Wednesday, 01 August 2012 01:00

The Importance of Having a Project Charter

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The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines a project charter as a document that formally authorizes a project.

The project charter is not created by the Project Manager. Instead, it is issued by the sponsor to empower the Project Manager with the authority to begin the project and obtain resources for project activities. The project charter should include at a minimum the following:

  • business need for the project which links the project to the organization's overall strategy
  • stakeholders and their initial requirements
  • objectives or quantifiable criteria that must be met for the project to be considered successful
  • definition of what is in scope (at least at a high level), as well as out of scope for the project
  • constraints and assumptions
All of that sounds important enough, but is it really necessary to have one? And what would happen if you didn’t have a project charter?  

I'll share an experience from my career. "Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.” Oscar Wilde

It was my first week on the job, and my new manager informed me that I was assigned to a very high-profile, critical project. I asked if there was a project charter. I was told no, and summarily instructed to "Just go ahead and get started. Just go get it done." Being new to the company, I was determined to make a good impression and decided to move forward without one. And as you can imagine, I did make an impression.

As I walked out of the first meeting with the project team, my business partner took me aside and said, "Interesting meeting, In fact a very good meeting. But I have to ask you. Who the heck are you?"

After thinking about it further, I realized his real question was "What gives you the authority to tell anyone what to do?" (Or, in other words, who died and made you the boss?)

This is a tricky situation to maneuver. And your answer may diminish any chances you will have for success or your ability to "win over" and get buy in from the team. So it's best to circumvent such sticky situations before they happen.

Not having a project charter hinders the Project Manager from being successful in the role, thus impacting the overall success of the project. Thus, projects should not begin without one.

And if you find yourself in the situation where you don't have one, you should ask yourself then why are we even doing the project? If the project is important to the organization, then the time and effort should be put into creating this document to define the scope and overall priority of the project. It additionally empowers you as the Project Manager in your role and formally authorizes you to begin the project activities and obtain the resources to support and work on the project’s activities

A lesson learned. Make sure a project charter exists. Otherwise, you run the risk of people not knowing who you are or what your role is.

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Patti Gilchrist

Patti Gilchrist is a Sr. Technical Manager with extensive experience in the field of IT Project Management. Patti has more than 20 years of IT experience and a reputation for effectively implementing strategic enterprise initiatives, with a proven track record of delivering simultaneous large-scale, mission-critical projects on time and budget. Her experience includes ERP implementations, data conversions, business software application development aligned with critical business requirements, IT infrastructure delivery, and process implementation in existing and startup organizations. Patti currently manages a team of project managers and is dedicated to the continued development of her team and knowledge sharing within the project management community. Patti has worked and consulted at many large corporations such as Westinghouse Electric, Progress Energy, Alcoa, Bank of America, and UPMC Health Plan. Industry experience includes Manufacturing, Energy/Distribution, Banking/Finance, and Health Care.

Patti is originally from Pittsburgh, PA, the "City of Champions." It is the home of the Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates. Patti now resides in the Southeastern US.

Patti has a BA from Temple University and holds PMP and Six Sigma Black Belt certifications.

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