Project Chartering: A Philosophy and an Intention

Project Chartering: A Philosophy and an Intention Background Image
January 24, 2024

By: David Skuodas, Design, Construction, & Maintenance Director

In the dynamic landscape of project delivery, projects have become more nuanced and aspirational, often leading to better projects but also to more ambiguous definitions of project success. Scoping projects has, fortunately, become less cookie-cutter and more context-specific, but this requires a nuanced approach to unify increasingly diverse stakeholders. Key personnel change more frequently, creating change-management challenges.

Enter project chartering, an intentional philosophy and approach aimed at facilitating discovery, fostering inclusion, and steering the stakeholders and project team towards a shared vision. In this article, we delve into the essence of project chartering, its goals, milestones, and techniques, as well as the crucial role of a Project Champion and the significance of documentation.

 

THE ESSENCE OF PROJECT CHARTERING

Project chartering is not a rigid, one-size-fits-all process. Instead, it is an intention that embodies a blend of investigative journalism and systems thinking.

Investigative journalism in project chartering calls for curiosity, openness, honesty, transparency, fairness, and contextual truth. It seeks to overcome preconceived notions to unravel the layers of a project’s context and to define multi-objective success.

Similarly, systems thinking involves approaching a project from various perspectives—the five elements of urban stream function, project life cycle, spatial scales, professional and departmental diversity, finances, and more. Only after we’ve investigated a project’s context and considered these diverse perspectives are we able to define multi-objective project success and achieve buy-in from project stakeholders.

The open-minded nature of investigative journalism and the diverse perspectives of systems thinking unlock the potential to create great projects where the definition of success is clear to all involved.

 

CHARTERING GOALS

The overarching goals of project chartering are to:

  • Understand the context of a project
  • Define project success
  • Achieve team commitment to a shared vision

It aims to secure lasting buy-in from the project team, emphasizing that chartering is not a one-time effort but an ongoing philosophy and intention throughout the project life cycle. The goals of chartering are further defined below:

  1. Understanding: Delving into the layers of context through the five elements of urban stream function is crucial. The five elements are hydrology, hydraulics, geomorphology, vegetation, and community values. Identifying the necessary paths of inquiry and reaching out to relevant stakeholders ensures a comprehensive understanding of the project context. The Urban Stream Assessment Procedure is highlighted as a potential tool for certain projects that might benefit from a more rigorous investigation of the five elements before fully scoping a project.
  2. Defining: Clearly articulating the purpose and need of the project, defining problem statements, and determining essential outcomes are central to project chartering. This involves exploring identified problems and alternative solutions, including beyond “engineering” problems and
    alternatives, through the lens of diverse stakeholders and is applicable in both simple and multi-objective projects.
  3. Committing: Achieving buy-in from the project team and stakeholders requires intentional connection, especially in projects with complicated team structures that span multiple years. Revisiting commitment becomes vital at key project milestones, introduction of new team members, and whenever lead personnel change.

 

CHARTERING MILESTONES

Critical project stages serve as important chartering opportunities, necessitating that we revisit our project understanding, definition of success, and commitment to a shared vision. Examples of milestones that present chartering opportunities include:

  • Goal establishment during scoping
  • Initial project discovery
  • Alternative selection
  • Key decision-making
  • Onboarding of new team members
  • Post project to examine our adherence to the shared vision

It’s important to emphasize that chartering is an ongoing philosophy and intention, not a one-time activity or document.

 

THE ROLE OF A PROJECT CHAMPION

In the complex landscape of multi-agency and multi-objective projects, a Project Champion plays a pivotal role. Defined as the team member responsible for cultivating project partnership, facilitating chartering, driving momentum, and ensuring accountability, a Project Champion possesses influential, forward-looking, problem-solving, accountable, and curious characteristics. Belief in or passion for the project is essential. The choice of a Project Champion may vary depending on the project type, team, and context, but this person (or persons) will need to have a central role in navigating whatever major obstacles must be overcome to make the project a success.

 

CHARTERING TECHNIQUES

Effective chartering involves a contextual and project-specific approach, utilizing various techniques such as the following examples:

  1. Facilitated multi-stakeholder discovery sessions
  2. Team building to establish trust and relationships
  3. Utilizing tools like the Urban Stream Assessment Procedure based on project goals and context
  4. Revisiting chartering documentation such as project goals and vision statements at progress meetings

 

DOCUMENTATION

Documentation is a crucial aspect of project chartering, providing a means to vet decisions, hold the team accountable, facilitate onboarding of new team members, and to eliminate ambiguity around anything important on a project. Clear and simple documentation – focusing on discovery efforts and visioning early in the project and the selected alternative mid-project – serves as high-level guidance. Additionally, documenting potential project goals or alternatives that were considered but not carried forward can prevent them from reentering the dialog.

Chartering documentation should be succinct, useful, and age well, avoiding unnecessary updates. Documentation of identified problems mentioned by project stakeholders can be quite useful during early discovery. Clearly written project goals and vision statements are particularly useful communication tools during progress meetings, public meetings, and in communication with boards and councils.

 

CONCLUSION

In an era where projects are increasingly complex and dynamic, project chartering stands as a useful guide towards achieving successful project outcomes. It emphasizes ongoing understanding, definition, and commitment to project goals, supported by the role of a Project Champion, effective techniques, and concise but useful documentation.

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