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Project Charter vs. Project Plan

written by: N Nayab • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 12/21/2011

Comparing project charter vs project plan, a project charter is a summary project proposal to secure approval for the project goals and terms. The project plan is an approved document showing how to achieve such approved project goals and provide details to execute the approved framework.

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    Definition

    Project Charter vs Project Plan A project charter is a short document that lists the scope, objectives, deliverables, and stakeholders of a project, and delineates roles and responsibilities of each member of the project team.

    When comparing project charter vs project plan , a project plan is a formal, approved document that guides project execution and control. It explains in detail how and when to fulfill the project objectives by showing the major products, milestones, activities, and resources required on the project.

    The project charter definition terms it as an unapproved proposal and the first deliverable of the project, used to secure stakeholder approval for the project goals and terms, and establish authority for the project manager. Once the top management approves the project charter, the project manager prepares the project plan that shows how to achieve the approved project goals.

    Image Credit: flickr.com/woodleywonderworks

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    Difference in Scope

    The project charter is a summary document of usually one page length containing the following information:

    • reasons for undertaking the project
    • directions concerning the solution
    • project budget and other constraints
    • structure of the project
    • list of stakeholders including team members and customers
    • project structure and key roles of all team members
    • list of key deliverables and deadlines
    • risks, issues and assumptions

    A project plan provides detailed instructions on how to execute, manage, and control the project. It deals with:

    • the value proposition addressed by the project
    • the responsibilities of people involved in the project
    • the organizational structure
    • the nature of work and effort required to meet the deliverables
    • the phases, activities, and tasks required to meet deliverables
    • identification of the work breakdown structure (WBS)
    • allocation of resources required to meet deliverables
    • project time lines and milestones
    • documentation of project inter-dependencies

    The initial project plan developed early in the project life cycle would cover all details but would not be comprehensive. The detailed and comprehensive project plan developed at the last phase of the project planning stage usually links to other documentation relevant to the project. Some of such possible documentation that finds incorporation in a project plan includes scope document, change management plan, issues management plan, risk management plan, communications management plan, quality assurance and testing plan, resource management plan, training plan, procurement plan, construction plan and others.

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    Difference in Application

    Comparing project charter vs project plan, the project charter primarily serves as a sales document, to give notice to the project committee for approval of the project itself and the project structure and framework. The project plan, on the other hand works on the approved structure and framework of the project charter.

    Both the project charter and project plan remains relevant throughout the project lifecycle. The project charter serves as a focal point throughout the project execution phase and acts as a reference for the direction of the project. The project plan becomes the road map or the project handbook, containing detailed “how to” and “what next” instructions. The Project Manager reviews actual progress against that stated in the Project Plan daily to determine whether the project remains on track.

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    Difference in Uses

    The advantages of using project charter vs project plan remain more or less the same. Both aid in improving project processes and help in the controlled execution of the project.

    The project charter also help establish a contract among all stakeholders, define and improve communication between the top management and the project team, and determine the initial structure and framework of the project, whereas the project plan finds more use to ensure on-time and on-budget delivery of projects.