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Since I retired after 26 years in one company, I have had assignments in various PMOs in different industries. I’ve been in the energy sector, the insurance sector, credit card services, industrial/manufacturing, and now healthcare. Every industry has struggled with the project charter. What does baselining it mean? Does it ever get updated? Who should issue it? And the list goes on. And while PMOs in all these industries try to invent the perfect process – we are ignoring one important aspect.
The project charter, as defined by PMI, does not meet the needs of today’s business!
Before you call me a heretic and an incompetent – hear me out. The problem I have with the charter is it becomes a reformatting of existing information, bloated, and redundant – and it doesn’t provide the project team with the most important information it needs. Shouldn’t the charter give the team a definition of what success looks like?
I propose the charter should be extremely streamlined. After all, how many people, let along executives, will read a 14 page charter? Many charter templates contain information that is already in one artifact and will no doubt be included in another. I propose we throw away the bloated all-inclusive charter of today and replace it with a simple charter.
Project Organizational Wrapper
You need to have the organizational wrapper of project control structures. If the project pipeline has a defined Demand Process and there is a demand id, it should be in the charter. This should also be aligned to the business case information – what went into the approval, and other justifications. No need to repeat them in the charter – they already exist in a corporate database of record. If information is in two places – that doubles the risk of inconsistency, confusion, and delay.
If you have an integrated project management system (IPMS) that tracks project work in process – then that project id should be there. Projects assume titles and identify from the ideation phase through project initiation. That title, or name, should be included in the charter because that’s the lingo that has defined the initiative.
Should be results focused
Once the project is ready to kick off, the work initiative needs to be focused on the results. If your organization is mature enough to be doing Benefits Management Realization, the charter should map directly to the benefit register. The next section of the charter should be:
What does success look like?
Quite simply – what is the vision in reality? Knowing what success is far outweighs the value of several scope bullet points. The definition of success can be expressed in several ways including:
Critical success factors
The essential areas of activity that must be performed well if you are to achieve the mission, objectives or goals for your business or project.
What can we do in the future that we can’t do now?
How do we measure success?
Not calling for specific key performance indicators here, but should have an idea of how we will measure success. It also provides requirements for the product and what are the critical success factors.
If you are driven by a legal requirement or an industry standard (HIPPA or an ISO requirement comes to mind) than that should be identified. The charter must identify conformation to external factors.
What benefits are being realized?
Again, if you have a mature benefits realization process, then the entire benefits quantification/qualification should be in place and your project is delivering outcomes and capabilities to realize the defined benefits.
The charter must be able to identify all the organizations that are impacted by the initiative. After all, how did you get high level estimates for the business case if you didn’t have a means of identifying organizations involved? This RACI should then be driven to know which groups need to receive and approve the charter.
What time frame is expected for the organization to start to realize benefits? Let’s avoid the charade of bottom up estimates and defining the schedule after you have all requirements defined etc. We are driven by budget cycles and funding is only approved to last so long. This isn’t to say those things can’t and shouldn’t happen, but at a Charter level – the approval has a defined end time. This also helps define the scope.
I have purposely omitted several pieces of what is considered part of a charter. Not that I don’t think they are important, I do, but they belong in defined sections of the project plan. There is no need for budget as that should already be in the business case approval – and I don’t know if it directly contributes to the definition of the outcomes and capabilities. Scope is implied in what success looks like and the Critical Success Factors. If during requirements definition, a question is raised that doesn’t directly support the definition of success, than it is out of scope. Assumptions, risks, issues, and constraints are all important, but they live elsewhere. The charter should identify the future state, not dwell on the challenges of the present state. And the charter should be a onetime document that is not modified or have addendums. It initiates the work – other artifacts ebb and flow during the project life cycle.
In closing – the purpose of the charter is to authorize the project manager to start delivering on the project. It is not to cut and paste from all over to make an all-inclusive summary of all business intelligence that justified the project. I propose to make it a lean document focused on the outcomes and capabilities and the definition of success. Items that have a workflow/life cycle (risks, assumptions, issues, etc.) do not need to be in a charter, they are taken care of elsewhere. A lean, concise, and easy to read charter allows the team to focus on delivering within the success criteria.
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