Also known as the project initiation document, the project charter is a high-level document created at the start of a project and referred to throughout the project’s duration. It is the foundation of the project, a basis for how the project can evolve. The charter should state the purpose, main objectives and vision for a project.
Many project professionals may consider the project charter as ‘more documentation’ or a ‘mere formality.’ But the truth is that if they start to consider creating a charter as a best practice, many problems or issues can be eliminated.
However, I regularly meet project managers that manage their projects without referring to or even knowing the existence of their project’s charter.
Here are some reasons a charter is left out, based on my experience:
- Project management immaturity, lack of project approaches or poor project governance by the sponsor or organization. There’s a lack of awareness for the need of a charter or formal authorization process.
- At project initiation, there are no clear measurable objectives or reasons for the project. Hence, there is nothing to write.
- The charter may have been written, but is filed away or lost within the organization’s documentation system. This could be a symptom of high staff turnover or poor information systems.
- Requirements and other changes to the project deemed the existing project charter obsolete.
- The project has been initiated or is continuing without real executive commitment.
- The project is considered too small or simple to be chartered, so writing a charter is considered a ‘waste of time.’
- A charter may exist but contains information that is rigid. Details, budgets and milestones may be unrealistic and unachievable, and therefore not referred to.
- Alternatively, the metrics and information contained in the charter may be too broad and ambiguous and therefore not referred to.
However, without a charter, a project is headed for problems including:
Risk of diminished value and importance of a project, if its purpose and strategic benefit are not documented, agreed and formally recognized.
Delayed decision-making. Getting management and sponsors to sign off on things becomes difficult. There is no one to champion for the project and responsibility for it is passed around.
Difficulty managing expectations. Without a collectively agreed to charter, there may be frequent disruptions and disagreements from stakeholders. They will have differing intentions, opinions and understanding of the project’s outcomes.
Risk of failure. When there is no clear, recorded statement of a project’s goals, it’s more prone to fail. The project charter includes the business case and other additions, which serves as a constant reminder of the project’s vision, mission and critical success factors.
Lack of authority. The project manager will be plagued with problems from lack of authority to spend the budget, the ability to acquire and assign resources, and a general power needed to make day-to-day decisions and actions. This will also make it harder for the project manager to attract good suppliers, vendors and resources to work on the project. This can create a culture of dissatisfaction and apathy within the existing project team.
Subject to scrutiny, delay and bureaucracy. The project can expect numerous changes and deviations, which increase the risk of not delivering and reaching the projects goal. It could eventually become a financial burden to the organization.
Do you know of any other reasons why a project charter would not be created? How can the lack of a charter plague a project?
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