Definition

project charter

What is a project charter?

A project charter is a formal short document that states a project exists and provides project managers with written authority to begin work. A project charter document describes a project to create a shared understanding of its goals, objectives and resource requirements before the project is scoped out in detail.

Project charters are an important part of project management, as they help plan out the basics of a project and can be referenced throughout the project's lifecycle. The formal document can also show a project's viability and possible return on investment, helping the work get approved.

The project charter helps project managers explain to participants and stakeholders the scope of a project, project objectives, who will participate in the project, along with other details such as possible risks. Depending on a company's culture and management style, a charter may serve the same purpose as a business case. In a large organization, the charter may be a multipage document, but in smaller organizations, it may just be a few paragraphs with bulleted items.

What should a project charter include?

Project charter templates often include the following parts of the project:

  • Project goal. This documents the reasons for undertaking the project in clear, concise language. This should determine the project's scope.
  • Project participants. This identifies who will be involved in the project and clearly states their roles.
  • Stakeholders. This identifies project sponsors or other people who will be directly affected by the project and need to know about its progress.
  • Requirements. This identifies the resources required for the project's objectives to be achieved.
  • Constraints. This documents potential roadblocks or bottlenecks and should help prepare participants for the potential issues of the project.
  • Implementation milestones. This identifies the start and ideal completion dates, as well as dates for other potentially important checkpoints, like a project schedule.
  • Communication. This specifies how the project manager will communicate with project owners, participants and key stakeholders throughout the project.
  • Deliverables. This documents what specific products, processes or services the project provides upon completion.
  • Create an implementation plan. This identifies a general overview of the project budget.

The project manager should create the project charter at the beginning of the project. Signing the document can also act as a way to authorize the project -- giving the project manager the go-ahead to officially begin executing the project. This includes the authority to begin employing organizational funds and resources. For larger projects that are multiphased, project managers can create a charter for each phase.

Tips to create a project charter

To successfully create a project charter, project managers should do the following:

  • Keep it short. Each section of the charter can be just a few sentences. The project charter should be a high-level overview of a project and not an in-depth breakdown.
  • Seek team insights. Communicating to the project team members should aid in creating realistic goals and milestones and identifying possible project risks.
  • Create and use a charter template. A charter template helps keep the charter clear and concise and can be used to create future project charters.
  • Keep it clear. Organize the charter so its structure is clear at a glance. Label each component of the charter.
  • Create an implementation plan. After organizing the charter, project managers should begin planning how to implement it. This includes talking to project members and stakeholders and gathering and collecting funds and resources.

This document should help make the project management process go smoother, as it can be referenced and reviewed throughout the course of the project.

Project charter template

A project charter template includes the following components:

A project charter template.
The project charter template provides project managers with the information they need to begin work on a project.

These are the general entries found in a project charter, although the order of each component may be changed. The beginning of the charter typically includes the project's general information, like the project's name, description and those involved. The charter should also document each team member's role and responsibilities in the team member section.

Other tips include the following:

  • The project name should be the title of the project and it should be descriptive enough that others will understand what the project is.
  • The project scope should also include any boundaries or limitations to the project's deliverables -- for example, what the project provides when finished.
  • The risks section should include the most probable and impactful events that could occur.
  • The starting, milestone and completion dates also function as a project timeline.

Learn more about project planning and the steps involved, such as the components in a project plan and how to create one.

This was last updated in June 2022

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