Great works of literature are known for their beginnings. “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” “Call me Ishmael.” “In the beginning, God created.”
Some of the most classic songs can be identified by their very first notes. Stairway to Heaven… Let it Be… Stayin’ Alive.
Of course, just because something starts well does not necessarily mean that it will find itself on the Billboard charts. But, without a memorable beginning, it wouldn’t stand a chance.
Project management works the same way. Think of the best projects you have been a part of. What about them was so good and why do you think you and your team succeeded? Now think of the worst projects in which you’ve participated. Why were they so bad? What was missing that kept you from achieving your goals?
If we were to make an educated guess, we would say that the not-so-good projects were the ones that began with a lack of clarity, a team without a united vision, and a confused definition of success.
A project’s success depends on its beginning. And the key to a strong launch is a quality project charter.
What’s a Project Charter?
Some people try to use the Statement of Work or RFP response for a charter. Please avoid this temptation! A project charter should be a specific document that stands alone. Our recommendation is to keep it brief, short enough to handle a Millennial’s attention span. Focus on clarifying the key components of the project before it starts and on making sure everyone is on the same page.
Think of the Charter like a wedding ceremony. It’s an event that kicks everything off and puts words to some of the reason two people would even dare enter into a life-long commitment to each other.
At a basic level, it sets the scope within which your project will be carried out. There are four aspects essential to a good project charter:
- Overview or description of the project.
- Definition of the “win.”
- Most important requirements.
- One ultimate decision-maker.
The first essential of your project charter is a basic description of your project and is typically written at the beginning of the document. Think more about the wedding metaphor for a moment. At the start of any traditional wedding ceremony, the officiant says something like, “We are here today to celebrate the union in marriage of Rick and Sally…” Those words tell the guests, who are sitting in the hot sun waiting for cocktail hour, that they are there for a reason.
It sets the purpose for the project.
This part of the charter should stay away from the weeds and should give a complete outsider, or someone new to the organization, the ability to understand your project.
Keep in mind, though, that the best project charters are more than just an overview. They are written in a way that ties its objectives to the overall strategic direction of your organization. You can do this by describing the background of your project: What conversations led you toward this project? What initiative or need is this project fulfilling? Why is it important to your organization?
Another essential aspect of a project charter is clear definition of success. This may seem like common sense, but the temptation can be to list unquantifiable goals. In wedding terms, a successful marriage is one that lasts, through thick and thin, until death. Morbid? Maybe. But it’s definitely quantifiable!
Imagine you are getting ready to begin a project aimed at improving your company’s relationship with its customers. “Greatly increase brand loyalty,” though a step in the right direction, would not be effective. Why? Because there is no metric for determining whether or not your team accomplished its goal. Instead, a better goal would be “Increase brand loyalty by 15% by the end of the second quarter.”
A good project charter includes a clear list of the metrics that will be used to determine whether or not the project was a success.
Priority Team Members
The next essential of a good project charter is the inclusion of key players. Based on the key deliverables or important goals of your project, these are the individuals who will have the most influence on results. Some teams that are small enough won’t require you to explain this. However, if you have a large team, or you are working with remote team members, you will need to clarify the important players and their corresponding goals.
Two things to keep in mind:
- Not everyone is a priority. It might be tempting to list every team member and their place on the org chart, but that’s not the purpose of the project charter.
- This is your opportunity to set key team members up for success. By describing their leadership role, you subtly say to other team members, “take your cues from these people.”
One Point Person
The last essential of a good project charter is an acknowledgement of the person who is in charge. Let’s face it. We live in a world, and in a workplace, that doesn’t like hierarchies. This is especially true of younger employees who understand org charts as an unequal distribution of power. But, even in that kind of world, projects run more smoothly, and team members feel more secure, when someone takes on the role of decision-maker.
Ultimately, the project charter is your opportunity to explain who this person is and how he or she will define the success of their role.
We believe that every project should start well and be memorable like our favorite classic songs and novels. It takes lots of intentionality to make it happen, but the likelihood of success goes up with a strong, clear, and purposeful launch.
You may not be new to project management. But you may be new to project charters. If that’s the case, or you just need some help with the beginning stages of your project, let Achurch Consultants know. We care deeply about helping you become the best project manager you can be!