How Important is the Project Charter?

Mary Beth ImbarratoFri, 12/13/2019 - 08:59

In my view – it is the most important document for a project. Why? Because that one-page document contains all of the information that you need to lay a solid foundation for your project effort. The Project Charter contains the decisions made that define the project.

Those decisions will include:

  • The objective of the project
  • What is in scope and what is out-of-scope
  • The assumptions made regarding budgets, resources or technology
  • Any known risks
  • Milestone dates that may have been pre-determined

I also like to include the strategic goal, that the project will be supporting, in my Project Charter. That ensures that everyone who is working on the project has a clear understanding of how they, personally, are contributing the overarching strategy of the organization.

Using the Project Charter will help establish the framework needed to build a strong project.

A Project Charter can help a team:

  • Understand the overall project objective and how it contributes to the organizational strategy.
  • Determine what tasks will be required based on the scope.
  • Identify risks in advance and how to address those risks.
  • Determine the deliverable schedule based on the milestones.
  • Solidify their plans for the project, as defined.

Recently, at a public speaking engagement I gave an example of the benefits of using a Project Charter. I had received a call from a friend who advised me that her department was in the middle of a very complex project and it was not going well. She asked if I could come in, review the situation, and provide some guidance on getting the project back on track. I was interested in hearing about the project, so I accepted the task and met with her the next day. In preparation of that meeting I pulled together a number of questions relating to the project, the process and some of the common issues that we see with respect to derailed projects.

One of the first questions I asked was “Can I see the Project Charter?” She gave me a blank stare and indicated that she did not know what a Project Charter was. I explained that the Project Charter provides the high-level information required to help all of the stakeholders understand the objectives of the project effort. I included the fact that all of the foundational elements for the project are defined in that document. The Project Charter helps to provide stability to the project by:

  1. Defining and documenting the core elements of the project
  2. Having Project Sponsor buy-in and is then shared with the Project Team, stakeholders, vendors to ensure that there is clarity and transparency with the project activities.
  3. Ensuring that there is no room for interpretation on the objectives, scope, milestones or other elements defined in the Project Charter.

I advised my friend that the first task on my plate would be to complete a Project Charter. I would need to get some additional information from the Project Lead, the Project Sponsor and the Project Team. When speaking with the Project Lead, I found him juggling several projects at the same time without any mentorship or leadership support. Leading a project can be even more challenging if you have no support from the management team. I also found that the Project Sponsor was unfamiliar with their role and the Project Team was unclear as to the objective of the project and what problem they were trying to solve.

There were clearly several issues that needed to be addressed in order to get this project back on track and the Project Charter was a good place to start! When I was able to get the information I needed to complete the Project Charter, we sat down as a team to review the document and the decisions that were made. By completing this activity, it enabled team members to ask questions, discuss potential issues and make decisions based on their new understanding of the project.

They were unable to have these discussions previously because they did not have a good understanding of the project effort.

Start your projects with a Project Charter. Your team will appreciate it!