From the Princess Bride

A verbal charter? From Princess Bride (Best Movie Ever!)

Team charters are a way to ensure that a team is focused. The team charter works best when it is an anchor with a clear statement of the problem to be solved, a vision for the solution and a commitment to team norms. At the team level the charter can be a single piece of paper or a few flip charts. As efforts scale up to require multiple teams working together over multiple sprints and releases, things often drift back towards an omnibus charter so large that it rivals Stephen King novels. Cooler heads should prevail. Simple charters for scaled efforts (products or projects) still require only a few components.

All components of an Agile charter need to meet the three attributes we established for the components of a team charter. They should be:

  • Concise – Agile charters are time boxed and constrained. Examples of constraints that I have used include one typed page or four handwritten flip charts (my favorite). Time and size constraints force the teams to be very concise.
  • Organic – Whenever possible, use a flip chart and hand write the charter documents rather than PowerPoint (or the presentation software du jour). Flips charts and other organic mechanisms for completing the charter generate engagement, which increases the charters value to the team.
  • Understandable – Use language that the whole team can understand. Do not use legal mumbo jumbo. Reducing the amount of legal mumbo jumbo reduces the time spent on wordsmithing.

Based on my experience with scaled Agile projects and conversations with colleagues, readers of the blog and podcast listeners, we have identified four categories of components that make up a scaled Agile charter. Each category answers core questions about the effort that everyone needs to understand AND remember.

  1. Envisioning Success: Components in this category answer the question of why an effort is being done by providing an understanding of what needs to be accomplished. The components that help those involved in the project to envision success are a common understanding of the project mission, vision and goal.
  2. Defining Behavior: Explicitly identifying and agreeing on a set of expectations for how groups will behave and interact will reduce the potential for conflict while promoting positive behavior.
  3. Identifying Constraints: Components in this category identify resources, tools, people, money and other assets available to the effort and the boundaries on the use of these items. The definition of assets and the limitations of those assets are inextricably linked. One of my favorite movies of all times is the Princess Bride. One of the great dialogs in the movies revolves around the constraints the three heroes are facing just before they storm the castle to rescue Princess Buttercup. When they discover that the giant has the holocaust cloak, Wesley states, “Why didn’t you list that among our assets in the first place?Understanding the true constraints a team faces makes planning and delivering easier!
  4. Timing Data: Timing components provide everyone with an understanding of the planned release schedule and strategy, sprint cadence, common event timing and any outside date constraints. Timing could be considered a type of constraint; however, it is important to call timing information out separately so that it can’t be overlooked.

A scaled Agile charter is as important as a team charter. But, importance should not be measured by file size or a page count. Nor should a charter, because it is construed to be important, be dictated to the teams involved in an Agile effort. An Agile charter must be concise, organic and understandable in order to maximize the value of the charter.

We explore the types of information that might be useful in each section/component here, here and here.