some agreed upon state that will require additional work and follow up.  A solid wrap up with clear details on semi-finished items with specifics on who will drive the work and who will ultimately be accountable is the best way to finalize the overall outcomes of the effort.  Chances are you, or someone else down the road, will reference that road map as a starting point for the next effort in that same space.

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