No project should be initiated without a charter or some kind of project initiating document. While they may include various topics and information, the key purpose of a charter is two-fold: 1) It sanctions the project (or phase), and 2) It gives authority to the project manager to apply organizational resources to the project.
I think most charters do a better job at sanctioning the work than they do at making clear the authority level of the project manager. I confirm this on a regular basis with project managers working on chartered project who are expected to get project work done with resources that don’t seem to feel any sense of obligation to the project. Some PMs aren’t even sure who the resources are that may be available to them.
For these PMs, team development as a primary role of the project manager is a complete fantasy. Although I’ve never heard anyone say it, I can imagine some have thought to themselves, “It’s my job to make sure team members have the skills they need to get their work done and that they are working together effectively as a team? Are you kidding? I can’t even get a status report from these people!”
Meeting stakeholder expectations is obviously related to a PM’s ability to make use of the project resources, so I can’t think of a stakeholder that wouldn’t benefit from the PM understanding exactly what control they have.
If the charter is the key to demystifying what authority and control a PM has over the project resources, what should that look like? What elements in a charter would make PM authority clear?
As a project manager, I can think of three things that I would like to know that would provide clarity regarding what real authority I have:
- What obligations does a team member have to the project as well as to their function or department? Many charters have a section that provides a description of the roles and responsibilities pertaining to team members’ project work, but what about the non-project obligations? And what about other projects the team members are working on?
- What are the relative priorities of those departmental and project obligations? A typical day in the lives of most team members includes both project and non-project work. For most of us, the non-project work takes precedence; we have to keep the fires out and things up and running before we get to the project stuff. At best, project work is priority #2 for most team members.
- If a team member has a question about competing priorities, who makes the call? Or, at least whom do they ask?
Frankly, assessing these things may result in the realization that when it comes right down to it, the PM doesn’t have much control over the resources.
But I’d rather not have control and know it and be able to manage stakeholder expectations accordingly, than think because I’m the PM and the project is chartered that I have control over resources when I don’t.
The perceived or implied control over resources in the absence of any real authority will leave PMs, team members, and other stakeholders frustrated.
Project managers owe it to their stakeholders to make good use of organizational resources to deliver project success. They also deserve to know exactly what control and authority they have over those resources in order to do so.