Monday, August 19, 2019

The Modern Project Charter

The modern project charter
It’s not clear to me why project charters (or project initiation documents) are the way they are, but they’re often misused to obfuscate, bore and show an ability to comply with expectations.

If I want the real truth about a project and where it’s going, I’d rather see something else. This modern project charter should be divided into six sections:

1) Reality
2) Assumptions
3) Success
4) Alternatives
5) People
6) Money


The reality section describes the world as it is. Tell me about the market you are entering, the needs that already exist, the competitors in your space, technology standards, and the way others have succeeded and failed in the past. The more specific, the better. The more ground knowledge, the better. The more visceral the stories, the better. The point of this section is to be sure that you’re clear about the way you see the world, and that you and I agree on your view. This section isn’t partisan. It takes no positions; it just states how things are.

This section can be as long as you need it to be to tell the story. It can include supplementary materials such as spreadsheets, market share analysis, and anything I need to know about how the world works.


The assumptions section is your chance to describe how you’re going to change things using concrete details We will do X, and then Y will happen. We will build Z with this much money in this much time. We will present Q to the market and the market will respond by taking this action.

This is the heart of the modern project charter. The only reason to launch a project is to change something, and I want to know what you’re going to do and what impact it’s going to have.


The success section describes how you define and measure success of your project on three separate levels. 1) Project delivery success, 2) Product or service success, and 3) Business success. You can download a detailed guide on how to define project success here.


Of course, the assumptions section will be incorrect. You will make assumptions that won’t work out. You’ll miss budgets and deadlines and sales. That's where the alternatives section comes in. It tells me what you’ll do if that happens. How much flexibility does your product or team have? If your assumptions have proven to be false, is it over? Talk about alternatives here for when things don't go exactly as planned.


The people section rightly highlights one of the key elements of project success: who is on your team, and who is going to join your team. ‘Who’ doesn’t mean their resume; rather, 'who' means their attitudes and abilities and track record in getting stuff done.


The last section is all about money. How much do you need, and how will you spend it? What does cash flow look like? This section should include P&Ls, balance sheets, margins and exit strategies.

The modern project charter looks a lot different than the traditional format you're used to, but the information contained in its six sections provide instant clarity and transparency. Your local PMO might not like this format, but I’m betting it will help your team think through the hard issues more clearly.

In a nutshell: If you want the real truth about a project and where it’s going, write down your reality, assumptions, success, alternatives, people, and money in a project charter.
Posted on Monday, August 19, 2019 by Henrico Dolfing