Random Acts of IT Project Management

Project Management for Information Technology

Archive for the ‘Initiation’ Category

Why “Waste Time” on a Project Charter?

Posted by iammarchhare on 30 July 2009

It is interesting to me that even in places that have a project management process, the project charter is one of the most neglected pieces of it.  A project charter is sort of like a mission statement for a company.  It provides direction for the project, and periodic review of it will help to focus the entire team on what they are trying to accomplish.

Jamal Moustafaev of Thinktank Consulting wrote “How And Why Do We Write Project Charters?” that covers some excellent concepts around the project charter.

And yet, there are a couple of items that I don’t quite agree with.  Moustafaev writes:

“Hey, you know what you have to do; why waste time?” I have heard this question countless times from my managers and customers. One of my bosses went as far as saying, “What do you mean you need a week to write a project charter?! We are already late with this project and you are telling me you plan on wasting five full man-days on writing a charter? You know what you have to do, I know what has to be done and your team members understand the scope of work … why do you insist on writing that document anyway?”

I am trying to think of a single project where I needed an entire week to write up a charter.  In fact, I myself would seriously question anyone who wanted to take that long to do it.  Perhaps my reasoning will become clearer in a moment.

I agree that the project charter fills a need on 2 basic levels.  There is the project need, and there is the portfolio need.

For the project need, Moustafaev writes:

Let’s examine the micro view first. Basically project charter is a list of several questions that have to be answered, at least at a high level, before you are supposed to proceed ahead with a project.  The rule that I always continue to repeat to my students is that no matter how small your project is, if you can’t provide the answers to the questions you are about to see in the next sections of this article, maybe, just maybe, you are not entirely ready to proceed or do not have a project at all. Having said that, you do not have to write a project charter when planning to renovate your bathroom but you still have to know the answers to these questions either at the conscious or unconscious level. Some of these questions include:

  • What problem are we solving?
  • Where do you want to get to and by when?
  • How much money would we need?
  • How long will it take?
  • What kind of resources and materials will we need?

Now, I don’t know about you, but I see a problem already.  Keep in mind, the project charter is done in order to initiate the project, so it is done before planning.  The PMBOK® 4 says:

The approved project charter formally initiates the project.  A project manager is identified and assigned as early in the project as feasible, preferably while the project charter is being developed and always prior to the start of planning.

~ p 73

Furthermore, the project charter is an input to the project management plan.  The output of the project management plan includes the scope, schedule and cost baselines (p 82).

So, not only do I see an issue with what he wrote above, but also with:

Here are some of the examples of well-written project objectives:

“Design and build a prototype of a universal bottle corkscrew opener that complies with the department store specification by June, 2008 (SMART)”

“Complete the registration process for enrolment in the first year of the ABC University’s Business Administration program by May 2010 (SMART)”…

The only way this is going to work is to do the charter, go through planning and the update the charter once things like actual times and effort are known.  Otherwise, things like the amount you are going to spend or the duration of the project are basically just throwing darts at a board blindfolded in the dark.  And, if they are wrong in the charter, they will be more confusing and worse than if there are no such estimates in the charter at all.

However, Moustafaev more than makes up for this in other areas.  I particularly like his tie-in with net present value (NPV).  Unfortunately, it is pretty rare in my experience for a PM to get the time needed to weigh such factors or influence the decisions in such a manner.  Usually, these calculations, if done at all, are done before the PM is even assigned to the project.  Furthermore, options, and especially costs of other options, are often not shared with the PM.  However, it is handy to have in mind in case such information is available or can be asked for in a meaningful manner/environment.  In fact, he does step through some useful examples of how it can be effective.

So, give this a read.  It is only about 10 pages long, but it contains a lot of material, as you may have guessed by now.

Posted in Initiation, PM Basics | Tagged: , , , , , | Comments Off on Why “Waste Time” on a Project Charter?