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Project Chartering

Good Team Chartering Means Better Results

An Article From the Archives:

From the archives of our Total Employee Involvement Newsletter, we bring you this article, written by George Aslinger and Glen Whipple, two then Change Agents at Avery Dennison. The article, originally published in the May 1996 edition of the newsletter provides a stellar overview of ‘team chartering’ – what it is, why it is important and the elements that go into a great charter. More often referred to today as ‘project chartering’ the information and insights they share are spot on for anyone wanting to understand more about the what, why and how of team (project) chartering.
 
Teams are like meetings – they can be productive, effective and energizing. Or they can be a waste of time, sluggish, and a drain on valuable resources. The difference often hinges on whether you take time to draft a good charter before you dive into your work. Like an up-to-date road map, a charter provides a framework to maximize a team’s effectiveness. Based on our experience setting up countless task teams at Avery Dennison’s Fasson Roll Division, we think clear, careful chartering is key to the delivery of exceptional results.
 
Let’s start with a definition of “team.” It’s not part of the charter, but it’s amazing how many ideas fly around under this heading. As we’re using it, a team is more than a group of people. We like the definition Katzenbach and Smith use, “a team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and an approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”
 
Teams give you leverage in situations in which you face a complex problem, especially one that involves several organizational units or functions. A team can, in these cases, bring differing viewpoints and a variety of skills as well provide an opportunity for participation from multiple organizational levels. In contrast to a cross-functional group, a team exists to get a job done. These factors mean better decisions and wider acceptance of changes by capitalizing on the benefits of employee involvement.
 
Once you decide to use a team to attack a problem, appoint a team leader, and have your members in place, it’s tempting to make a common and painful mistake to which action-oriented managers are prone: jump to the task and begin “real” work. Don’t do it: draft a charter first. It’s called planning. In most important projects or complex tasks, time you spend here will pay big dividends throughout the life of the project or task.
 

Charter – a written document defining the scope of a team’s work and mapping out the key elements of that work: purpose, deliverables, metrics, principles, givens, scope, level of authority and decision-making process, roles and responsibilities, and work methods.
 
The charter should be developed and approved by the sponsor and stakeholders before the task team starts work. When the task is large and/or complex, it is a good practice to have a chartering meeting in which the sponsor(s) and team members come together to kick off the activity, review the charter, and have a dialogue to insure clarity. For smaller projects, it’s usually enough to review the written document.

 
The following are the key elements of a charter document:

Purpose: Why has the team come together?

A clear purpose helps team members answer the question, “Why are we (am I) here?” and move this beyond the initial phase. If the team can’t answer this question they will continue to struggle with low commitment and enthusiasm for the task. It should be specific, and task focused.
   

Deliverables: The list of outputs expected from the team.

The best deliverables are those that can be directly and concretely related to important business results or improvements such as cost reductions, quality improvements, faster or more-reliable service, reduced inventory, or increased sales. Other important deliverables we’ve used are communication and documentation requirements, project and implementation plan requirements, etc. as appropriate for the work to be performed.
 
Clearly defined deliverables give a team its challenge and understanding of what success will look like. Failure to gain clarity of the deliverables or required business results can result in the team’s floundering or developing recommendations/actions that the sponsor or stakeholders will not or cannot support.
 
A few years ago, we started several quality circle teams in a manufacturing facility. No thought was given by management to the chartering process. The teams were told to get together to work on problems they faced in their operations. While some good ideas surfaced and were implemented, most work was on items in which management had little interest, which meant lack of support for the teams in terms of time and resources to complete the work. The teams lost energy and enthusiasm and finally gave up.
   

Metrics and Targets: Quantitative and qualitative indicators of progress or success.

Metrics and targets are the quantitative and qualitative indicators of progress or success and desired targets to achieve. These should be clearly linked to or flow from the purpose and deliverables. For projects that require significant investment to implement, being able to develop quantitative business measures is critical for stakeholder support.
   

Principles and Givens: Fundamental values and beliefs used to guide judgment be­tween alternatives and evaluate final recommendations and the conditions that some­ one besides the team will decide.

Principles and givens give the sponsor and key stakeholders clear input on the front end, which increases the odds that they will accept the team’s recommendations down the road. With all the talk in the air about self-managing teams, this is an area worth paying careful attention to: few teams are authorized to decide everything for themselves. Failure to spell out a principle or given in the charter can lead to major confusion and break down trust between the team and stakeholders.
 
Common areas in which givens may occur include the team’s specific deliverables; the timetable for completion; requirements for updates or other communication, including gate reviews, or points where executive input and decisions will occur; resources available; and policies, rules, or standard practices relevant to the charter.
 
