How to Keep Your Project Charter from Gathering Pixel Dust

Updating Your Project Charter“Exactly how do you plan to get down from there?” asked my husband.

During the summer, I was out picking blackberries (the real ones, not the smartphones) and saw a wonderful patch of delicious-looking wild mountain blackberries. They were perfectly ripe and ready for pies and jam.

The patch, though, was growing over a large, rotting tree stump. As I climbed up the stump and through the vines to reach the berries, I used parts of the uneven stump as footholds. About half-way up the stump, part of it crumbled away just as I lifted my foot to move a little farther.

I was so focused on the goal – get the blackberries – that I forgot to pause, take stock of the situation and reassess my current status. I had encountered an issue, and I wasn’t even aware of it. In other words, my husband was right. I was rather stuck.

During any project, it’s easy to focus on moving forward toward the end goal. Each week, we update our status reports, add in the accomplishments since the previous report, maybe update a few of the issues, and change the percentage complete (ideally increasing it). Then, we submit the status report and hope it might merit a quick glance by someone in the PMO or, if we are really lucky, maybe even by one of our project stakeholders.

But as project managers, we often become so engrossed with managing the details of our projects that we forget to step back, take a look a where we’ve been, and evaluate our current situation.

Part way through your project, take an hour or so to evaluate your project from a 10,000 foot view. Just you. Not a room full of people during a status meeting, and not your executive steering committee. Just you. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are the project goals still the same? If not, how have they changed since the project started?
  2. Are the measures of success still the same? If not, how have they changed?
  3. Do I have the right resources on the team? Are there people who are part of the project, but really don’t need to be? Am I missing any key individuals?
  4. Are there issues that have been on the list for so long that I’m not really tracking them any more? Can I take them off the list? What can I do to get traction on the issues that really do need to be resolved?
  5. Is the project still on budget and on schedule? If not, do the people who need to know already know?
  6. What’s the mood of the resources on the team? Positive or negative? Still motivated or running out of steam? What do I need to do to address any motivation issue?

Once you have those answers, you’ll need to do something radical. Brace yourself before you read any further. In fact, you might want to sit down if you’re reading this while standing. You’ll need to … update the project charter. Remember that document you created at the beginning of the project? It’s been gathering pixel dust ever since, right?

Now is the perfect time to update the project charter, then take it back to your executive steering committee for review. Update the project charter again with any new or additional feedback from your steering committee, and discuss the changes during your next project team meeting.

Taking a pause to sit down with a cup of coffee, answer the questions above, and update your project charter can help you avoid a “stickery” situation during the latter half of your project, and can help you make sure that you, your project team members and your project sponsors are still working toward the same end goal.

Oh, and how did I get down off the stump when I was done picking? Since I couldn’t go down, I had to keep going up by crawling under a low-hanging tree and through a bunch of huckleberry bushes until I was past the stump. Then, I could walk over to a more gradual rise and come back down. But in the whole process, I never dropped a single berry.