As a Project Manager, one of the initial deliverables you will be responsible for on a project is the Project Charter.
In this article I’m going to cover the Project Charter definition, what should be in place before hand, the process to develop the Project Charter and why it’s important to the success of the project.
I’ll also cover the key sample Project Charter sections found in most Project Charter documents.
Finally, I’ll also include various tips and techniques along the way to help you develop a good Project Charter.
Project Charter Definition
If you look around, you’ll probably find several definitions. Most Project Managers will likely first look to the PMI definition.
However, organizations with a good level of project management capability and maturity will often tailor the Project Charter definition to their organization.
By doing this, they establish a company standard definition that is characterized for the organization.
Having said that, the Project Charter is defined by PMI as the document that “…formally authorizes the existence of a project and provides the Project Manager with the authority to apply organizational resources to project activities.” Please see the 5th. edition of the Project Management Body of Knowledge for this definition.
There is usually a sign-off section in the document.
Receipt of the sign-offs is what gives the Project Manager the above mentioned authority.
Project Charter Purpose and Development
At its core, the goal of the Project Charter is to establish a written agreement between the Project Manager and senior management and stakeholders regarding what is to be done. It also sets expectations for when, by whom and at what cost.
Consider it a formal process to get everyone on the same page at the start of the project.
Diving deeper into this concept, it’s not uncommon for the Project Charter to also establish background, critical success factors, assumptions and commitments.
For example, a written explanation of the end state (once business benefits are achieved) as a result of the project may be included.
This would be an example of defining critical success factors in business terms within the Project Charter.
Developing the Project Charter
Before starting development of the document, there are some other things that should already be in place. You may recognize these as “inputs” to the Project Charter, per PMI.
- Statement of Work – Document that describes the product or service to be delivered. In my experience, this often is NOT in place, so don’t let it stop you.
- Business Case – Document with input from the functional business stakeholders that explains the return on investment and why the project is worth doing.
- Agreements – Think of this as any previously established “contracts” that must be honored as part of the project.
- Environmental Factors – Industry or regulatory rules or standards that must be followed. This may or may not be in place, depending on need.
- Organizational Assets – Includes Lessons Learned from previous projects, document templates and standards, and general organizational processes and standards. You’ll find that a more established and mature organization will have more of these in place. However, this is another case where, if they’re not in place, don’t let it stop you from moving forward.
In order to develop the Project Charter, you will need to gather input and expert judgement from both internal and external people. They may be directly involved with the project or not.
Normally this is done via meetings and one on one discussions.
For example, let’s say you are documenting the IT benefits of implementing a replacement software product. In a case like this, you would meet with the IT folks who will be impacted by the project. They will be able to bring their expert judgment to the table and explain to you the cost savings or efficiencies gained by replacing the old system with the new.
As a Project Manager, you would want to document those in the “IT Benefits” section of the Project Charter.
Sample Project Charter Sections
Keeping in mind that the Project Charter should be tailored for the organization, there are many variations of which sections should be included. What follows is a listing and explanation of some of the most common. I list these based on my personal experiences, guidance from PMI and other academic sources.
- Project Purpose – This could also be called the project definition or description. This section includes an explanation of the purpose of the project based on the business need, measurable project objectives, benefits, and any important background information.
- Project Organization – In this section you’ll define the stakeholders, the initial project team and any external partners (including vendors). If the organization practices Project Governance, that should be included in this section. An organization chart is often helpful as well.
- Project Scope – This is where you’ll explain what is in (and out) of scope for the project. Don’t forget to include the listings of functional organizations that are in and out as well. The in-scope items in this section can be at a high level. The requirements definition process that comes later on will better define these items.
- Assumptions – This section should list out all the known assumptions about the project and scope of work. Try to capture as many as possible.
- Dependencies – Here you will include all known cases where the success of the project relies on something to be in place or to get done. Don’t forget availability of people and dependencies on external vendors or teams when completing this section.
- Project Schedule – The planning phase of the project will further define this. However, you should include an expected high level schedule for the project. This is the spot to list key milestones as well.
- Sign-off Section – As mentioned above, the sign-off of this document is what gives the Project Manager and the team authority to move forward. For this to be effective, be sure to get the written or electronic signatures of the senior stakeholders on this document. These are the people who authorize release of funds, people and resources to the project.
While this is not an exhaustive list, it does cover several of the key sections of the Project Charter.
I hope you found this helpful.
Development of the Project Charter is important to the success of the project.
By having a good Project Charter in place you are more likely to get everyone on the same page and have fewer open questions as you proceed.
This will help you to control time, scope and cost.
And, it should help you to manage and deliver a successful project.