Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Is life a bad chartered project ?

Once a friend of mine told me "Life is strange. Usually when you have the necessary introspection capability to make a choice, you discover that it is too late. Either you have already taken the wrong decision years ago and the chips are down now, or you have to drastically reduce your expectations and targets. This happens many times and in many ways."
I totally agree.
For example you have to choose which degree apply for when you have little idea of what you would like to do in your life. You become a lawyer and maybe you would have been more happy as a doctor.You will discover it...that's sure...but it will be too late.
Maybe one day you wake up and say out of the blue "Here I am...I want absolutely learn how to play jazz guitar...I will play in a band...I will...". But then you realize that you are 40 years old, with a full time job and 2 kids to play with. You still can learn jazz guitar...but you probably will end up playing "Autumn Leaves" or "Blue Bossa" alone in your basement, late at night, without having any clue on how to play a decent solo.
Doesn't this ring you any bell? Isn't this the same situation you will find yourself stuck into when you are managing a badly chartered project? Isn't this what you get when you realize to have put too little an effort in writing a project charter, either because you couldn't or because just you wouldn't ?

In a badly chartered project you will come at a point where the product you deliver is not what it should have been, when there is no more way to satisfy requirements or hit objectives. You can be sure of this.
Or, if you are lucky enough, you will come at a point where you have to dramatically review objectives and savagely cut scope, time, costs, quality...or all of them.

The result doesn't change...a failure.
Maybe you will succeed in make the sponsors and the clients buy in your deliverables...but they won't be properly satisfied and at the bottom of your heart you will feel that you have failed in some way.
So when you are taking up a project be careful to understand what is in the charter and what it is not and that both things be understood by the sponsor and key stakeholders.
This is a good rule of thumb even you are helping chartering the project.
So what do we hope to find in a solid project charter?
Well...many things...there is no silver bullet in this game...but if I had to write a list I would recommend at least
  • A detailed project description, including high level objectives and requirements. Sometimes stating what it doesn't belong to the project is as valuable as writing what it is a part of it.
  • Solid and well explained business case. This automatically define your options when it is time for change and/or control. If you know what is at stake you can choose which project constraints optimize at expenses of others. Moreover if the business case expires it is right that the project dies.
  • Most important constraints (time, budget, quality, ...). Also these informations help you in revising your options when it comes the time to change. 
  • How project objectives contribute to company objectives. This shows the value of your project as perceived by your company and the strength and the effort you will be allowed to profuse in your quest for success.
  • High level project risks. 
  • High level stakeholders. If you don't know by now who will be most influenced by the outcomes of your project or can influence the results in a massive way you will be rushing headlong toward disaster.
  • High level deliverables. If you don't know what you will be asked to deliver how would you possibly deliver it ?
  • Project manager authority. What are you in charge of ? You must know what you are entitled to do, which actions, countermeasures and decisions you can take and which you cannot take.
  • Time horizon of the project. 
If you cannot states all these informations at least at a very high level...well...it probably means that you don't have the necessary insight  into the project to charter it in an effective way.
If you can't describe it you can't project it and if you can't project it...it simply means that you can't do it.
So take your time and try to analyze every aspect of your project before finalizing the project charter, because it is the foundations over which your project will be build and because once released, you and your team will be committed to it. 

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