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The Project Management Institute (PMI) encourages its members to advance the profession. One of  the ways to do this is by helping others increase their project management skills. The target audiences for this blog are professional PM’s early in their careers as well as those who manage projects but are not PM’s by title or trade. I will be posting every week or so, offering practical tips and tools on the full range of project management topics. I hope you will find this useful and help you advance your career.

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The Project Charter – Risks & Assumptions

Initiation

In upcoming posts I will discuss Risk Identification and Management in detail. For now, you just need to know that a risk is an uncertain future event that can have a negative impact on your project’s schedule, scope, budget or quality. The event has a probability of occurring less than 100% and greater than 0%. If the probability is 100%, then you have an issue, not a risk. Some risks can have a positive impact but we will not discuss that here.

You state the risk as follows:

  • If <risk event> occurs, then <state the outcome that affects your project> causing the project  to be impacted in the following specific ways <scope, schedule, budget, quality>.

At the Project Charter level, you are interested in identifying only the highest impact risks so that your risk management strategies can be accounted for in the scope and schedule.

Some Project Charters will list “Assumptions” in its own section. I have eliminated assumptions from my own charter template as I feel if you have assumptions that can impact your project, then that is just another form of risk. I now include any assumptions in my risk section.

The Project Charter – Stakeholders

Initiation

Project Stakeholders are the people and entities affected or impacted in any way by the project. Defining this list is critical in communication planning. It will also help you in defining the project scope. Stakeholders are identified by reviewing the Project Scope and consulting with Subject Matter Experts for the domain of the project.

There are two classifications of Stakeholders:

  1. Those that will be needed to perform project tasks.
  2. Those that will interact with or receive the product, service or result of the project.

The Stakeholders in classification 1 are the members of your project team. Some of these will constitute your core team and will be needed full-time or near full-time for the duration of the project. Others will be needed only for specific tasks over limited periods of time. When you have this list I recommend creating a spreadsheet with these names along with their roles, responsibilities, manager, and contact information.

The Stakeholders in classification 2 are your project’s “customers”. These are the people who will be the target of a formal Change Management strategy (more on that in upcoming posts). The success of your project will often depend on how you manage communication and change with this group of Stakeholders. The five key areas for managing this group of Stakeholders are:

  1. Awareness – communicate early and often with this group before they are impacted
  2. Desire – impart an understanding of why this is good for them and for the company
  3. Knowledge – training in new processes and behaviors
  4. Ability – make them successful by setting up a support structure
  5. Reinforcement – monitoring the expected behaviors and business outcomes and being prepared to make adjustments as new knowledge comes to light

There are some Stakeholders that can be a member of both groups. Typically members of the Project Sponsor’s team will participate in the project and also be affected by the result.

The Project Charter – Timeline

Initiation

The Project Charter should contain a high-level timeline so that expectations can be set and preliminary commitments established. If not enough is known at Charter time to be reasonably certain of this timeline, then it should be noted as to when the baseline schedule will be established.

The timeline will contain elements that depend on your organization’s methodology. You will want to note target completion dates for major milestones and phases. Here is an example for a software development project:

  • Requirements – Jan 31
  • Design – Feb 23
  • Development/Unit Testing – April 8
  • System Testing – April 30
  • User Acceptance Testing – May 21
  • Transition to Production – June 8
  • Production Stabilization – July 8

For projects not involving software, your phases and major milestones will be named according to the nature of the project. Here is an example where the project is to order and install new equipment in several locations:

  • Scope established – Jan 15
  • Products Ordered – Jan 30
  • Products Tested – Feb 21
  • Products installed in pilot locations – March 15
  • Products installed in all locations – June 1

The Project Charter – Scope of Work

Initiation

At the Project Charter level, the scope of work is not meant to be all-inclusive and at a fine level of detail. That is done when detail requirements are addressed.

You can derive part of the scope by taking each Project Objective (refer to the post on Project Objectives for more detail) and listing the major work activities needed to accomplish that objective. These should be at a level of detail enough to get a high-level understanding of the effort and duration of the activity. This is a judgment call and varies by type of project.

