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A Project Charter - What Is It?

written by: SusieBrown • edited by: Ronda Bowen • updated: 4/22/2012

Find out what is the definition of a project charter, why this document is an important part of project management, and how project managers can use it to improve communications and help ensure project success.

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    What is the Definition of a Project Charter?

    A Project Charter Guides the Project, shirishbendre After a well-written project proposal, the project charter is perhaps the most important document in project management. Also known as a project definition or project overview statement, the project charter is basically a condensed (i.e. no more then 2 pages) overview of the project. It provides a preliminary outline of the project's scope and objectives, identifies the participants in a project (referred to as the project's stakeholders) and defines their roles and responsibilities. The project charter also serves as a formal written and signed agreement between the project's stakeholders regarding the details of the project.

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    Why is a Project Charter Important?

    One of the key factors of project success is effective project communications. Projects often involve various stakeholders of different backgrounds and differing project interests. What the project charter does is clearly and concisely document the agreed upon project scope, objectives, and approach as well as the major deliverables of the project. It is meant to be referenced throughout the project life cycle. In short, the project charter helps to ensure that all the project stakeholders are on the same page and minimizes the emergence and impact of miscommunication, role confusion, and conflicting stakeholders interests.

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    What Should You Include in a Project Charter?

    The project charter will basically summarize much of the information in the project proposal. Though project charters will vary depending on the specific details of each project, all project charters generally include the following elements:

    • Project Authorization. A concise statement identifying the authorized project by name, code, or number.
    • Project Manager Authorization. Identify the project manager and define his/her responsibilities.
    • Key Stakeholders. A list of all the major project stakeholders, including a brief description of their roles and responsibilities.
    • Project Goals. The goal statements in the project charter must be identical to the goals established in the approved project proposal.
    • Project Priorities. List any project priorities in terms of time needed for completion, the cost of the project, the level of quality or performance of the finished product(s), etc, in order of importance.
    • Product Requirements. List any product expectations- i.e. what the finished product is expected to look like or do.
    • Project Assumptions. List and describe the assumptions related to the project. These are any variables, such as the availability of specific resources, information, and funding that must be in place for the project to be completed within the given budget and time frame.
    • Project Constraints. Any project limits in terms of time, budget, or quality and performance standards should be clearly described.
    • Project Risks. List any possible obstacles and risks that might hinder project implementation and include a plan of action for how to contain and minimize these risks.
    • Project Deliverables. List the project "deliverables." These are the products, information, reports, etc that will be delivered to the client at the end and throughout the duration of the project.
    • Cost Estimates. Any estimated costs included in the project proposal should be referred to in the project charter.
    • Schedule Estimates. List the major project time estimates and milestones as described in the project proposal.
    • Change Control. Define the process of introducing changes to the project charter or the approved project management plan.
    • Success Criteria. Define the measurements and other criteria that will determine the success of the project.

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