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Chartering is one of the key practices of successful agile teams. A charter provides teams with a clear shared understanding of their near-term goal. It’s possible to succeed without knowing what you’re doing, but it’s not likely.

Charters are living documents, intended for frequent reference, which means they should be short and in clear language. If you can’t fit your charter onto one or two sheets of paper, it’s too long.

Short doesn’t mean that they should be terse, it means that they should focus on a small number of things. The point of a charter isn’t to justify your team’s existence or to explain how to work with you, but to give the members of the team shared purpose and understanding. To that end, your charter must answer the following questions:

What are we going to do in the next 3 months?

Who are we doing this for, and why?

How will they know that we’ve done it?¬†

Your charter may also answer more questions, if doing so gives value to your team and you can fit it in:

Who will we need to engage or rely on to get this work done?

What will prevent us from doing this work, and how can we mitigate those risks?

Creating a charter

Set aside at least two hours; a half-day is better. This is important work, and deserves the investment of time.

Ensure that you have a space that is big enough to fit your team.

You’ll want whiteboards or at least flipcharts.

Lay out the primary questions you’re going to need to answer (see above). Create timeboxes for each question. Strongly consider using a Time Buffer¬†to give you room to go over your timebox if needed by the flow of discussion.

For each topic, start by posing the question. Brainstorm in the room to generate ideas, then move towards consensus, using the whiteboard or flipchart to track the changes.

Language is hard, so be aware that people may mean different things despite using the same words. Be alert to assumptions, and ensure that the team is clarifying meaning by restatement and examples to create shared understanding.

Capture the result in a wiki page.

Congratulations, you have a Charter!

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