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Article

Why and How to Use Project Charters in Customer Success (+ a FREE template!)

July 9, 2021

Marley Wagner

Category: Customer Adoption, Customer Experience, Customer Onboarding, Customer Retention, Customer Success as a Service, Customer Success Maturity, Customer Success Strategy, Partner Success

It’s too easy to get lost in the details of a project when we’ve always got so much on our plates. And with so many goals and objectives to achieve, it can be hard to focus on the specifics of the one right in front of you. We know this can be especially true for Customer Success leaders. That’s why we’ve borrowed a little tool from the folks who are lean, mean, project organizing machines – project managers – to help us stay on track. Project managers utilize powerful little documents called project charters to define, implement, and keep track of their projects. These guides provide a big picture overview of an initiative and help determine critical aspects for its success before it even begins. Customer Success teams can benefit immensely by taking this page out of the book of project management, especially in organizations where CS leaders (and even CSMs) are trying to “build the airplane at 10,000 feet,” so to speak.

Project charter? What’s that?

If you’ve never heard of project charters before, they are a detailed document that defines a project’s scope, objectives, and key players for a particular initiative. Project managers typically use them as part of the project management lifecycle. After a statement of work is completed, a charter is created based on the statement of work during the project discovery phase. It is then submitted for approval. Once approved, the project charter grants the project manager the authority to move forward. Project managers will then use the charter as a foundation for the next step, building a more detailed project plan.

We can borrow the project charter step from the project management lifecycle to help us set parameters, goals, and timelines for Customer Success projects. Project charters come in many forms, but the essential elements are all the big W’s – Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? (I snuck in an H for good measure). They provide a basis for making decisions about the project as it unfolds, and they help ensure the project will fall within the scope of larger departmental and company-wide goals. It’s basically a cheat sheet we can use to keep our CS projects in line with their original objectives as everything progresses over time.

Why project charters are valuable in Customer Success

Customer Success needs to break through the siloed mindset and work with other internal teams like sales and marketing. Project charters can help CS operations create initiatives that bridge these gaps by providing a clear picture of how each department will benefit from a project. They can be effective for encouraging stakeholders across teams to get involved as well. And a charter can be a useful tool for establishing a project’s budget, so that a project’s funding sources are evident right from the start. Altogether, the process of developing your project charter helps you build a business case for an initiative your CS team wants to tackle, helping to secure buy-in from senior leadership before you spend any significant resources on it.

If you are a Customer Success leader, you can use project charters to outline timelines and expected milestones for your team, giving them a better perspective for determining a project’s success. Your team can be confident that everyone is working toward the same well-defined goal. They may be more motivated because all of the project’s parameters are spelled out clearly and precisely.

Project charters can even save you a lot of time and headaches down the road. You might be excited about taking on a particular venture but, after digging into the details of your charter, you realize that your scope is too broad or you need a better understanding of its expected impact. You then have the opportunity to take a step back and determine if the undertaking needs to be broken down into smaller parts, needs more explicit goals, or should be set aside in favor of a different goal entirely. By filling out your project charter in these early stages, you’ll have more clarity on what you can expect from a course of action and the steps it will take to get there.

The elements of a Customer Success project charter

General project information

This is where you give your project a cool name (Project CS Sizzle-Time anyone?) or at least a name, a sponsor, a manager of the whole shebang, which processes will be impacted, and expected dates for the overall start and completion of the project.

Overarching problem statement and expected results

What problem are you trying to solve? What’s your business case? Include goals, metrics, and deliverables here.

Scope and schedule

Define the full scope of your project, including what you consider outside of the scope of your project. Sometimes understanding what you won’t be impacting is just as important as understanding what you will be impacting. This is also where you put a detailed tentative schedule with key milestones and the expected start and completion dates for each.

Resources

Who will be on the project team? What resources will be available to your team? Do you have any special requirements that need to be accommodated?

Benefits and customers

Who are your key stakeholders? Also, who owns the process you plan to impact with your project? This is where you define the people who will benefit the most from your project’s successful completion. You want to be as thorough as necessary, outlining who (internal or external) will be affected and precisely how they will benefit from the undertaking.

Risks, constraints, and assumptions

What are the risks to your project’s success? This section is all about your project’s known and unknown conditions. Detail any impediments that exist at this time, as well as any assumptions you’re making due to unknown or unknowable circumstances.

Depending on your organization and whether outside teams are involved, you may also want to include sections for your project’s budget, more specific roles for project team members, each stakeholder’s interests, and the sponsor’s requirements.

Where a project charter might come in handy for Customer Success operations

There are many areas where a project charter could come in handy for Customer Success operations. If you are focused on improving your operational capabilities, a charter could be used to create or update your customer journey maps. Or, you might be in an earlier stage and working to define and categorize your customer segments. If you’re embracing digitalization, charters help implement new Customer Success tools like a community platform to improve customer engagement as you scale. From a high-level perspective, organizational charters can assist with establishing your department’s priorities.

In a nutshell, A charter is great for…

1. Expanding or reorganizing a CS team
2. Implementing or updating CS technology
3. Refocusing or introducing new strategies to the CS organization
4. Building new journey maps, playbooks, or other internal or customer-facing assets

The goal for a project charter should be to communicate the value of your proposal and make sure that everyone involved is properly aligned. Projects will go a lot smoother if the team is already on board and ready to dive in. It gives outside groups a chance to provide their own input as well, ensuring better cooperation and better adoption of any new processes across the organization.

Whatever you’re planning next, a project charter is an excellent tool to have in your toolbox for organizing and launching a new initiative. Check out this free template we’ve used for our own CS project management here at ESG to get you started.