Rethinking the Charter
Calculating Project Value,
Education and Training,
Nontraditional Project Management,
PM Think About It,
Reflections on the PM Life,
Categories: Agile, Benefits Realization, Calculating Project Value, Change Management, Communication, Complexity, Documentation, Education and Training, Facilitation, Human Resources, Innovation, Leadership, Lessons Learned, Metrics, Nontraditional Project Management, PM Think About It, PMOs, Portfolio Management, Program Management, Project Delivery, Project Failure, Project Planning, Project Requirements, Reflections on the PM Life, Risk Management, Roundtable, Scheduling, Stakeholder, Strategy, Tools, Translations
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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I have been contacted by a colleague who has a friend that is pursuing the SP-PMI certification. Is there anybody out there that has the cert that is willing to answer questions for a perspective candidate. If so, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I would also ask that you put a brief summary of the test content on here, so I can talk a little more intelligently on the topic. I can talk constraint, critical path, slack, lag, float and other rudimentary terminology, but I cannot get into the level of detail that I would expect to be needed to obtain the credential.
I do know one of the biggest challenges in my group is optimizing multiple schedules across projects. Things such as analyzing change across projects, determining impact to benefits realization when schedule slips, and models are opportunities for my education.
This post is unabashedly about adaptability and agility.
We all want to make a difference. We also want the things we work on and create through our work to make a difference. In order for the things we create to make a difference to our business clients, they have to reflect the knowledge and insights of what is needed we gain as we work on creating products. This recognizes that we can't know everything up front.
One of the challenges with traditional approaches is how to address change to reflect the new knowledge and insights that the business acquires along the way. We know how it works - create a change request, fill in all the necessary sections to talk about what the change means to cost, schedule, scope. risks, who needs to approve, etc. It gets even more complicated and onerous, and expensive when we are dealing with vendors. It often makes you wonder if it's even worth the effort as most changes get rejected due to their cost or schedule implications anyway. Near the end of the project the change requests are often focused on removing things from the project to stay within budgets, timelines, or both.
In my experience, some the things that get dropped under such conditions can have significant value, while some of the things that were done early on actually had far less value, as the delivery approach is not based on an incremental highest value first model.
However, when agile approaches are practiced correctly, change can be free. No really. They can be free.
How can I possibly say that?
Let's use Scrum as the premise. When teams use Scrum they do the highest value things first. The backlog has everything they know so far about what they intend to build into the product. It is a statement of intent though - it is not cast in stone. It can be changed for the next and future Sprints based on new information, changes in team and business understanding of what is possible with the product, as well as priority changes of what is highest value by the business and the Product Owner.
The Product Owner is the one that talks to the business about what the product mus do, how long it will take to build it (the number of Sprints) and the cost. It is not uncommon to fix the number of Sprints and hence the costs at the outset. A good reason for doing this is so that everyone develops a laser-focus on what is truly of highest value first. The premise for this post is this was done.
The Sprint demo is where the business gets to see what was done so far in the latest increment of the product. They also get to reflect on the choices so far about what is in the product. Their reflection is also about what to do next.
The team has a cadence to which it develops and delivers. If you can agree on the number of total points that the product will contain based on the agreed number of Sprints, then any changes you need to make along the way, as long you drop items with the same number of points as the ones you are adding, then the actual cost of a change is free.
This is one of the ways to look at what is so paradoxically different about the thinking in agile versus traditional approaches. It forces you to really think about what matters most and to truly get the idea of being adaptable to what emerges. If something emerges that has a higher business value than what you had previously identified then it must take precedence.
Remember it's about what is valued most, not everything that may have value. What is valued most is based on what we currently know, which can be quite different than what we knew a month or two ago.
So whether it is an internal Scrum team, or one that as put in place through a procurement process, if you're really willing to focus on what has the highest value and willing to drop items that are of lesser value, then you should be able to make changes for free!
Jeff Sutherland, co-author of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development and the Scrum Guide first suggested the idea of change for free in a class in the Netherlands in 2006.
What do you think - can we do a better job of facilitating others to make a difference today so that our organizations benefit now and continue to do so in the long run?
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