The project charter – one test of the commitment level of your sponsor!

The classic difference between theory and practice is admirably illustrated by some of the principles reflected in the Guide to the PMBOK when we compare them with the organizational project management reality that we are often faced with.

A good example of this gap relates to the Project Charter.

The PMBOK guide correctly identifies this document as the key trigger that formalizes the existence of a project and that vests a project manager with the authority to apply resources towards the achievement of the project’s vision.  The PMBOK guide further clarifies that while the sponsor is responsible for issuing the charter, they might delegate the actual effort of developing it to the assigned project manager.  The charter achieves almost the same level of importance as a “foundation” document for a religion.

If only it were that straightforward – in many organizations, resources might be busy delivering scope and budget might be expended before a charter document is approved and issued (if it ever is!).  The complaint I heard from one practitioner this week was why should the PMBOK be so far removed from the way projects are managed in “the real world” – in the context of learning about how to manage projects, it seems academic to be memorizing theory.

On the surface, this seems like a valid argument – if the majority of organizations that a typical PM is exposed to are at a very low maturity level, what is the point in going through the frustration of learning best practices that can never be applied.  My take on it is that the PMBOK guide provides a good vision of how project management should be practiced and each organization (and practitioner) could strive to improve their planning and execution capabilities using guidance from it or similar sources of knowledge.  If the extent of our vision is a stone’s throw away, that’s as far as we will progress – once we visualize a goal that is much more challenging, we experience true growth.

This segue brings me back to the point of this article – committed project sponsorship has often been identified as a project critical success factor.  If you cannot get your project sponsor to engage sufficiently to issue or at worst to review and approve a charter during the honeymoon stage of the project life cycle, what luck do you expect to have when escalating a project issue or significant project decision to them?


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