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The Project Management Institute's annual events attract some of the most renowned and esteemed experts in the industry. In this blog, Global Conference, EMEA Congress and experienced event presenters past, present and future from the entire PMI event family share their knowledge on a wide range of issues important to project managers.

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Cameron McGaughy
Kristy Tan Neckowicz
Jack Duggal
Saurayan Chaki
Dan Furlong
Marcos Arias
Danielle Ritter
Marjorie Anderson
David Maynard
Sandra MacGillivray
Deepa Bhide
Karen Chovan
Nadia Vincent
Lawrence Cooper
Michelle Stronach
Kristin Jones
Yves Cavarec
Laura Samsó
Fabio Rigamonti
Sarah Mersereau
Gina Abudi
David Davis
Nic Jain
Emily Luijbregts
Cheryl Lee
Priya Patra
Karthik Ramamurthy

Past Contributers:

Catalin Dogaru
Carlos Javier Pampliega García

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Rethinking the Charter

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.

External/legal requirements

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.

Organizational RACI

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. 

Time Frame

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.



Please sign up for a 1:1 with me while at the PMI Global Conference! We can talk about PMOs, healthcare project management, teaching project management, or any other topic related to project management!

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Posted by David Davis on: October 21, 2017 06:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

I've Learned

Right after the Global Conference, I will be flying out to Vancouver to give presentations at ProjectWorld.  One of my presentations is on Influence and Advising as a Project Manager. This is my closing slide.

As a project manager, we are frequently in a position of advisor or influencer.  We need to understand our interactions have long term impact.  Not only for our self, but also our organization.  It's the feeling of value required in the trust relationship.  

The last bullet is most important, there may sometime be the "drop the mic" moment where you win a heated discussion - but the odds are good you will still need to work with that person - so give them an opportunity to save face.  That 15 seconds of satisfaction might be the prelude to months of resistance.  


Posted by David Davis on: October 05, 2017 12:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Who's coming to Chicago?

I can’t believe it’s been a year since I had the privilege of attending PMI Global Congress 2016 in San Diego as part of the Ask the Experts cadre. I once again have been afforded the privilege of attending, this time in Chicago from October 28-30, 2017!

The Ask the Experts sessions are designed for attendees like you to have access to your peers in the profession who may have been there, done that, but also more than likely have a few scars to show for it. The point to scars is that while they may hurt at the time of the injury, you tend not to forget their lessons, well most of them anyway.

In the lead up to this year’s event I thought I’d provide a little insight for attendees for who I am (besides the scars side of it), where I came from, where I’ve been, where I’m going, and what drives me. In so doing, I’m hoping that it will resonate with a few of you who will be attending, and that’ll cause you to want to come share a bit about yourself with me. And while doing that, feel free to off-load some of your challenges with me and I’ll see if I can offer some insights that you might find helpful.

So who is Larry anyway?

I was born on a dark and stormy night in the middle of the north Atlantic (closer to reality than you may believe as my house was less than 50 feet from the ocean) on March 5, 1958, in a very small town in Newfoundland, Canada.  I graduated with a B.Sc. in Computer Science in 1977. I started university at 16 and graduated at 19 – it wasn’t because I was that smart, it’s because we only went to grade 11 back then.  Another factoid – the year I started my B.Sc., 1974, was also the year the first graduating class in Computer Science were finishing their degrees at my university! When I turned fifty, my then 5-year old looked up and said (instead of Happy Birthday) “daddy, you’re old!”  So I just saved you the trouble – I’ve been told that already.

I did my entire B.Sc. on punched cards – the PC did not come along until a couple of years after I finished my degree. What’s interesting is that in my first job with the provincial government I did everything – requirements, analysis, design (such as it was), developing, testing and deployments. Sounds a lot like the self-organizing, cross-functional teams in Scrum, doesn’t it? (if one person can be a team, but you get the idea – you had to have multiple competencies).

Starting in the late 1980’s and 1990’s and into the 2000’s I watched the IT industry turn these competencies into roles, and eventually into entire org structures – honestly I never got that, so I mostly ignored It. I was lucky enough to be in small enough size places to get away with ignoring the trend.

Along the way I also picked up an M.A in Public Administration and 20+ industry certifications on project management, Agile and ITIL. That degree is when I had to learn how to write – I was a lousy English student. Then again, I was a lousy software developer too, so lucky for me I learned how to write. So I was clearly not a NASA scientist calibre fellow like David Maynard, another of our gang of experts. But I do have talents – we all do.

We all have those moments that we feel define us in some way. Mine was a little more than a moment – more like three years to be exact.

In the early 1990’s I worked as the Operations Manager for Ice Forecasting Services at Environment Canada in Ottawa as we faced an enormous challenge.

The gist of it is that we would be replacing aircraft that flew around the Arctic and “iceberg alley” off my childhood home of Newfoundland, taking radar images of the ice floes and bergs, with a satellite that would provide full imagery for all of Canada in a single day – 7.5 GB of new data/day in an era when our largest disc drive was 424mb. That was  a lotta data!

