If you are the project manager of a new project, you should want to announce your project and authority to project stakeholders among others. Come along as we discuss the document for this announcement: the project charter.
In 1968 a soviet nuclear submarine sank in the Pacific Ocean. Recovery of this sunken submarine by the U.S. would provide a treasure trove for the U.S. intelligence community during the height of the cold war. But this recovery operation would have to be done without arousing suspicion or being detected by Soviet reconnaissance.
The U.S. embarked on a bold deceptive plan to recover this nuclear submarine. The U.S employed the flamboyant Howard Hughes to ruse the Soviets into thinking his company was mining the ocean floor when in fact it was enlisted to recover the submarine. This top-secret mission, named project Azorian, obviously required up most secrecy for the ruse to work.
How then were the true stakeholders, the U.S. intelligence community, informed of this duplicitous project? Well, by a project charter, of course. Whether stakeholders were provided top secret red folders labeled “for your eyes only” or, perhaps, a Mission Impossible style self-destructing message a project charter was used to announce the project.
This article describes the purpose and value of a project charter.
It is really above my pay grade to know the exact mediums the intelligence community uses to communicate “black” projects: projects that are so secret, their costs are hidden in the overall budget. But all projects, secret or openly known, are announced with a project charter. The project charter is important; it announces that a new project has begun. And it introduces the stakeholders to all the key players on the project. The purpose of the charter is to demonstrate management support for the project and the project manager. The project charter is a simple, yet powerful tool.
The project charter establishes the project manager’s authority to make decisions and lead the project. The project charter does not have to be complex. It can take the form of an email, a physical signed document, or the novel self-destructing message for more secretive projects like the one discussed above. The project charter contains the name and purpose of the project. It clearly identifies the project manager and provides a statement of support for the project manager from the issuer. The charter is sent to everyone, who may be associated with the project, i.e. the stakeholders.
Because projects are unique and temporary, a project manager’s position and authority are temporary. When a project begins many of the people and organizations required for its success may not even be aware of its existence. Without formal recognition, the project manager works in anonymity and without critical management support.
It is important to note that project managers rely on both expert authority and this project charter bestowed legitimate authority. Expert authority comes from a project manager’s experience and reputation. The more skills and experience a project manager has the more expert authority stakeholders, including team members, will confer on them. Legitimate authority, however, is the authority bestowed by the organization.
The project charter establishes the legitimate authority of the project manager conferred on them from the authority of the project sponsor. Yes, project managers lead best from a position of known expert authority. But project managers need both expert authority and legitimate authority to successfully execute the project. The project charter, again, establishes this organizational legitimate authority.
Who do you want to sign your project charter? You would think the person with the most authority, and, therefore, the company president. However, if every project charter came with the signature of the company president, it would become meaningless. Therefore, the sponsor, who actively supports the project, is the best person to sign the project charter. Every project manager will benefit from the confidence of both the sponsor and the customer.
The project manager’s ability to effectively lead a project is greatly enhanced by the authority conferred by the project charter. Because projects are unique and temporary a project manager’s authority has to begin somewhere; it begins with the announcement of the project charter.
The project charter should proceed other project documents, which require this authority. The project charter, however, is not a change management document. The charter is an initial one time announcement. Significant changes to project scope require a new charter rather than amending the original.
For more details on that top secret Azorian project to recover a soviet submarine refer to the following article That Time The CIA And Howard Hughes Tried To Steal A Soviet Submarine