Creating a Winning Project Charter

A project's charter is its anchor. It provides returns exponentially greater than the time and effort spent creating it.

IT projects often start with a lot of expectation. People are waiting for great results. But when the project is completed and delivered, the audience does not get the desired results.

Why does the billing not match the results?

The project could be a success and still not meet expectations for a number of reasons. The most prominent among them is the lack of setting and communicating appropriate expectations.

In another article, we saw the role the “kick off” letter plays in setting expectations. In this article, we will discuss the role of the project charter in doing the same.

A project charter is the anchor for the project

A project’s charter documents its governance. It outlines the purpose, principles and policies under which the team has been organized and its obligations, rights and privileges.

A project’s charter is the document that guides the team throughout its lifecycle.

More importantly, by specifically listing the stakeholders’ expectations of the project it creates a contract between them and the team. This contract might not be on legal paper but for all intents and purposes it is as potent as any legal document.

7 key elements of a Project Charter

A project charter is a concise document. Its purpose is to guide, not provide detailed guidance. It is a statement of fact not a synthesis of thought leading up to them nor steps needed to implement them.

The following information about the project must be included. However, devoting more than a section or at the most a page to each is fundamentally defeating the purpose of the document:

  1. Objective: This section provides the business case or rationale for the project. It also specifically articulates the expected outcome. Project’s results must be measured against the objectives set in this section.
  2. Scope: What is covered? Perhaps, more importantly, what is not? This section clearly articulates the scope of the project. The team must resist any and all attempts to alter scope during the project. There are always good reasons to alter scope but those are usually also the fatal flaws that kill the project.
  3. Assumptions: As my second grade teacher used to say, when you assume, you make an “ass” of “u” and “me”. Well, as professionals, we are neither asses nor want to make one of our stakeholders. So, we should take this invaluable opportunity to list all assumptions. It might not be humanly possible to list them all but the key ones must be clearly articulated and documented.
  4. Team: The team composition, structure, roles and responsibilities must also be part of the project charter. This ensures clarity of roles and responsibility among the team members and others who interact with it. It also makes sure that key roles have been identified and filled with appropriately skilled talent.
  5. Governance: It is important to document the governance structure for the project. For example, listing the steering committee and its members is invaluable. However, what is equally important is to list the policies and principles guiding the team and assign specific responsibility for reporting issues and the stakeholder(s) responsible for addressing specific types of issues.
  6. Plan: This section includes both the approach and a Gantt chart of the key project phases or milestones and key deliverables at each. A detailed project plan can be attached if available. However, the top level Gantt chart does more in communicating the overall approach and direction of the project.
  7. Done Statement: Last but certainly not the least, a project charter must include a statement that outlines the desired outcome(s) of the project. These are different from objectives in that they provide specific, and measurable, parameters that help answer the question: “are we done yet?” In other words, these measurable outcomes must be met in order for the project to be considered a success. This done statement must be signed by each member of the team. It should also be signed by key stakeholders.

     

7 golden rules for Project Charters

A project charter is one of the most important documents the team creates:

  1. It must be documented
  2. It must specifically articulate key assumptions
  3. It must be developed collaboratively with the stakeholders
  4. It must be communicated to all stakeholders
  5. It must be completed before starting the project
  6. It must include a “done” statement signed by the team and key stakeholders.
  7. It must not change throughout the project’s lifecycle

Following these rules, the team can make this document and what it represents more effective.

A project charter is a “must have” on all major projects. Time and effort spent on it provide returns exponentially greater.

About the Author:

Sourabh Hajela is a management consultant and trainer with over 20 years of experience creating shareholder value for his Fortune 50 clients. His consulting practice is focused on IT strategy, alignment and ROI. For more information, please visit http://www.startsmarts.com/. Or feel free to contact Sourabh at Sourabh.Hajela@StartSmartS.com .


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Posted on 05/19/2009 by


Creating a Winning Project Charter author sourabhhajela

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