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Using Charrettes in the Project Planning Phases

written by: Suba Lakshminarasimhan • edited by: Ronda Bowen • updated: 8/15/2011

Are you the project manager who faces many problems in the project planning phase? The charrette is the collaborative model used to resolve these problems.This article will explain how this model helps to plan your project activities appropriately.

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    A charrette session is conducted to improve the project planning activities by resolving an issue. This model normally focuses on resolving a single issue. Let us look at the advantages of using the charrette model in various project planning stages.

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    How does the Charette Work?

    The charrette model works in the steps as described below:

    Step 1: Define the problem - Unless the problem is identified or defined, it is not easy to find any solution. The charrette model is initiated by defining a problem. The team keenly focus on discussing the situation or the problem and its impact on the organization. This initial step helps the team to define the problem statement.

    Step 2: Analyze the problem defined - Once the problem statement is created,the team analyses the intricacies of the problem defined. This session helps the team to identify the project elements that induced the problem. The cause and effect of the problem is discussed at this stage.

    Step 3: Identify multiple approaches / alternatives - Analyzing the cause and effect of the problem helps the team to identify multiple solutions on how the situation can be corrected. The team comes up with multiple alternatives to correct the problem at this stage.

    Step 4: Analyze and develop a final solution - Now the team focuses on analyzing the pros and cons of each alternative. This analysis helps to determine the right method as a final solution to solve the problem.

    Step 5: Present the final solution to the management - As a final step,the team creates a presentation explaining all the above steps. This presentation also explains why the identified method is the right solution for the problem identified. After reviewing the presentation, a key member from the team present it to the management and obtain their approval.

    There is a project manager who leads and conducts the whole session. The project manager must act like a transformational leader who positively influences the organization growth. He/She should understand the charrette techniques, group dynamics and know how to conduct a session without any bias. The charrette leaders encourage the participants to open up and share their ideas without any fear.

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    The Key Project Planning Circumstances When Charette is Majorly used in the Organizations

    The main purpose of a charrette in the project planning is to avoid the issues in the project scope, functions, cost and the standards. The problems in these areas affect the project outcomes. The globally distributed projects are common in today’s business world. The project head must understand the key elements to manage the virtual team and the stakeholders. An appropriate planning is essential for attaining the project success.

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    The Initial Project Planning Phase

    The project planning phase normally starts by defining the scope of the project. The project scope defines the objectives, risks, milestones, deadlines and other important metrics.The vague scope statements lead to project failures. The charrette session helps here to clearly define the project scope statement. Let us take an example of an IT project where you are asked to develop a Java program for a government entity. How will the client react while looking at this scope statement?

    “This is a Java program development project for a government entity. The purpose of the project is to benefit the entity and those who depend on this entity"

    Is this statement fair enough to understand the project objectives? As a project manager, you should know the intricacies involved in developing a Java program for that particular entity. The business conducted by them, the area where you are required to develop a Java program, and the purpose of the project are the important elements to be considered before developing a scope statement. Only when you have gained an insight on these elements, you will be able to identify the main problem that may arise in the project. Involve the representatives from the entity while conducting a charrette session. It will give them an opportunity to raise their concerns or ideas in a different perspective. Once the solutions are found, you can create an appropriate scope statement. By using the charrette, developing a vague project scope statement can be avoided at the initial project planning stage.

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    The Mid-Project Planning Phase

    There are many day-to-day project issues that may come up in the middle of the project planning phase. The project managers create the project deadlines and milestones in this phase.

    The charrettes can be conducted while defining the deadlines or the milestones. For example, the project manager may not know the vacation plans of the employees at the lower level. When the lower level employee is involved in the charette session, he / she gets an opportunity to indicate the same to the project manager. This information will help the project manager to either create a different deadline / milestone or develop other backup plans.

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    The End Project Planning Phase

    The project plan is shared with the customer at the end of the project planning phase. The customers may raise an issue that requires an immediate attention. The charrette session involving the customer will help a lot here.

    Global Projects Let us take a global project as an example here. There are virtual teams working from different geographies in different time zones. It is natural for the customers to raise an issue in the communication plans. Conducting a charrette here will be very helpful. The charrette must focus on how to develop a communication plan for the virtual team. The session will come up with multiple alternatives for better communication. A suitable solution is then identified and implemented as a final result.

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    The Disadvantage of Using Charrettes

    Unfortunately, the charrettes are used to resolve a single issue or a problem, hence it becomes a one time event in the problem solving. It is also easy to navigate away from the main problem as there are so many people involved during the discussion. This can also leads to loss of time and money. The project manager leading the charrette session must know how to control the group and drive the team to focus on the key issue raised.