What Is A Project Charter? (Ultimate Guide)

What Is A Project Charter? (Ultimate Guide)

What is a project charter and how do you learn to draft one?

For a project manager, project charter definition is the very first step of the project journey. 

It’s a preliminary record of all the necessary details, such as budgets, project outcomes, and key stakeholders

That’s why the process of drafting a project charter is crucial for any project

But what is a project charter

And more importantly, how do you draft one?

In this article, we’ll answer all those questions and more!

You’ll also find a project charter template that you can quickly put to use in your project.  

This Article Contains:

(Click on the links below to jump to a specific section)

Let’s get started.

What Is Project Charter?

A project charter is the first, brief record of everything that goes into a project. 

It includes various critical information like:

  • Project goal
  • Resources
  • Timelines 
  • Deliverables

Sounds like the contents of a scope of work document, right?

However, despite the similarities in the information they both provide, a project charter shouldn’t be confused with a scope of work document

The scope of work or project statement is much more comprehensive than a charter as it details how a proposed project will be executed. These details are the result of a shared understanding between all the key stakeholders.

A project charter, on the other hand, is a high-level overview of everything important in a proposed project. That’s why your charter is a considerably shorter document than your scope of work statement.

Think of it as the Cliff Notes version!

A. Why do you need a project charter?

Whether it’s a project charter or a project management plan, each project document has a specific purpose. 

Here’s why a project charter is essential for any project:

1. Helps authorize the project 

All the information provided in a project charter document (your project’s deliverables, risks, etc.) lets the concerned authorities decide whether the project should be undertaken. 

Their formal authorization over this document is the green signal for the performing organization.

2. Serves as a baseline

A project charter describes the project’s objectives, timelines, requirements, etc. before project initiation. Because these aspects may change during project execution, the project team can monitor changes against what’s mentioned in the charter.

3. Acts as a contract

By developing a shared understanding between all key stakeholders about all the critical project matters, a project charter serves as a contract between them. 

Once agreed on, each stakeholder is accountable for their responsibilities (as mentioned in the charter) to meet a project’s purpose

B. Who drafts and approves it?

As the person who has their ear to the ground, the project manager drafts the project charter document

However, in the organizational structure, the project sponsor (the person/team that conceives and advocates for a project) ranks above a project manager. They monitor, manage, and support the project manager. 

That’s why the document can’t pass without approval from main stakeholders like the project sponsor.

C. How to get started on a project charter?

Now that you know just how important a project charter is, it seems a little nerve-wracking to draft one, right?

Don’t worry. It doesn’t have to be!

If your project team already has a project charter template, they’ll already have a clear idea about the drafting process. 

However, even with a charter template in place, you should remain flexible. As every proposed project has different needs, its documentation requirements may also differ from your template. 

That’s why it’s best to be familiar with the most important components of any project charter so that you can apply them to each project individually. 

What are these components?

Let’s find out. 

The 10 Project Charter Elements You Need To Know About

The process of project charter definition is like connecting dots. 

At first glance, a particular piece of information mentioned in the charter may seem irrelevant. 

But as you develop the document, you’ll see how every detail is connected to the larger picture. 

So although your document is only a few pages long, don’t skimp on data. 

Because missing a piece of information now can hamper project progress in the future

So get ready to take notes on the most essential components of a project charter document!

Note: To explain all project charter components as thoroughly as possible, this article will use an example project: building a hiring support software

We’ll expand on the same example in each section of the article. 

#1: Project background details

The first section of the charter must introduce your project as briefly as possible. After all, starting a project with no background is like going for a blind date.

Sure, it seems exciting at first, but it’s a lot better if you know what you’re getting yourself into!

It should contain:

  • The date the document was prepared
  • Name and designation of the person/s who drafts and approves it
  • Name of the project 
  • Project purpose (in brief)

While it should be brief, a project’s name must be as specific as possible. 

For example, you may internally refer to your project as simply “HR software”, but that isn’t descriptive enough to go on a charter document. 

Instead, try naming your project on the lines of “End-to-end hiring support software for XYZ company”. 

This clarifies the name, helping the charter stand out from the dozens of similar documents you’ll create down the line. 

#2: Project goal

Here, you answer the question: what is your project purpose?

Tough question?

Not really!

Its answer lies in the business case

A business case is the strategic business need that drives the project. 

Simply put, it answers: “why does a business need this project”. 

