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What Is a Project Charter?

written by: Linda Richter • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 1/27/2011

A project charter describes what your project is and how you will approach it, and it lists the names of all stakeholders. It's a critical component of the project management initiation and planning phases, and you'll refer to it throughout the life of the project.

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    Defining the Project Charter

    When you start a project, you must define what needs to be accomplished and decide how the project is going to proceed. Each project FreeDigitalPhotos, go, IdeaGo begins with an idea, a vision, or a business opportunity--and that is the starting point that must be associated with your organization’s business objectives.

    The project charter is that starting point. The charter lays the foundation of the project. It includes a statement of your business's needs. What is the history that has led to the need? How was it recognized, and why is it planned now?

    Next, you must stipulate the project's purpose. How will you reach your goals? What deliverables can you promise? What are the risks? You must identify your project resources and technologies, and reflect on task dependencies. It's also important to define your indicators of success.

    Last, you must tie in to all this the roles and responsibilities of your project team. You must define resources--both human and material--and specify who or what will fill them. The charter forms a contract with all stakeholders involved in the project.

    The project charter is a single, consolidated source of information about the project in terms of initiation and planning. Basically, the project charter defines the boundaries of the project, no matter what type of project management methodology you are using. It is much more than an effective planning tool. It serves both as anchor, holding you to your objectives, and as navigator, guiding you through the milestones that will mark your progress. The original project charter will not change throughout your project's life cycle. Once it is approved by the stakeholders, you cannot modify or change the original charter without agreement by all parties involved.

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    What Does the Project Charter Define?

    Many projects start with a top-down approach, meaning you move forward from your initial goal and create your plan. Even if you prefer to FreeDigitalPhotos, gears, jscreationzs work backward from your drop-dead date, start your charter from the top. Just like any good story, you begin at page one:

    • Structured management organization. Who is the project owner? Describe the hierarchy of the project team. Identify your stakeholder groups and reflect on their input.
    • Disciplined management processes. Provide references and documents to help both team members and stakeholders understand the project's parameters and ramifications. It's a good idea to describe project terminology. Also, identify your chosen methodology. Even if you always prefer the same methodology, you must justify why it will work for this project.
    • Project scope. What are the costs and scheduling needs? What goals that fall outside the project scope will be achieved along the way? Are there subphases to your project?
    • Project management best practices. Here you will identify ways to coordinate assignments, schedule team members, and track progress and costs. You will describe preferred documentation requirements.
    • Internal/external communications. Who will meet and how often? Whether you are managing an enterprise-level project or just supervising a small team that communicates by phone calls or emails, spell out expectations for communication methods and frequency.

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    Who is Responsible for the Project Charter?

    With a well designed project charter you will realize benefits such as improved client partnerships and other relationships. Communication with project owners and external stakeholders will flourish, and your sponsors will buy in to your project more eagerly. You can expect defined project management processes to run more fluidly. With universal recognition of the senior manager, you will achieve on-time and on-budget delivery of goals.

    In the article Project Charter Example For Every Project Manager, the key sections of the project charter are outlined. In addition a project charter template is available to download from the Project Management Media Gallery.

    Image credits:

    FreeDigitalPhotos, IdeaGo and jscreationzs

Project Charter Resources & Tips

Whether your project is large or small, it needs a solid project charter. Find tips on how to construct this important PM document as well as sample templates, guidelines, information on different format styles, and more.
  1. What Is a Project Charter?
  2. Project Charter Example for Every Project Manager
  3. What Goes Into Writing a Project Charter?
  4. Deciding on Project Charter Assumptions
  5. How to Create a Project Charter in SmartDraw

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