5 Reasons Projects Fail: #5 Weak Project Charters

Our last post demonstrated how critical the Five Ws are to project management. Just like in journalism, there’s a sneaky important 6th question: How.

Once the business case establishes the Why for the project, the next step is to form the foundational document for that project: The Project Charter. This Project Charter needs to answer the How. A good Project Charter functions as a project management execution plan template.

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By having a section on the Approach that you have customized to the exact problem statement, the Project Charter serves as the entire basis of the project.

When you get specific with the problems, you can be specific with the solutions, then from there, you get the tasks. And once you have the tasks, you can map the necessary skills, which will serve as the basis for the people and effort necessary to perform the project.

I imagine the Project Charter as the trunk of the project. It takes a solid, detailed approach to the problem that gives roots strong enough to support everything that stems and branches from that. Without that, the project will, by definition, be on the path of failure.

A challenge for the project charter is that it straddles the domains of project management and lifecycle management. The project manager should not be responsible for determining the solution for a problem, but they are accountable for its execution. This highlights the question and answer dynamic that exists in project-based organizations. The project manager isn’t usually the solution architect, so they can’t produce the answers themselves. They need to know how to ask the right questions to the product management team in order to get answers they can stake their job on.

Many times a propensity for weak project charters is engrained in the culture itself. Charters are often seen as optional, so to have a Project Charter at all is often seen as a victory in itself, so they tend to be weak. The organization needs a standard in place that Project Charters are necessary, and it needs to comply with that standard. And then, the competency of developing the Charter can only mature and evolve through oversight of the governance bodies who have the expertise to make them strong. Just as importantly, is using it as intended rather than just going through the motions to tick the boxes.

In the IT world in particular, there’s a contemporary business trend toward an Agile approach., which further encourages weak charters. Many organizations don’t even place value on Requirements, which leaves open the most basic project question of all: the What. Without knowing Why a project is happening, or How, or even What the project is in the first place, we’ve arrived at a place where executives are just throwing money and bodies at problems with the hope something valuable will come out the other side. In this environment, it’s no wonder 68% of projects fail.

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Reason #4: Procrastinating bad news ->