Usually, a detailed brief from a key stakeholder about the problem statement will help you define this. 

In the case of our HR software example, the business case could be:

  • Lack of good candidates
  • Resource intensive hiring process
  • Problems managing a vast amount of candidate data

As a project leader, your job is to showcase how the project outcomes will help solve the problem statement or meet the client’s strategic objective

For example, a comprehensive HR software will help HR personnel to:

  • Find the best candidates from various forums
  • Reduce delays in the process
  • Provide secure storage for sensitive information

You can then drill down the project purpose to a specific, measurable objective

The project’s objective is a tangible, time-bound goal that your project aims to achieve. 

For example, launching a beta version of the software in three months is a good objective.

#3: Risks, assumptions, constraints, and dependencies

Ideally, an efficient project team should meet the project’s deliverables, no matter what happens. 

But the real world has, well, real limitations

And that’s what this project charter section acknowledges.

In your project charter, mention:

1. Risks 

Risks are events, factors, or decisions that can negatively affect your project. 

For example, unstable markets, changing costs, and scope creep could be risks for your project.

2. Assumptions

These are overarching statements that are likely to remain true throughout your project lifespan. 

For example, you can assume that the project’s estimated cost will remain the same or that its approved scope won’t change. 

3. Constraints

These are standard restrictions that control the pace and the scope of your project. 

For example, a challenging business need, project budget, timelines, etc. are common project constraints.  

4. Dependencies

If your project’s success depends on external (outside its scope) or internal factors, you can mention them under dependencies. This includes things like a deliverable from a previous project, finalizing a partnership deal, etc. 

#4: Project scope  

Risks, assumptions, constraints, and dependencies will help you draw boundaries around your project in the form of the project scope.  

The project scope document or project statement defines what you will be working on and what you’ll avoid during the project. 

For example, if you’re building Android and iOS apps, but not a desktop app for the HR software, you need to mention this in the project scope

The conditions in the project’s scope section are the result of careful negotiation and a shared understanding between the internal and external stakeholders. As such, it can differ from project to project. 

But once agreed upon, your project scope will directly impact how the project is conducted. 

And the more clearly defined your project’s scope is, the better you’ll be able to prevent scope creep or unchecked additions beyond the original scope of work.

#5: Project requirements

If you’re new at project management, here’s a fair warning:

You’ll be dealing with lists… lots of them!

And project requirements will be one of the most important ones among them. 

The first draft of your project requirements will influence all future discussions. 

This is why a clear project requirements list is key to project charter definition

It’ll include various requirements like:

  • Human resources: skilled and semi-skilled employees, managers, coders, designers, outsourced agencies
  • Organizational resources: office space, equipment, software licenses
  • Process requirements: building new workflows like Waterfall or Agile

#6: Success criteria

Your project objective sets the vision for your project. 

But don’t worry, you won’t be aiming for it in the dark!

Your project success will be defined by more tangible and critical success factors. 

In the project success criteria section, you define the checklist against which you’ll judge your project success

For our HR software example, the success criteria could contain indicators like:

  • Resolving the key problem statement
  • Number of candidates onboarded
  • Daily active users
  • Standardized certification by a third-party agency like ISO

Ensure that your success criteria are specific and measurable project objectives to help judge your project outcomes better.

#7: Milestones and timelines

Clients and stakeholders will want regular updates, especially for long-term projects.

But no one wants endless meetings, calls, and email check-ins, right?

Nope. We know you’re too busy hitting those targets on time!

Instead, you can use a milestone schedule to keep them in the loop. 

Milestones act as checkpoints in your project’s journey and help inform all internal/external stakeholders about how close you’re into meeting the project objective

And whatever your milestones are, set timelines to them.

For example, If your project management plan is based on the Agile methodology, you’ll deliver a working version of the product to the customer after each project development cycle (or sprint). This is usually anywhere between 2 to 4 weeks. 

However, just like the other elements, a milestone schedule can also be ironed out in the scope of work document at a later stage. 

#8: Key stakeholders and team roles

No matter how clean and lean your processes are, your project’s success ultimately depends on the human element (stakeholders and team members). 

That’s why the project charter dedicates an entire section for them!

