A secret of strategic initiative success is to establish effective starting conditions. One of the first documents created in a program is the charter. A strategic initiative charter serves at least two foundational functions:
- The information in the charter provides inputs for discussion and reference. You can describe the quality of this information as “initial,” or “preliminary,” or “tentative.” As the team learns its way into the program, it updates and supplements the information in the planning documents.
- A signature on the charter indicates that the strategic initiative is legitimate (e.g. management is prepared to invest resources into it). Strategic initiatives are boundary spanning and transformative; thus, this legitimacy helps to identify the stakeholders who will support with visibility and resources.
The strategic initiative charter serves as a symbol of the launch of the strategic initiative. It is of far less importance to document intentions for planning or controlling the work.
In prior articles, I explained that strategic initiatives are programs and not projects. If you have a template designed for projects, be careful as the typical template is designed for ordered, understood deployment projects and not complex strategic endeavors (a related article on Five Rules for Complex Strategic Initiatives is found at the bottom).
Strategic initiatives often work in an environment where you want good things to emerge, rather than obtain a predetermined result.
Enforce Conciseness with the Two-Page Rule
I and other practitioners compared our experiences with strategic initiative charters. We noticed the “two page” rule: cull the information into the essential elements and keep the entire document to two pages. This practice encourages you to think about your audiences and your purposes in communicating to them.
I once worked with an executive whose mantra was, “Conciseness is next to godliness.”
You don’t want to make the mistake of putting too much information into a strategic initiative charter.
I have created one-page strategic initiative charters. The response was that this one page is insufficient. Experience says that two pages is optimal.
Essential Elements of a Strategic Initiative charter
When I write a document to charter a strategic initiative, I include the following elements. I write and edit to keep the document to two pages.
- Strategic Initiative Name
- Background/Rationale – This is a brief statement explaining the significance of the strategic initiative, including the impetus, who is affected and how.
- Statement of Problem or Opportunity – This takes the prior section and goes into more detail, and is typically where tentative vision and metrics are described.
- Lead Entity (ies), Other Partners – Often the initiative involves other organizations. It is useful to clarify other partnering organizations that are likely to be involved, and their roles, if known. Who is the lead partner?
- Program Manager Name
- Key Resources – If known, state the people, funding, equipment/facilities dedicated to this initiative.
- Strategies/Actions to Advance This Initiative – This describes the problem-solving approach. I often find it useful to explicitly address deviation from standard project methodologies. This helps you avoid misunderstandings with project offices, which often enforce compliance to project standards that are inappropriate for programs and strategic initiatives.
- Out of Scope – I describe the known excluded items, particularly other strategic initiatives.
- Anticipated Timeline – Here I focus on incremental benefits delivery. I avoid due dates for deliverables, which is much better addressed in program and project planning documents.
- Program Sponsor and Other Key Stakeholders
- References – Strategy takes place in an environment where there is a plethora of information; literally, hundreds of pages of presentation slides, spreadsheets, analysis, proposals, and the like. In this section of the charter, I reference strategic planning documents.
- Approval – (Signature)
There are many things than can be included in a program charter and anyone with experience with project or program charters should be able to provide many suggestions. These elements can include authorities, decision rights, strategic assumptions, and budget.
What is your experience with strategic initiative charters?
- Strategic Initiative Benefit Propositions (Part 1): Identifying the Duties of Internal Stakeholders (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
- A Master List of Questions for Strategic Initiatives (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
- Use the As-Is-&-To-Be Table to Clarify Strategic Initiative Vision (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
- Five Rules for Managing Complex Strategic Initiatives (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
- Case Study: Strategic Initiative Kickoff in a Global Joint Venture (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
- Know The “Follow-The-Money” Story. How was Your Strategic Initiative Funded? (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)