This meant a wire-up replacement – networks, all hardware (mini computes, the workstations, etc.), and all of our software. Oh, and we had roughly three years in which to do all of it.

Some things that were pretty obvious pretty quickly:

  • Doing things the way we’d always done was not going to work (e.g. taking twelve to eighteen months to build each application)
  • As our existing technology was no good, we had to figure out possible options, and quickly
  • As our tech was no good, and we couldn’t do what we’d always done, then we’d have to learn new skills and new ways of doing things

Necessity as they say is the mother of invention. We went to see the vendors for hardware and some of the software options that might fit. For example, we wanted four-foot wide screens to display the imagery. The response was, “you guys are about ten years too early” (we heard that a lot).

We decided to go object-oriented for any software we had to build – and none of us knew not an iota of how to code in it. We decided to assemble two small development teams that would remain intact with all the tools they needed. We set targets for having useful things delivered every three to four months. 

We decided to look at what capabilities were common across our applications and build those before we did any application development - we called them Global Services; This was 1992 and a good ten years before Service-Oriented Architecture was a thing. Eighteen months after we had made the decision, the Object Management Group came out with the CORBA Specification and called some of what we had done Common Facilities. Who knew? Once the services were built, we able to rebuild our applications at a rate one per team every 3-5 months.

And in the midst of all that, we also managed to implement automated event and incident management, as well as automated capacity management – also ten years or so before ITIL really became a thing on this side of the pond.  We had to – we only had three system administrators and over 30 servers and a dozen high-end workstations to manage that had limited capacity in a 24x7 operation.

It was the most influential three years in my professional career.

Near the end of the projects we had started, I was asked by Auerbach Publishers in NY to write a couple of chapters for the 1996 edition of their Manager’s Handbook of Local Area Networks (the book talked about almost everything but!) on the design approaches we had used (never did find out how they found me).  That was my introduction to writing beyond project documents.

I left the government after nearly eighteen years in 1995 and went over the private sector as a consultant which I have mostly done since (except for a two year stint as an employee at a telcom company 1999-2001)

My time at Ice had a tremendous influence on everything I did afterwards, especially in how I viewed the project and the software development worlds:

  • Establish the big picture early and then work backwards to figure out where to start
  • Never rely on the past too much to guide how you look at the future
  • Set small goals
  • Assemble small teams, equip them well, and provide whatever support they need to do well
  • Experiment and adjust quickly
  • Always deliver something of value in short increments

(My new friend David from the 2016 congress used a similar approach at NASA before we did it).

As a result of what I learned during that period, I ended up leading teams that applied the same design principles to business process as we did for software design, taking an outcomes-based approach to figure out what we needed to do based on where we wanted to go, creating an  incremental release strategy for what became the world’s largest web-enabled supply chain, and fell almost naturally into an agile way of working before the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was released in 2001 (truth be told, I never came across the Manifesto until 2009).

All of that led me to doing more writing as part of a book series I have labeled The Agility Series ( You can read more about the series here. The newest book I am working on is called Cultural Agility: Changing our Stories . In fact I’ll be meeting one of my contributing authors to this book for the first time during the conference. Can’t wait!

Besides writing, I am a strategic portfolio executive and trainer, with a decided emphasis on organizational adaptability and agility in all its forms. I am also involved with where we are trying to distill all of the industry frameworks, standards, and methodologies down to their essential WHATs. Why would we do that? Because so many of them overlap with one another and at times create as much confusion as they do clarity. And with all the talk about Agile it would be kind of nice to know which parts of what we already know still has value in helping us do things in a more agile way.

Why do I still work? Besides the obvious reason of having a 15-year old who won’t be leaving home for a while and then has university ahead, it’s because I genuinely like what I do. It’s fun. I have changed careers multiple times within the IT/PM profession over the years. Sometimes out of necessity. Sometimes for fun. I find the more I know, the more I realize how much I really don’t know. It’s fun learning new things and meeting new people and feeling like I am still making a difference.

The feeling of making a difference is a very human emotion. Everyone wants to make a difference and everyone does so in their own way. There also no one way to do that successfully.

If you’d like to talk strategic intent, adaptive strategy, back-casting over forecasting, outcomes over outputs, any of the agilities, or pretty much anything you think I may be able to help you with in making a difference in your world, here is my availability during the conference:

  • Saturday the 28th from 1:30 to 4:30
  • Sunday the 29th from 3:00 to 5:00
  • Monday the 30th from 9:00 to 12:00

Oh, and as much as you think we may be able to help you make a difference, I am guessing that by the end of the conference some of you will help us see things differently and change how we make a difference.

So, let’s meet up in Chicago and make a difference together!


Posted by Lawrence Cooper on: September 06, 2017 06:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

"If you think you can, you can. And if you think you can't, you're right."

- Mary Kay Ash



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