Mention who the main stakeholders in your project are at every authority level (internal and external) This includes:

  • Project initiator
  • Project manager and project management team
  • Project sponsor
  • Subject matter expert
  • Project development and testing team
  • Accountants
  • Customer-facing staff

Mention each stakeholder and the teams involved, along with their responsibilities in meeting the project’s objective

Then, build your communication plan to keep them in the loop right from project initiation to completion.

#9: Project manager authority level

A project manager is like the captain of your team: they lead everyone. 

And the last thing anyone wants is a clueless captain!

Everyone in the team should know exactly what the role of a project manager is. 

And for this, you’ll need to define their role clearly. 

For example, you may give the project manager authority to oversee first-level delivery at every stage. But the final sign off remains with the project sponsor

Some areas in which the project manager authority level can be defined are:

  • Team management
  • Budget approvals
  • Client communications
  • Responsibilities in case of scope creep

This way, your project manager knows exactly what they need to do to run a tight ship!

#10: Project budget

And finally, we come to what makes the whole world go around: money!

You can roughly estimate the project budget by calculating the funds you’ll need for:

  • Resources
  • Materials
  • Rents and tariffs
  • Salaries
  • Outsourced services

You can use a previous project budget as a benchmark to draft this section. 

Ultimately, matters related to the project cost will need the most scrutiny from the project sponsor as they’re responsible for allocating and releasing funds. 

A Free Project Charter Template For You 

As a project manager, you’ll often find yourself drafting project charters. 

But don’t get lost in an endless spiral of documentation!

Take your time to understand the basic project charter elements and format. 

This way you can use a project charter template to get started quickly. 

Here’s a simple project charter example template:

Click here to download this project charter example template. 

Once you have enough experience framing charters, you can create your own project charter template for your organization!

3 Tips To Draft A Good Project Charter 

You now know what is a project charter and everything that goes into creating one.

Congratulations, you’re now ready to draft a good project charter!

But before you start, here are some handy tips to help you become a seasoned project charter drafter!

Tip #1: Make it brief, but clear

A project management charter is usually a short document, no longer than 3-4 pages. 

It contains critical project information (that’ll help you even avoid scope creep), so it’s important to use simple language to describe everything. 

This is especially true for elements like:

  • Objective
  • Nature of deliverables
  • Assumptions and dependencies
  • Budgets
  • Project’s success criteria

One way of doing this is to define every new or ambiguous word in a short glossary or footnotes

However, this is only the beginning of the project and you may not have access to a lot of information. In such cases, you can simply leave a note that mentions ‘to be decided’ or ‘in progress’

This way, you’ll communicate to your stakeholders about what you know and what you’re uncertain about. 

Tip #2. Use varied formatting and add visuals

The project charter is the first story you’ll tell about your project. 

Don’t you want it to be an interesting one?

Of course you do!

But if it’s full of complex information lumped together in lengthy paragraphs, you’ll lose your audience too soon.

How will your external stakeholders receive the project charter?

Will they receive a printed draft? Or will you present it via PowerPoint?

This will dictate what visual choice you make in drafting your project charter. You can make your project management charter more accessible by using:

Text formatting

Using the right formatting (bullets, headings, paragraphs, etc.) makes the project charter reader-friendly. 

Moreover, if you accentuate the text with formatting options like bold and italicized text, you’re subtly letting the readers know what they need to focus on. 

Visuals

Who doesn’t like images, right?!

A few helpful visuals like graphs, charts, diagrams, and mind maps can breathe life into your project charter. 

Additionally, some information, like projected growth or budgets is best described (and understood) in images rather than words. 

Tip #3: Collaborate with your team

As a project manager, you may be the key stakeholder responsible for delivering the charter. 

But the information it contains can only be obtained from the larger project management team

This team includes people who’re directly involved in the project such as the developers, testers, business analysts, etc. 

You’ll need to collaborate with them every step of the way. This may take rounds of discussions, sharing data, and receiving their feedback on the charter drafts. 

While you don’t need to get everyone involved in everything, no project member should be in the dark about what they’re committing to in the charter. 

The assigned project manager should create a communication plan that keeps all the team members and the main stakeholders informed over the project.

How To Plan And Implement Your Project Efficiently

The project charter is merely the first step in the long journey of realizing your project plan

As a project leader, you know more than anyone how demanding that journey can be. 

Which is why you need more than just emails and Excel sheets to help you along the way. 

You need a powerful project planning and execution tool. 

You need ClickUp!

