Charting a Course for Requirements

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Creating Project Charters
The project charter process surveys both opportunities and necessary realities. Just as we might weigh the pros and cons when purchasing a house, we need to evaluate this project's usefulness, desirability, and viability.

On one well-run project, the project manager, Jane, began with a meeting. She brought in the departments who would have a stake in the completed project: a technical architect, team leads, her boss (the sponsor), and me as requirements facilitator for their project team. We spent the morning developing a statement of purpose, which everyone agreed to. Many of us proceeded to the next step of defining charter items. Jane assigned tasks to gather information, to develop lists, and to develop the charter entries. Over the next three weeks we met for about seventy-five minutes each morning. We discussed anything that seemed inconsistent with the project purpose and where we had problems. We reviewed a draft at the end of each week. By the end of the third week, we had a charter good enough to present to Jane's boss. Four months later when a significant change was suggested, that charter was crucial for the negotiation.

When something is presented to a sponsor, expect these possible outcomes: a) acceptance of the charter, b) feedback that prompts a revision cycle, or c) a no-go decision. Cancellation at this point may be due to project risks not worth taking or goals that aren't feasible at this time. Far from disappointment, this might be the best outcome.

Like any process, chartering can go awry. Here's an example I experienced some years ago. Ted, the president, proposed a project that involved collaboration with a new business partner. He asked department heads for opinions and observations. I identified a risk that we would be dependent on this partner for specific expertise we didn't have. Another person noted an inherent conflict with the suggested partner. After everyone contributed, Ted announced what we would do, totally ignoring our input. Soon after the project started, the partner dropped their commitment to the project.

Charters That Work
Here's a quick list of the minimum elements you need for a charter that works:

  • Involve people who have a stake in the outcome and in shaping the problem statement and solution
  • Have an idea of how you want to structure meetings and tasks
  • Conduct sanity checkpoints for assessing the process and document integrity
  • Expect insight, not precision
  • Be concise, clear, and to the point, like a project resume

If you have no project charter, create one! Write what you believe is the charter, and pass it around. The feedback may reveal large gaps in expectations, or not. Either way you will have a better fix on where you are and where you can go. Then you'll be ready to launch!

About the author

Becky Winant's picture Becky Winant

Becky Winant (rwinant@espritinc.com) has been mentor, teacher, and consultant on exploring requirements for more than twenty years. She also assists projects with team and process development and with system architecture and analysis modeling.

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