What is a Project Charter?
A Project Charter is a must-have in any project, as prescribed by the PMBOK® Guide and other methods. It is a document that summarizes the key information about a project and that announces to the world, aka, your organization, that there is a new project on the block. The Charter appoints a project manager for the project and assigns it the authority to proceed.
Why do I need one?
Do not underestimate the value of a project charter as just yet another management document! The main reason why you need a Charter is because without a Project Charter, your project exists only in your dreams, my friend.
Having a project charter provides your project with the following benefits:
- Formally authorizes the project
- Creates a vision and a shared understanding about the project
- Empowers the project manager to lead the project
- Identifies the high-level objectives and scope of the project
- Defines what will success look like
- Enables support for the project to be gained
- Ensures that key stakeholders are aware of the project
- Secures budget and resources for the project
- Serves as a point of reference for the project team
What should it contain?
While most project management methods and frameworks prescribe the use of a project charter of some sort – either called one-pager, charter, or mandate -, there is no defined composition for its template. However, a principle to consider is that any good Project Charter will help you clarify the What, Why, Who, When and at What Cost of the project. According to the PMBOK® Guide, these are covered by the following sections in a Project Charter:
- Project Information: includes the ID and name of the project, name of the project manager, and project sponsor
- Business need, problem or opportunity: what is the main driver for this project to exist? What is the context from which it was born?
- Project Objectives and Benefits: what are you trying to achieve with the project? Try writing your objectives as SMART objectives – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bounded
- Project Organization: describes the governance of the project, including key roles for its management and direction
- High-level project scope: at a very high-level, the project charter should be able to outline the boundaries of the project, i.e., what will be in scope and out of the scope of the project, as well as key deliverables to be created by the project
- High-level project timescale: at a very high-level, the project charter should be able to list the key stages and estimated duration for the project, as well as its key milestones
- High-level project budget: at a very high-level, the project charter should be able to identify the budget requirements of the project, including capital and revenue expenditure forecast
- Key assumptions: main assumptions that may impact the project if proven false
- Key project risks: main risks that may impact the project if they materialise
- Success criteria: key measures to assess the success of the project
To make your life easier, I’ve produced a simple project charter template that you can download here. Ready to use!
Best Practices when Writing a Project Charter
Writing a Project Charter can be time-consuming, particularly if not done properly, thus, here’s a couple of tips to help you steer your project towards success from its very beginning:
- Keep it brief: trust me, the more pages a document contains, the less chance it will get read. Try to keep your Project Charter simple and brief. After all, it should capture key, high-level information!
- Be explicit: no one cares or is enthusiastic about a vague summary of a project. Get to the point as early as possible and make it explicit.
- Build it with your sponsor: while theory advises that the Charter should be handed-over by the project sponsor to the project manager, in reality it is often the project manager to writes the Project Charter with the support of the Sponsor. Whatever the model, the involvement of the sponsor is fundamental.
- Get it signed-off: until you get the Charter to be signed-off by your sponsor, the project is not formally authorized. No Charter, no project.
- Share it: one of the main benefits of a Charter is that you can gain support from the project and ensure that there is a shared understanding of what the project is about. Be proud to share your Charter with your team and key stakeholders!
The Project Charter is the key document in the Initiation phase of a project and is the first opportunity that the project manager has to build the right foundations for the project. Grab the chance to cause a great first impression with a great Project Charter!