80-90% of new products fail and 50-70% of IT projects flounder.

Why? A major reason is that the foundation of the agile process is cracked for many teams because they don’t use an agile team charter. Without the agile team charter, you lack that solid vision statement that keeps teams in-sync. That’s according to Alex Cowan, a fellow at the Batten Institute and Darden faculty member, who just launched an online course called Specializing in Agile Development.

So, what’s an agile charter? Here’s insight into what the charter is, and why it’s important:

What is an Agile Team Charter?

The agile team charter is an introductory document that sets the vision, mission, communication protocols and success criteria for an agile team. Without it, the foundation of any project is brittle.

Why is the Agile Charter Important?

Teams that don’t have an agile charter are missing an important psychological element in their project process. Judith Basler, the Director of Product Management at Blurb, has this to say of the agile charter:

I wish someone had told me about the importance of Agile Team Charters a long time ago. For the longest time I only followed Scrum-based team building methodologies, framing targets and purpose around feature building or sprint goals, stating definitions of done and keeping to feedback loops on sprint retrospectives while already in execution mode. What I missed was something truly important and that is the psychology behind what drives a team to succeed.

What truly makes a team successful is seeing the larger purpose and mission behind their work and that involves letting the team in on what they are solving for the customer at the very beginning. Is it uploading, downloading, performance, retention or usability we are solving for? What are the right measures that will tell us we are on the right track? Have the team focus on one problem-solving goal only. Show roadmaps, OKRs and any long-term strategy documents you create that illustrates the bigger picture. The team charter then frames the purpose. Include other team outlines in your charting process as you wish, such as meeting rules and team naming, which are fun and important exercises for team building purposes. With a defined team charter you will find an increase in empowerment and commitment in your team. I guarantee it.

Here are two high-level ways the agile charter is important for your team and your project’s long-term health.

1) The Charter Protects You from Upper Management

To an extent. The charter ensures that your project vision isn’t swayed by management as easily. If you have a process, especially an agile process that works for the top companies in the world, management is less likely to force your hand.

2) The Charter Keeps Your Project Scope and Budget In-Line

The agile team charter helps prevent scope creep. Per Jessica Chapman at CabForward, the charter helps standardize how projects are handled to ensure costs are kept in-line so internal or external customers aren’t shocked by the billing hours. She considers this part of the change control system.

Agile Charter Elements

Here are the four most crucial items you need for your agile team development charter:

1) The Vision / Mission Statement

Here is where you set the tone for your team and the direction for your agile charter. According to Jon Quigley, Founder at Value Transformation LLC, “the vision statement one of the most important parts of the Agile Team Charter.”

Per Alex, you need to anchor your vision to a problem, not a solution. Solutions change as internal values change, but your user’s problem will always exist. Your goal is to solve that. This relates back to the XY Problem, where people try to answer/solve an attempted solution (Y) rather than the actual problem (X).

Creating an agile team charter’s vision statement isn’t as hard as you think. In fact, according to Alex, you should probably treat it like an agile experiment. If you’re leading your agile team, create a draft and send it to your team before the project. Then get together and critique it.

2) Team Culture Rules / Constitution

The team culture or constitution helps the agile team charter establish the handling of activities and how a team will ultimately collaborate and work together. At the heart of these culture rules is the Agile Manifesto’s principles, which discusses project development processes through small innovations and team collaboration at a high level.

Anjuan Simmons, the Agile Project Manager at Assemble Systems and a Certified Scrum Master and owner of AnjuanSimmons.com, prefers to use a Code of Conduct and Constitution document instead of a charter because an agile team charter finds its roots in the waterfall methodology, an outdated method of project management. However, his Team Constitution fits nicely into our full charter with regards to culture:

  • How do I decline to take part in something (lunch and learn, happy hour, etc.)?
  • How do we start team activities (meetings, retrospectives, reviews, etc.)?
  • How do we ask for help from each other?
  • What do we do if someone does something in violation of the Team Code of Conduct or Team Constitution?
  • How do I check someone’s intention if I think they are doing something that I think will not result in a positive outcome?
  • How do we make decisions as a team? Do we take votes? How are votes counted?
  • What constitutes a majority?
  • How do we meet the needs of those who lose votes and get them to support the decision of the team?

3) Team Code of Conduct / Communication Rules

The code of conduct or culture rules of your agile environment establishes how the team will communicate with one another. This is an important element to ensure each member is respected and their ideas are heard.

Here’s Anjuan’s Code of Conduct:

  • When we meet as a group, each individual will give total attention, without distraction, to the person speaking.
  • No discussion will be interrupted except by the least intrusive means possible.
  • All ideas will be treated with respect.
  • Rejection of an idea will not be seen as rejection of the source.
  • The best idea will be supported regardless of the source.
  • Majority support for an idea will be sufficient for its ratification regardless of any individual distaste for the idea.
  • No actions will be taken to deliberately cause harm.
  • Seeking to understand will be preferred to seeking to be understood.

You’ll also see some rules that discuss the frequency of meetings, attendance requirements and, if minutes are taken, when they’ll be sent out.

The team Communication Rules or Code of Conduct should also discuss team member activities and in some cases, the roles on the team. For instance, see the following table:

Name Role
A. Bob Product Owner
B. Sue Scrum Master
C. Kevin Programmer
D. Curtis DB Admin
E. Jennifer Network Admin
F. Brian Billing

It should also indicate the best way to get ahold of them according to your rules for communication, for example, a phone number, email or handle for Rocket.Chat or Slack.

4) Goals / Success Criteria

When setting goals for your agile charter, you should measure deadline, project scope and critical post-implementation KPIs. These should be broken out into Goals and Success Criteria. Goals can be solution or team-oriented, for example, deadlines or connectivity.

For instance, you might say that you want to have your database implemented by December 1st and decrease average consumer load time by 250%. This would be an example of a goal because it’s tied to your product.

It’s also important to consider the customer or user here, and that’s where the success metric comes in. It’s tied to the problem. You can use surveys or behavioral metrics to track this. For instance, survey users to see if they spend more or less time doing the task your project is trying to solve. Your goal might be to get 80% of people to say they spend less time performing administrative tasks after using your project management tool.

Behavior can be tricky to measure because you can become quickly solution-oriented. If you’re using a tool like Grammarly, where you try to improve someone’s writing, you could hypothetically measure the gains or decreases in a user’s writing while using the tool. For instance, maybe the user’s comma usage improved from day 1 to day 100. Your success criteria would then be, “improve average comma usage for each user by 50% within 100 days”.

Ultimately, you want to make sure that your success criteria revolve around the problem, not your solution. Goals are great for hitting internal deadlines and satisfying some stakeholders, but they don’t always measure if you’ve started to solve the user’s problem. By ensuring you also measure a success criteria, you make ensure you stay on-course with your original problem oriented vision.

Concluding Thoughts

Overall, the goal of your agile charter is to build an awesome product for your end-user that solves a problem by keeping your team focused. Everybody’s agile charter is a little different, and some people, like Anjuan, choose to call it something completely different. Regardless, you need a foundation for your project team to ensure that everyone is moving in the same direction in a quick and respectful manner that solves the end-user’s problem.


Get our free Agile course delivered straight to your inbox! You’ll learn the following:

  • Agile Charters
  • Handling the XY Problem
  • Hiring Agile Team Members
  • Handling Impediments
  • Creating User Stories

Mastering these agile methods will help you build great products and satisfy users.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *