At the beginning of each project, everyone brings their own list of requests, goals, and expectations. Through the early discussions about resource availability and time requirements, those factors are distilled down to what the project will actually deliver and when each phase will be completed. Expectations are set, the objectives are defined, and timelines are agreed upon. These data points are all then encapsulated in a project charter, which also outlines other factors such as milestone dates, assumptions, risks, constraints, and identifies the project’s team members and key sponsors.
A project charter doesn’t fall together by accident. It requires attention and a commitment to documenting the project’s aspects in one place and in an understandable way. They’re an important component in project success but they’re often overlooked or avoided. Worries about the need to save time and jump straight from planning to execution is one reason. Another is a lack of understanding about the value a charter brings to the organization—not just the project team, but also its stakeholders and collaborators.
If you aren’t yet making a project charter a priority on every project, or if you aren’t sure your charters are complete enough to provide real benefits, consider what this simple but powerful document can do for you.
A project charter…
…ensures everyone is on the same page. It’s inefficient for a project team to be constantly trying to bring the group back to center, or refocusing stakeholders and sponsors back to the next activities on the list. Team members aren’t executing their tasks if they’re instead trying to confirm who’s supposed to be doing what and when. Their time is also not well used when they must bounce around from one contact to another trying to find the right person to answer their questions or help them move a request forward for review or approval. A project charter pulls all of that information together into one place, where it can be easily referenced as issues or questions come up, as progress is compared against the plan, and as milestones are reached.
…provides everyone with the same vision of success. There’s nothing more frustrating—and wasteful—than getting to what you think is the end of a project, only to discover the team didn’t deliver what the organization truly needed. A charter prevents this from happening because it requires sponsors, the leadership group, and any other champions involved in the effort to define what a successful project execution looks like. It eliminates confusion and ambiguity about the end results and precisely puts on record the results that are desired. PMs can then use that guidance to ensure they’re monitoring the appropriate metrics and focusing resources in areas that are the highest priority. The charter will also help the team resolve potential problems without losing sight of the project’s defined objectives.
…clearly sets expectations around every facet of project execution. It’s not uncommon for some requests or directives to be given outside the normal project planning function. An executive may have a pet project they’d like to piggyback on the next effort, for example, and without any well-defined expectations they hope to get their way. Or the team might not believe the project plan is workable, but they know from past experience that their stakeholders’ expectations are fluid and there’s no need to spend time on developing anything more concrete. Both scenarios set the stage for trouble down the road. By laying everything out in the charter, the team won’t be faced with trying to find the resources to tackle add-on objectives later or attempting to execute a plan that unrealistic.