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The project charter: an essential starting point

Claude Palmarini
The project charter: an essential starting point

When we think of projects, we immediately think of requirements, schedules, budgets and so on.

However, as the poet Boileau said, "what is well conceived must be clearly stated": for a project to run smoothly, the charter must have been carefully drawn up beforehand.

What's included in the project charter

Now that the business case has been accepted, it's time to draw up the project charter.

It must answer a number of questions to ensure a clear understanding of expectations, commitment from stakeholders and delivery of expected results:

  • Why is the project important?
    This involves succinctly explaining the context of the project, and the business logic behind it: seizing an opportunity, achieving compliance, meeting an operational challenge, etc.
  • What are the objectives?
    Objectives should be accompanied by measurements and other success indicators that will enable you to measure or validate whether they have been achieved.
    Without a clear objective and performance indicators, it's difficult to monitor the project, let alone its success.
  • What is included and excluded?
    The scope of the project is essential to avoid overruns, unrealistic expectations or disempowerment. For example, a project to redesign a website may exclude the addition of new functionalities.
  • What is the organizational value?
    The charter must clearly establish how the project respects the organization's strategic alignment, and remains consistent with business development or commercial objectives.
  • What events can help or hinder?
    Risks are inherent in any project, and it's essential to identify them as accurately as possible to avoid losing control or missing opportunities.
  • Who can help or hinder the project?
    Stakeholders must be identified and involved to maximize their support for the project.
  • What are the milestones and their efforts?
    A summary analysis of the timetable with the main stages and milestones should also be included in the charter. This is to provide a high-level understanding of the scope of the project, to take into account certain constraints (annual shutdown, code freeze, etc.) and to validate the project's feasibility: do we have the material, financial and human resources?
  • Who are the project managers?
    Who makes up the project team, and what are their respective responsibilities? Beyond simply knowing who does what, this also helps establish their authority.
  • What will the project deliver?
    The charter should set out what is expected to happen if the project is successfully delivered, or what the impact will be if it is not.
  • Who signs?
    Before moving on to the detailed planning phase, the project leader must obtain the customer's approval of the charter's recommendations.

The charter is the project's first frame of reference. It will be referred to throughout the project to maintain alignment between project objectives and stakeholder expectations.

Mistakes to avoid when drafting a project charter

If a project is to be a success, it is crucial to avoid certain errors in the project charter:

  • Lack of clarity and precision in project scope - Inclusions and exclusions
  • Lack of measurable objectives, which can lead to misunderstandings and unrealistic expectations.
  • Projects misaligned with corporate strategies, resulting in a project with no added value for the organization.
  • Lack of customer involvement, which is the best way to undermine support for the project or contribute to unmet expectations.
  • Non-validation of the charter by stakeholders (including sponsors and management), which will encourage stakeholder disengagement, generate conflict and misunderstanding, contribute to governance issues, question the authority of the project leader...
  • Failure to make use of lessons learned and corporate memory, at the risk of repeating past mistakes and making poor assessments of budgets and resources.

Clear, precise and measurable objectives, a well-defined scope, a good estimate of both costs and risks, and validation by the customer increase the quality of the charter and ensure a solid foundation for moving on to detailed planning, once accepted.

Conclusion

The project charter is a tool designed to help the project leader understand the project's raison d'être, better identify deliverables and anticipate constraints, so that the project is a success and not a series of ordeals overcome with pain and recrimination. It's all the more important as it will influence the detailed planning phase that immediately follows.

Investing time in fine-tuning the project charter will give you the means for more serene project management.

To find out more :

Project management: the basics for a successful project

 

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