Project Management for Learning Professionals: The Charter
Each learning initiative, program, course, or module developed in your company’s learning department should be thought of a discreet project that needs to be well-managed in order to achieve the desired outcomes. The place to start when a new learning project comes your way is with a document called a Project Charter. Getting this right from the outset will make your life a whole lot easier as the project progresses through its various stages and phases. Here are the elements of a solid project charter and what to keep in mind as you create one:
Business Problem Statement
This is the critical starting point for any learning project. If a new learning initiative is dropped into your lap without a clear explanation of what business problem is being addressed, the chance of failure skyrockets, pure and simple. Even if you have to push hard to get clarity on this piece of the project puzzle, it’s worth the effort because otherwise you’re dead in the water. If you need to stimulate discussion on this element, consider using the following questions:
- What exactly is wrong?
- Where does the problem exist?
- How serious or widespread is the problem?
- When does the problem occur?
- What are all the impacts of the problem?
- Is everyone clear or does everyone agree on what the problem is?
- How succinctly can the problem be articulated?
The Business Case
The bigger the project, the more important it is to formulate a strong business case for taking action. This will help you determine just how high the stakes are in solving the problem, which will in turn help you prioritize the importance of the project, what staff are needed to address it, and how quickly you need to move. Keep the following questions in mind for this element of the project charter:
- Why is this project worth doing?
- How is it important to customers?
- How is it important to the business?
- How is it important to employees?
- Why is it important to do it now?
- What will happen if you don’t do the project now?
With the business problem clearly and succinctly stated, along with the business case for why it needs to be addressed now, you can easily give a short definition to the project that helps everyone understand immediately what it’s about.
When it comes to learning initiatives, the project’s objectives are the learning objectives of the program that will be developed. In order to spur your best thinking on this element, consider the following questions:
- What results are anticipated from this project?
- Are the objectives SMART? Is each one Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound?
- What improvement is targeted?
- How much improvement is required to address the business problem?
- How much of a stretch is it to reach these objectives? Is it enough of a stretch?
- What are the key metrics involved?
Clearly articulating the scope of the project is critical from the outset. Cover all the bases by considering the following questions:
- Is the project scope both clear and reachable?
- How long do you think it will take to complete the project?
- Have you utilized a process mapping technique to help define the scope?
- What are the budgetary limits and needed approvals?
- Who is the final decision-making authority related to this project?
- Who will be the members of the project team and what are their specific responsibilities?
- How will the project team focus its work?
This is the element where you lay out the time-bound milestones in the life of the project and who is responsible for each one. Consider the following questions:
- Are the timelines for all the project’s stages clearly articulated?
- Does the team agree to those milestones?
- What is the accountability process around meeting these milestones?
- Does everyone understand what key metrics they need to pay attention to for each milestone?
Although there are always people who think taking the time to pull together a robust project charter feels like a waste of time, you can see by what’s outlined above that doing so will make everything much clearer, which will allow the project to proceed smoothly to completion. This is one piece of the learning puzzle that you really can’t afford to skip.