Have you ever wondered why so many nonprofit tech projects go off the rails? When technology enters the picture, even the most high-functioning team can get thrown for a loop and lose their focus. And that means higher costs, longer timelines, poor outcomes, and a ton of unnecessary frustration.

Sound familiar? I’m guessing it does.

I have an approach I like to use with my clients that pretty dramatically reduces the risk of tech project failure. It’s something you can implement at the beginning of your projects and I’m going to share it with you today.

Tech Projects Can Suck the Life Out of You

Ashley and her team were setting up a new fundraising system. They were excited about what the new software could do to help the organization grow. The first few weeks were smooth sailing (aka “The Honeymoon Phase”).

But honeymoons don’t last forever. By the eighth week of the project, Ashley and her team were deep in the weeds. People were confused about their responsibilities, so deadlines were missed. Meetings became chaotic. Decisions were hard to make, and that pushed the go-live timeline out. Everyone was feeling stabby.

They didn’t know there is an easy way to prevent the project from becoming a train wreck, because it’s something that most organizations skip.

What is it? A “Project Charter”.

Reduce Your Risk with a Project Charter

A Project Charter sounds like something written on a scroll with gold letters, but it’s really not as fancy as all that. It’s a high-level road map for your project – it serves up the strategy, expectations, timing, outcomes, and names the people who are involved in your project. Most Project Charters include these meaty items:

  • Problem / Opportunity Statement. Why are we doing this project?
  • Project Goals. What’s the impact?
  • Project Scope. What is included (and what’s not included?)
  • Start & Stop Dates. How long will this take?
  • Project Budget. How much money can we spend on this?
  • Team Roles & Responsibilities. Who is on your project team and what are they on the hook to do?

Why a Project Charter Matters

Technology projects can seem to take a lifetime, but in truth they usually take 6 months or more. We’ve all been rolling along on a project only to realize that the goals have sneakily changed over time (without anyone realizing it). If your website redesign goal was to increase donations and you find yourselves spending more time designing your podcast landing page than your donation forms, the Project Charter can help you recognize this and get back on track.

But that’s not all! This amazing document can also help your team when tempers are flaring or if you’re feeling like it’s impossible to make a decision. Let’s say that your event manager is getting hung up on the layout of your new blog template and your timeline is slipping.

Don’t freak out and send a passive aggressive email – the good old Project Charter should clarify what they should really be paying attention to (and it’s probably NOT the blog). A quick review will help redirect their energy to the right things.

How to Write Your Own Project Charter

It really doesn’t matter what you use to make your Project Charter, as long as you can share it easily with everyone on the team.

And guess what?  I’ve created a free template you can use to get started.

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If you need something different there are loads of free pre-created templates out there. It’s a good idea to huddle with the entire project team and work together to create the Project Charter. Talk about an opportunity to get everyone on the same page! Full participation also reduces the chance that you’ll hear grumbling about how person X was not involved at the beginning.

This thing really works – I’ve seen the Project Charter operate like a magic wand, turning snarling beasts back into professional adults.

So grab my Project Charter template, rustle up your team, and get ready to dramatically improve your tech project process and outcomes!

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