Developing an Effective Charter for IT Projects

To: Rookie Project Manager

From: Experienced Project Manager

Subj: Writing a Project Charter

Greetings, I have just been informed that you will soon take charge as the new IT project manager at our corporation. As the outgoing manager of this position, I do not want to leave the post without leaving some key tips regarding developing an effective charter for those IT projects that may be initiated for your direction in the future. While many times taking the time and effort to write a polished Charter is often overlooked by many project managers, a good job here can be an excellent way to get all your project stakeholders convinced and “on-board” as soon as possible.

Attached Below is an actual template form for project charter’s that are used in conjunction with projects that are initiated within Virginia’s Community College System (VCCS). Since VCCS is part of a state-wide college system and must respond to the state board of education, which in turn must respond to the legislature, it is clear that a lot more data is required in its charters than what you will encounter in the firm. Hopefully most charters you will develop will be less than 7 pages long. But, then if you are required to make one like this, then you are probably in charge of a pretty big affair!

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Length issues aside, I would like you to note some of the key points in the attached charter and all other ones you may develop.

Value: What value does the project charter have for you, and most importantly for the stakeholders involved? Well, first of all, even though you will be a key person in writing the charter itself, this document formally recognizes the existence of a project and specifically gives you authorization to resources that are needed for the its execution. Without resources, the project is not going anywhere.

Plus, the project charter is the perfect place for stakeholders to make a first record of their opinions, input, and overall suggestions for the project in its entirety. It might be the only place you might get information from some of your busiest stakeholders, as you may not see them again until the project is in the closeout phase.

And, your charter is the first place where the roles and responsibilities of your team, and basic guidelines regarding how your team will approach the work first appear. It is better to clear up differences that may arise from this early rather than encounter trouble spots during critical periods of execution.

Role: Understanding the role of your project charter will be a key motivator as to developing an excellent project charter. Mike Taylor from The University of California Santa Cruz states in his website that:

Without a project charter, the goals of the project will be ambiguous and often understood incorrectly by the key stakeholders, each having a different point of interest in the project. The result is a project beset with conflicting priorities, role confusion, and in many cases, as failed project.”

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Therefore, the project charter cannot be seen a just one more formality in the initiation process. The project charter is not a static document, it is of dynamic nature and it will influence the rest of the decisions that will be taken from the planning to the closeout phases of work.

Benefits: Moreover, most stakeholders should be aware of the benefits that can be accrued through the use of project charters in overall project management. It is especially useful to focus on this when taking into account the fact that developing project charters can be time-consuming, and many will pressure to “get down to business”. Nevertheless, the time taken to develop your charter will ensure that your project begins with:

  • Perception of success by the sponsor”
  • Realistic goals”
  • Clear authority and audit trail”
  • A compelling, business-relevant project definition”

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Yes, the charter is important. But isn’t every component in the project important? Yes, of course, but a good charter is just as important as making a good impression at your job interview was. It sets the tone and style for the rest of the work that will be accomplished throughout the project. And, the project charter might be the only written document some stakeholders will ever read until they receive the final product. So, impress them here and you will secure their support.

Other than this, below is the sample template form VCCS. Take a special care in reading section 2, it outlines how the particular project is meeting strategic needs of the college system. Are you making sure that your projects are meeting the strategic needs of the business?

Good Luck!

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