By the way, when the team gets to its final recommendations, it’s a good idea to analyze its proposals in the light of the principles and givens. We’ve learned the hard way. A team was chartered to develop a self-directed work team implementation plan for a warehouse shipping and receiving operation. The charter left out discussion of principles or givens concerning cost or headcount. The team eventually recommended adding headcount to the operation, which would have increased cost. But the sponsor had no authority to approve additional personnel. It took days to work through the issue, rebuild the team’s trust, and complete the implementation process.
 

Scope: The boundaries of the team’s work and what is off limits; organizational, system and process boundaries are the most common considerations.

Defining the scope ensures that the team looks at the total system or problem and stays within the authority and responsibility of the sponsor. Clearly defining the scope as the team is formed can save time and frustration for the team and sponsor. There is a natural tendency for a phenomenon we call “scope creep.” Scope creep is an unconscious tendency for the team to work on problems or in areas not assigned. This leads to cost overruns, time delays, and frustration. It also creates situations in which the sponsor and stakeholders will not or cannot deal with problems the team discovers in its analysis.
 

Level of Team Authority: The decision-making boundary of the team.

Nothing deflates enthusiasm and undermines a team’s hard work more than the sudden realization that what they thought was a decision they had the authority to make turns out to be only a “recommendation” that calls for approval of some higher authority and will likely go through numerous revisions and modifications.

As basic as this might seem, it is often the most overlooked component of the charter. Clarifying who decides what and by what method is typically the responsibility of the sponsor or the steering committee. If it is not clear at the outset of the team’s work, the team leader should work with the sponsor, the steering committee and if necessary, the team to ensure everyone is in agreement. Spell it out: what things do the sponsor or stakeholders decide, what things do they decide with input from the team, what does the team decide? Are decisions made by majority vote or by consensus? What’s the fallback when you get logjammed?
 

Roles and Responsibilities: The positions people hold in relation to the team and the duties they perform.

Five key roles need to be clearly defined: sponsor, stakeholders, steering committee, team leader, team member. On whose desk does the buck stop for this project? What other key players have a stake in the outcome? Who’s coordinating the action? And who else is playing? Sometimes, with complex projects, you will have two related teams, a core team and a support team. Spell out who is responsible for what and review it periodically.

With regard to sponsors, stakeholders, and steering committees, we think most projects should include at least two of these in the managing structure.

Sponsor – The sponsor is the person with the authority to launch the team and a vested interest in the outcome of the work. He or she may participate in boundary management and communications as the work progresses. The sponsor often provides input into many of the charter components. He or she may also ensure that the roles and responsibilities are reviewed periodically and followed. The sponsor’s key responsibilities are to make sure satisfactory progress is made and that all individuals meet their commitments, and to see that appropriate corrective action is initiated as needed.

Stakeholder – There are two kinds of stakeholder: anyone who can help or block the team’s work, and anyone directly affected by the outcome of the work or the changes the work produces. Key point: sometimes you need to tell people that they are stakeholders. Unless you tell them, your project is underway, often they have no way of knowing. So, it’s critical that the team identifies all stakeholders early in its work to avoid rude surprises later on.

Stakeholders add value by providing input along the way. The team needs to be careful to brief them periodically as work progresses. This does two important things: it enr ich­ es the quality of the data used (by catching errors and minimizing oversights) and it goes a long way toward getting critical buy-in.

Steering committee – A steering committee poses a dilemma. On the one hand, if you’re not careful, a team can waste vast amounts of valuable time preparing steering committee updates. On the other hand, the need to do periodic reviews can be a valuable check on how you’re doing in relation to the deliverables, principles, givens, and scope. Steering committee members should ask (and sometimes need to be prompted) strategic questions: Are we still on course? Have any givens changed? Is there new information to consider? Does the team need help? Do any barriers need to be removed? Are additional resources needed?

Team Work Methods: How the team will perform its work.

To what extent is the team expected to communicate with or involve non­team members? How should it handle communication with the sponsor, stakeholders, and the steering committee? How will the team make decisions and resolve conflicts? How much time are members expected to devote? You can avoid wasteful time processing conflicts down the road if team members know up front what to do when they find themselves facing one of these common predicaments: they reach an impasse, conflict arises, membership changes, the direction of the work or the deliverables change.
 
One of the toughest challenges to the development of a good plan is the team’s collective desire to dive in and get “real” work done. But our experience with task teams and our struggles to keep them on track and going in the right direction (yes, we have seen teams on the right track but going in the wrong direction) points to the value of an effective charter. Any task worth the energy and effort of a team, is certainly worth doing well. And any task worth doing well deserves, and will benefit from, a solid charter.

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