A charette (pronounced [shuh-ret]) is a structured, collaborative session in which a group comes together to develop a solution to a problem. It has been used in fields such as architecture, community planning, and engineering for years – bringing together a variety of different points of view to solve a difficult problem, often using the familiar six-step planning process as a key tool.
In SMART feasibility studies, a planning charette very early in the process brings together the PDT and vertical team, expert planners, the project sponsor, and resource agencies in an early structured workshop to work collaboratively through at least one iteration of the six-step planning process.
Although not a requirement for feasibility studies, PDTs have found that this focused gathering of key team members can facilitate decisions in a timely and cost-effective manner.
For example, if used early in the feasibility study process, the team can make decisions – and receive vertical team agreement – on decisions fundamental to the entire feasibility study process including:
- Agreement on the Problem to be addressed, the Corps’ authorities and role, and conceptual agreement on the scale of the project.
- Preliminary inventory and forecast of future conditions with readily available data and information.
- Identification of key areas of uncertainty that will impact the study and the project formulation.
- Initial identification of the decision criteria that will be used to formulate, compare and select alternatives.
- Initial formulation of alternative plans based on critical thinking and professional expertise.
- Draft a decision management plan that lays out the agreed upon level of detail and approaches the PDT will take as it moves to the next decision point. This is not a replacement for the Project Management Plan, but a brief, "plain English" document that identifies the next questions, with the schedule and responsibilities for making the decisions.
During the Charette, the participants may work through one complete cycle of the six-step planning process and use focused exercises and tools such as a Risk Register which identifies risks throughout the feasibility study iterative planning process. The risk register should be used as a guide for decision-making in a timely manner, making and accepting decisions based on information available to the PDT at that time.
The decisions and work done at the Planning Charette can be the basis for the Report Summary, the first element drafted of the Feasibility Report. In addition, based on the risk register, the PDT may develop a decision management plan laying out the way forward for the PDT.
For feasibility studies already underway, a charette can be tailored to that study and the decisions to be made. The charette should meet the PDT at whatever point in the study it may be, and help lay out a path to complete the study, whether the PDT is early in the process of defining the array of alternatives, in data gathering to adequately compare alternatives, or developing design and cost detail for the recommended plan. Vertical team engagement in these charettes and the development of a risk register are encouraged to provide the PDT with a fresh look at their study and an opportunity to set a clear path ahead.
The duration of a charette depends on the desired outcomes. Similarly, a PDT may find that an “in progress review,” focused workshop, or teleconferences with the Vertical Team is a more effective use of study time and dollars depending on the decisions to be made.
The Planning Community of Practice is working closely with Districts and Divisions to demonstrate and improve the charettes for studies underway (rescoping) and new studies.