The importance of a Project Charter in pharma project management in Europe

“Begin with the end in mind…”

When it comes to Project Management, it is imperative that we know ‘why’ from the start and this, among other information, begins with the Project Charter. This is the foundation stone of any well managed project. While the level of formality and detail of the content can be both project or organisation specific, the focus should be on starting as we mean to continue, and begin with the end in mind. We should start with a structured communication strategy that is fundamentally linked to the stakeholder engagement process.

If we take our guidance from the PMBOK® Guide, each phase of a project goes through the initiation processes, and each has a charter (PMI, 2004, 82). The intent, among others, of a Project Charter, is to get from the sponsor the high level ask:

  • Business needs (or the purpose of the project)
  • Identified project stakeholders (including the sponsor(s))
  • Project specifics
      • Background or context of the current ‘as is’ situation
      • Project drivers linked to the ‘triple constraint’
        • Scope – what do we currently understand the scope to be?
        • Cost – what’s our budget?
        • Schedule – what are the current high-level milestones?
  • Assumptions, constraints and risk – again, as we currently understand

If we consider that a project is a temporary endeavour that has a beginning and an end, one of the intents of a Project Charter is to formalise or begin the project and define the end goal. Have you ever been involved in a project and after a couple of weeks/months discover that what you are doing isn’t exactly what the client, user, or sponsor is looking for?  

This is not as uncommon as you would imagine, but if we dig into the root cause, we invariably discover that you both had differing takeaways from that conversation at the coffee corner where your boss (the sponsor) discussed your new project. I am being facetious of course but we need to ensure that the Project Manager (PM) structures the discussion. At a minimum, the discussion needs to be documented so the PM has a clear understanding of what he has been asked to achieve.

At No deviation, we have used many formats, including Klaxoon boards, to brainstorm the content of the Charter, but the primary intent is communication and stakeholder engagement. Depending on the complexity and size of the project, the PM may decide to have a more detailed Charter but the driver for the PM is to ‘formalise’ and initiate the project. I always maintain that committing something to paper (or another medium) is one of the hardest parts of the exercise, it’s a lot easier to critique. This will also allow the team to look together in the same direction.

the importance of a project charter in pharma project management in europe no deviation

While we are drafting our Charter, we are already moving. Not only are we moving on our project but in the majority of cases, we may be a subset of an even larger project or portfolio of projects. All of these interactions need to be managed in a timely manner, especially in relation to communication management.  

The guidance, and good practice, dictates that we need to spend time and resources on the Charter but we also need to find the balance in terms of effort vs reward. We need to bear in mind that the Charter is part of an evolving project. Like every phase of the project lifecycle, we need to strike the balance in terms of the triple constraint (schedule, cost and resources). In essence, we do not want to spend an excessive amount of time trying to ensure that we achieve perfection. Also, keep in mind that the Charter is not your project execution plan.

As the project evolves, typically, we are adding additional stakeholders into the mix which will add additional voices to various discussions. The more stakeholders we have, the more communication pathways or channels we have. As the number of pathways increases, so too does the risk of creating ‘noise’ around these communication pathways.  

If we have already initiated a project, Charter in hand, and we are moving to the next phase (planning) with a focus on a more detailed Project Execution Plan (P.E.P.), we can engage our new stakeholders with an already agreed framework. If we are too slow to move to the next phase of the project and control the Communication, we risk the overall project delivery.

So in summary, the Project Charter is an essential process. It gives the Project Manager the authorisation for the defined project. It gives us a starting point and allows the PM to frame future discussions and control the narrative of those discussions. While we may pivot during the development of the P.E.P., based on agreement from our sponsor(s) or other defined decision-makers, we have started the project with a firm foundation on which to achieve a successful delivery.

At No deviation, we provide a truly agile approach to Project Management, using various tools to ensure efficient and effective communication with stakeholders. Reach out to us if you require our project management services in Europe.

You can also visit our website for more information on our services.