By Bailey Anne Dermanci, PMP
Developing a charter is one of several key steps you will take when preparing a project for consideration. Execution of the charter tells you that you’re approved to start.
“A successful project manager will plan out and execute their project in accordance with a well-thought-out plan. An unsuccessful project manager will ignore the planning phase and try to wing the project for the sake of speed.“
Derek M. Edwards, MSLM, PMP, Project Management Instructor for the Center for Professional Education (CPE) at UT Austin
We each engage in some form of project management every day. It doesn’t have to be complicated. If you consider that one of the hallmarks of any project is that it must have a beginning and an end, you could call unloading the dishwasher a project: open the door, remove the clean dishes, put them in the right place. If you wanted to get fancy, you could call unloading the dishwasher an iterative project as you figure out exactly how many dishes you can successfully carry at once, or what the best way is to stack and carry them without dropping any!
Unsurprisingly, when we talk about project management as it relates to a professional endeavor, there’s usually a lot more to it. You need to know what to do, who is responsible for doing it, and when they’re supposed to get it done. You may have a budget, and you will want to plan for what to do if it looks like you’re going to go over that budget. You’ll outline the risks to the project and determine ahead of time what you’ll do if anything that could go wrong does go wrong. You need to know who to update about the progress of your project and how often those updates occur.
The project charter gets you started down the road to establishing all those details.
One of Many Steps
In a highly-organized place of business with well-thought-out project management strategies, your project probably started with a business case. This outlines the necessity for the project – or demonstrates that it’s not needed. If the project makes it past the business case, a project charter is the next step.
In a project charter, the project team documents as much information as they can gather about the project, specifying all of the details listed above and adding even more: constraints, assumptions, scope, guiding principles, project objectives, deliverables and much more. The team is trying to outline a picture of the project, so that decision-makers with control over the budget and the authority to grant approval have all the information they need when reviewing the charter.
The project charter:
- provides decision-makers with the information they need to make an informed decision about whether or not to move forward with a project.
- links the project to the organization’s objectives.
- serves as an official document to demonstrate that the organization is committed to the project.
- tells the project manager (and everyone else) that they have the authority to begin the project, based on the expectations approved in the charter.
If the project gets the green light, the team moves on to the project management plan. They flesh out many of the details mentioned in the charter and bring in more tools to facilitate the execution of the project, like a starting stakeholder register and a work breakdown structure.
Alternatively, it is possible your charter will be rejected. You could find yourself reworking the charter to meet new requirements, revisiting the business case to meet new needs or shelving the project because it’s no longer a priority or is not possible for your organization. If you rework the charter to meet new requirements, you will want to do a thorough re-analysis so that your organization can count on the charter as a solid representation of the project work, costs and benefits and make a new decision in order to move forward.
Project Management is a Marathon
Consider it in terms of the parable of the tortoise and the hare. The hare is always in a hurry. As a project manager (PM), that might mean he would rush through his tasks, missing things along the way, ensuring that he has to return the tasks to finish them properly, thereby spending more time than he should have needed to take his project to the finish line. On the other hand, the tortoise takes his time, methodically accomplishing each aspect of his plan at a steady pace.
“The hare wears himself out and needs to regenerate, but the turtle takes his time and gets done earlier because he didn’t miss anything,” explains Edwards. “If a PM works 80-90 hours a week for enough weeks, at some point he or she will wear themselves down to the point of burnout. But, if you do the due diligence up front and plan out your project, it will pay dividends later by allowing you to deal with fewer issues in the long run instead of simply rushing through the process to get the project started.
“A successful project manager will plan out and execute their project in accordance with a well-thought-out plan. An unsuccessful project manager will ignore the planning phase and try to wing the project for the sake of speed. A two-week project may not burn out a project manager, but a 2-year project will! Always plan and align with that plan as best as possible,” advises Edwards.
The project charter is one important step along the route. “It is important because it gives management an overview of what the project will entail,” says Edwards. “It doesn’t have enough detail to enable a project manager to successfully execute a project, but it does allow management the opportunity to approve a project team moving forward and actually planning out and creating the resulting project management plan. An approved charter allows the team to put in the time and effort required to successfully develop a solid project management plan that can be executed against going forward.”
Take each step of the project one at a time, from business case, to charter approval, to avoiding scope creep, to final walkthroughs, to see your project through to completion.
Get Started With a Project Charter
Developing the project charter is your first step in running a successful project. Project Management Institute, Inc (PMI)® includes project charter creation as the first process to tackle when following their project management methodology. You can get started with confidence by downloading our project charter template. This is a guide to all the details you may want to include in your charter so you can obtain approval to work toward your project goals – or move on to the next project!
PMI is a registered mark of Project Management Institute, Inc.
Bailey Anne Dermanci, PMP is a senior marketing coordinator. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature from Washington University in St. Louis. She is certified by the Project Management Institute as a Project Management Professional (PMP)®.
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