Charter promotes clarity, focus to project teams

It avoids the question, 'Why are we here?'

Each team participating in the ELVIS Project at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Medical Center will have a charter defining the team's mission, scope of operation, objectives, and time frames.

"A charter provides clarity and start-up direction, focuses resources, and empowers the team," says Holly Hiryak, RN, CHAM, director of hospital admissions/patient access and co-leader of the project. "It avoids the floundering of 'Why are we here?' The team is more likely to own the project and the solutions."

While the charter may be created by top management or by the team itself, she stresses, it must have the endorsement of top management.

The charter should include a one- or two-line purpose statement explaining why the team was formed, Hiryak adds, and that statement should align with the organizational vision or mission. The document should outline measurable objectives, with provision for the use of benchmarks, evaluation, and milestones throughout the project, she says.

"It's about what the team needs to achieve, not how," she emphasizes. "If you try to tell [team members] how to achieve their goals, they wonder why they are there."

A charter gives the team boundaries within which to work, adds Hiryak, who wrote a set of guidelines for developing a charter. (See excerpt in box below.) "You have to set boundaries to avoid energy-depleting activities. You don't want to have to say, 'Oh, no, that's not what we intended.'"

Charter Responsibilities

• Must be clear and aligned with organizational goals.
• Challenging objectives to warrant team's work and expertise.
• Scope of authority must be defined.
• Must provide team direction.

The charter also sets criteria so that managers are able to allocate resources to the team, she says. "You want to give them something that indicates the commitment of time we're talking about, the action commitment expected of each team member."

Perhaps most significantly, Hiryak says, the document includes "top management's commitment to the project in writing."