In addition to the above, you can list the major business processes that are impacted by the project. A process is impacted if one of the following is true:

  • there will be new or changed process steps
  • there will be new sources of data or information for the process
  • there will be new recipients of data or information from the process
  • there will be changed or additional owners of the process.

Listing the major activities and the impacted processes should be sufficient for scope at the Project Charter level. Your organization’s standards may require more, but this should be the minimum.

The Project Charter – Project Objectives

Initiation

In the previous post I defined and discussed Business Objectives and their importance. Project Objectives are very different from Business Objectives. I have seen Project Charters with the two types of objectives mixed into one objectives section and I find it very confusing. I recommend placing Project Objectives in its own section.

Project Objectives should satisfy the following criteria:

  • Produce a product, service or result that survive and are maintained after the project is over. Some examples of this are (1) a new business “Standard Operating Procedure”; (2) new software installed that meets all of the acceptance criteria.
  • Each Objectives should have a definition of “done” that is agreed to by the Project Sponsor and the Project Team.

Project Objectives are important for the following reasons:

  • They define the scope of the major deliverables of the project
  • They will be used to define much of the activity scope of the project
  • Meeting all of the Project Objectives is one of the criteria for project closing

The combination of having well defined Business and Project Objectives will get your project off to a great start and help keep it on track. Take care to get these right.

The Project Charter – Business Objectives

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As stated in the post “Building Blocks of a Successful Project Part 2”, Business Objectives are the “CEO’s view” of the project. They should make or save money, take advantage of opportunity, respond to new law and regulations, or increase competitive advantage. They should be specific and measurable to avoid what I call “Mom and apple pie” objectives like “We will be more efficient”. Really? Exactly how efficient? Will be be able to cut costs or deploy those efficiency savings to revenue opportunities?

Why is this important? Because everyone on your project is a decision maker whether you acknowledge it or not. Every day of a project, many “micro-decisions” are made without asking for clarification as that would be very inefficient. People will make these decisions based on assumptions due to lack of clarity in the objectives. Clearly stating the Business Objectives will help everyone make better decisions by asking themselves “does this decision support the Business Objectives as stated?”.

Another reason documented Business Objectives are important is they create a measuring stick for the health of the project. At any point in the project the question “Are the Business Objectives still obtainable?” needs to be asked. If the answer is “no”, the project is evaluated as to whether it should continue or not. Many projects forge ahead even if the Business Objectives are no longer possible because “we have spent a lot of time and money already”. This is a concept called “sunk cost” and this fact is irrelevant in good decision making. If a project no longer offers a return on investment (ROI), there is no point in throwing more money and time at it.

At the end of the project and at regular, predetermined intervals,  the actual outcomes need to be measured against the original objectives. If the outcomes met or exceeded the objectives, congratulations, your project was a success! If the outcomes fell short of the objectives, you can consider doing the following:

  • Find the root causes and address them, which may mean spending more time and money if the ROI warrants it.
  • If the ROI for spending more time and money to correct the root causes is not positive you can leave the project deliverables in place and not make any additional investment.
  • If the project results are actually having a negative impact and additional investment will not help, you may need to reverse the implementation (if feasible) to prevent further damage.

My advice is to spend as much time as you need getting the Business Objectives right. It is the most important thing you will do on a project.

The Project Charter – Overview

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When I teach Project Management the Project Charter (sometimes referred to as “Project Definition”) is one of my “points of emphasis”. I state that if they only do one of the things I teach, then the Project Charter is it. All of your planning and execution will be based on the elements contained in there.

The Project Charter is important enough that I will be dedicating the upcoming blog posts to examine the contents in detail and include examples. Here are the sections:

  • Business Objectives
  • Project Objectives
  • Scope
  • Timeline
  • Stakeholders
  • Risks and Assumptions
  • Issues
  • Constraints
  • Dependencies
  • Sign off