A project charter is a resource to ensure your entire organization has a clear understanding of the scope, objectives, and list of participants contributing to a project. Project charters also clearly define what’s to be done and authorizes the program manager to proceed and assign organizational resources.
The charter should initiate the process of defining the roles and responsibilities of the participants and outline the objectives and goals of the project. Often, we create project charters as “check the box” type activities or administrative hoops to jump through for approval, which are then filed away in a discreet location only to be seen by select individuals.
Explaining Project Charters
One metaphor to help explain project charters is the one about the three bricklayers. A traveler came upon three men working. He asked the first man what he was doing, and the man said he was laying bricks. The traveler asked the second man the same question, and he said he was building a wall. When the traveler got to the third man and asked him what he was doing, he said, enthusiastically, he was building a cathedral.
The point being that the three bricklayers were working on the same task, but only one had knowledge of the final deliverable, a cathedral. The third bricklayer’s insight into the big picture made his job function a calling, as opposed to simply a job.
Your project management charter should be thought of the way the North Star was for navigation, or in the scenario above, a construction plan for bricklayers – a fixed point or plan to always have for reference. The charter should also identify the main project sponsors or champions and, as stated above, define the role of the project manager.
Benefits of Project Charters
The benefits of using a project charter include:
- Clearly defined stakeholders
- Defined communication channels
- Outlined roles and responsibilities
- Defined scope to prevent “scope creep”
- Improved project management processes in later phases
- “Buy in” from team members
3 Tips for Building a Project Charter That Improves Team Success
1. Write a Vision
The idea of visioning came out of Ron Lippitt studies in the late 1950’s and early 60’s, which he originally called “Positive Futuring” or “Preferred Futuring”. The belief was instead of focusing on what’s wrong (creating negative energy), focus on the successful outcomes (positive energy).
Your vision should serve as a picture of what success looks like at a particular point in time in the future. The vision should have enough richly engaging, emotionally meaningful detail that you and your team will know whether they’ve arrived. I think it’s also important to remember that a vision is different than a mission statement in that a mission statement focuses on the present status and answers what, how, and why the a given organization operates in a certain manner; whereas the organization’s vision is its future state.
Below is an example of an impactful vision from the Thursday Ann Arbor Westside Farmer’s Market (WSFM) written in 2005:
It’s the longest day of the year; the sun is at its pinnacle of warmth and light. Throngs of people are milling around the Roadhouse parking lot on this Thursday afternoon, amazed and excited at the abundance of locally produced goods and services ranging from several gorgeous varieties of tomatoes to hand made soap and artisan crafts, to herbs and plants. Every vendor is selling the best of what there is to offer, growing or producing themselves what they sell. There’s a tangible truth patrons have come to trust – that all these products have a story and none of them traveled very far to get here. Tents and awnings cover the stalls, creating a colorful and festive mood. There are 15-20 vendors at the Market, so it’s accessible and maintains variety, but remains magnetic and welcoming.
The WSFM continues to provide our customers with the best products available and serves as a catalyst for community development by offering an educational component and a local music scene. We have space reserved for weekly scheduled acts, including local musicians, demonstrations and educational activities. The market is a family event, where parents bring their children after school and meet to shop for fresh produce. After shopping, families enjoy a snack from the Roadshow at our picnic tables. Guests are thrilled with the produce, the chance to visit with neighbors, and best of all, connect with the farmers who actually grow their food.
The WSFM planning committee operates under an inspiring mission statement and is taking steps toward making the WSFM a fiscally independent operation. Our market manager is working to ensure organization and success, from honing job descriptions to developing and proposing paid WSFM positions. We have a great group of vendors working together who are already excited to build on these successes for next year. Visions and action steps are laid out for the coming years at our annual WSFM debrief.
2. Involve Important Parties
Use the project charter to engage and involve your sponsor(s), primary stakeholders, or “ACES” – Advisory Content Experts. Identify parties comprehensively within the charter and involve them in its creation. Including your sponsors, stakeholders, and ACES will give them a feeling of ownership over the project and motivate them to become and remain involved throughout the life of the project. This involvement will also help you to identify potential concerns early on, and to provide additional insight as to how to successfully address them, thus eliminating potential financial or time-related setbacks.
3. Measurable & Verifiable Goals
The project charter can provide a common understanding of how your team should operate its business and how to measure success. It can be used as a discussion guide should issues surface as your team accomplishes its goals.
Goals are the desired result based on the success criteria set forth by the team and may fall under two categories: 1) Work Plan Goals and 2) Process Improvement Goals. I believe that the tracking of goals in an open book and transparent fashion will build commitment, yield better results, and train team members to think like project owners. When information is publicly shared and tracked, and say financial incentives are tied to the success of meeting the goals, the level of involvement and collaboration will increase.
A project charter defines the vision, goals, and objectives of your project. It should put everyone involved on the same page early on and establish all stakeholders’ buy-in, roles and responsibilities, and measurable deliverables.
However, if the charter isn’t initially completed correctly, issues can arise. Something as simple as missing a “need to know” individual could lead to problems down the road. Make sure to involve everyone, write an inspiring vision, and openly keep score of goals.