The Best Project Management Tool For 2020: ClickUp

ClickUp is the world’s leading project and scope management tool that’s used by 100,000+ teams in businesses ranging from startups to giants like Google, Netflix, Nike, and Airbnb. 

With all the features you need to successfully deliver on your project plan, ClickUp helps you every step of the way (from project initiation to project completion). 

Here’s a quick look at how it helps a project management team:  

A. Track deliverables with Goals

Defining and tracking the project’s deliverables and other project activities is an essential part of project management.

And ClickUp’s Goals feature will help you do this.

A ClickUp Goal is a high-level container that can be further broken down into smaller, quantifiable metrics called Targets

For example, if your Goal is “build an HR support software”, ClickUp lets you divide it into various Targets like:

  • Number: total number of bugs to be fixed
  • True/False: whether a feature is complete or not
  • Currency: approved budgets for each project development cycle
  • Tasks: completion rates of tasks like ‘data storage’ or ‘candidate onboarding’ 

When you complete these Targets, ClickUp auto-updates the overall progress percentage, showing you how close you’re to achieving your project goal!

B. Record all information in Docs

You know how important documents love to disappear when you need them the most?

Not on ClickUp!

Your project management charter, along with other documents are safe in the hands of ClickUp’s Docs

You can use it to draft and store important project-related documents alongside your project activity.

Now, you’ll never lose sight of your:

  • Client briefs
  • Resource list
  • Communication plan
  • Scope statement
  • Project budget

Here’s what makes drafting in Docs a fun and intuitive experience:

  • Embed URLs and adjust their appearance
  • Rich text formatting 
  • Nesting pages within docs for further categorization
  • Customizable access rights for group editing
  • The ability to let Google index these docs to show up in search results!

C. Organize your processes with Tasks, Subtasks, and Checklists

In an active project, every day is a whirlwind of to-dos. 

And there’s only so much you can manage with a humble pencil and paper!

Thankfully, ClickUp offers you a better alternative to walls covered in sticky notes!

All you need to do is create: 

  • Tasks and Subtasks for different parts of the project and assign them to each project member individually
  • Checklists to break down each task into smaller steps that can be checked off according to your progress

You also get additional features like:

  • Nesting: write as many sub-items as you need in your Checklist
  • Drag and Drop functionality: move items to reschedule your list
  • Assigning items: assign items from the Checklist to any project member directly
  • Templates: generate Checklist templates based on the nature of your project

D. Use Multiple Views to adapt to your project needs

Project management is tough. Sometimes you’ll wish you had an extra pair of eyes! 

And with ClickUp’s Multiple Views, you almost do!

Use the workspace view that reflects their project needs accurately or switch between these views within the same project. 

Here’s what ClickUp has in store for you:

  • Board view: view tasks in a Kanban-style card interface
  • List view: tasks appear one after the other (perfect for fans of the GTD work style)
  • Me Mode: shows only the tasks assigned to 
  • Box view: see everyone’s tasks and reassign them as needed 
  • Calendar view: tasks appear on a customized calendar to manage your project schedule easily

How can you use these Views?

For example, if you’re using the Scrumban methodology, the Board view is an easy way to keep track of all your tasks. And when you need to figure out your release schedule, just switch to the Calendar view to stay up to date with the click of a button!

E. Visualize project progress with Gantt Chart

Remember Tip #2

Visuals truly are the best way of representing complex data. 

And ClickUp’s Gantt Chart is the perfect way to do this.

Use it to get a bird’s eye view of your project activity in a color-coded, easy-to-use interface.

The Gantt chart can also automate various project processes in real-time:

  • Readjust Task Dependencies automatically after you reschedule any task
  • Instantly calculate the project completion percentage based on completed tasks vs. total tasks
  • Compare current vs. expected progress in your project plan
  • Calculate your project’s Critical Path and learn about what tasks need to be completed to meet your deadline on time

But this barely covers it all!

ClickUp offers so much more with project planning and execution features likes:

Conclusion

A project charter definition sets the tone for the project’s execution. 

And it falls on the project leader to make the charter a comprehensive (but brief) record of all the moving pieces in the project. 

But if you want to excel at project management, you’ll need more than just charter drafting skills. 

You’ll need an effective project planning and execution tool to help your team meet the project objective.

So why not sign up for ClickUp today?

ClickUp has everything to help you plan, execute, and track your project progress, making it the only project management software you’ll ever need!

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