What is a project charter and why do you need one?

What Is A Project Charter, And Why Do You Need One?

Effective project management isn’t just about how well you can write a timeline or plan your resources. It’s also about having clear and concise documentation, right from the get-go. That’s where the project charter comes in.

A project charter is a document that formally authorizes and defines a project. It includes things like the scope of the project, its objectives, and the stakeholders involved.

The purpose of a project charter is to provide a clear roadmap for everyone involved in the project. This includes the project manager, team members, and stakeholders. It also helps to avoid any ambiguity or confusion about the project’s goals.

If you’re working on a project, it’s important to have a project charter in place. Let’s take a closer look at these documents and their benefits.

Project charters explained

We know that a project charter is a document that formally authorizes and defines a project. But what does that actually involve?

A project charter should include the following information:

  • The project’s name and description
  • The objectives of the project
  • The stakeholders involved
  • The timeframe for the project
  • The budget for the project
  • Any risks or challenges associated with the project
  • The project management approach to be used

Having all of this information in one place can be incredibly helpful for everyone involved in the project. It can help to avoid any misunderstandings or disagreements about the project’s goals.

three people sitting around a table while organizing a project charter

Why use a project charter?

In project management, clarity is key. If you start out on a project that has been ill-defined or poorly planned, it can be difficult to make any progress at all.

This is where the project charter comes in. It provides a clear and concise overview of the project, which can help to avoid any ambiguity or confusion about its objectives.

The project charter can also be helpful for managing expectations. For example, if you have a tight budget for your project, it’s important to make sure that everyone is aware of this from the start. The project charter can help to do this.

Let’s run through some of the specific benefits of using a project charter.

Project charter key benefits

Project charters can elevate your project management process in a number of ways, which we’ll outline below:

Clarifies project goals and objectives

Your project has little hope of succeeding if the objectives aren’t clear from the outset. You wouldn’t start building a piece of furniture without the instructions and an image of the finished product, would you? The same goes for your projects — a project charter will help to define the objectives, so everyone is on the same page.

Take, for example, a business who wants to launch a new website. Without a charter in place, the design team and the marketing might go in two completely different directions with their work. With a charter, they can reference the document to ensure that they are both working towards the same goal.

Defines project roles and responsibilities

One of the most important aspects of any project is making sure that everyone involved knows their role and what is expected of them. A project charter can help to do this by outlining the specific responsibilities of each team member.

For example, if you have a team member who is absent for part of the project, you can refer back to the charter to see what tasks they are responsible for. This will help to ensure that the project doesn’t fall behind schedule.

Facilitates better communication

A project charter can help to improve communication between team members and stakeholders. By having a document that clearly outlines the project goals, everyone involved will be able to communicate more effectively. This is especially important if there are any disagreements about the project’s objectives.

Imagine you are responsible for budgeting and resources, and you need to speak with the design team about their needs. With a project charter in place, you can direct them to the specific section of the document that outlines their requirements. This will save everyone time and frustration.

a person holding a laptop while sitting next to someone

Helps to manage expectations

As we mentioned earlier, one of the key benefits of using a project charter is that it can help to manage expectations. You can estimate exactly how long a project will take, how much it will cost, and what challenges you might face.

If stakeholders have a copy of the project charter, they can refer to it to get an idea of what to expect from the project. This can help to avoid any surprises down the road.

It also means that you can factor in extra time to allow for bottlenecks or unexpected problems, helping to keep the project within expectations.

Provides a framework for project management

A project charter provides a framework for managing your project. This includes the specific approach that you will be taking, such as waterfall or agile. It can also help to define the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved in the project.

This framework can be helpful for new project managers, as it gives them a starting point for their project, as well as a way to measure their progress.

Helps to track project progress

A clear and detailed timeline is a key element of any successful project. A project charter can help to create this timeline by outlining the specific tasks that need to be completed and when they should be completed by.

This information can be used to create a Gantt chart or other project management tools, which will help you track the progress of your project. This is especially helpful if you need to report on the project’s status to stakeholders.

Provides a legal framework for the project

A project charter can also act as a legal framework for your project. This means that, if something goes wrong, you have a document that outlines the specific terms of the project and who is responsible.

This can be helpful if you need to take the project to court or if you are involved in a dispute with another party.

As you can see, there are a number of benefits to using a project charter. If you’re working on a project, it’s important to have one in place.

a person working on a project charter on their laptop while sitting beside another employee

Creating your project charter

Now that you’re aware of the facts, it’s time to get to work creating your own project charter. Let’s run through the steps:

1. Collect all necessary information

Your first port of call is to gather all the information you need to complete your project charter. To help with this process, ask and answer the following questions relating to your project:

  • What needs to be done? (This is often called the project scope.)
  • When does it need to be done by?
  • Who is responsible for each part of the project?
  • How will we know when the project is complete?

You’ll also need finer details, such as:

  • Participating departments and personnel
  • Budget
  • Milestones and deadlines
  • Resources required
  • Any other specific information relevant to your project

2. Meet with your team

Before collating this information, it’s important to meet with your team and get their buy-in. This is especially important if they will be responsible for completing certain parts of the project.

Your team should be able to help you answer some of the questions above, and they’ll also be in a better position to identify potential risks and problems.

At this point, there are a few more questions to answer as a team. What are your goals and objectives? How will you measure success? What are the risks and potential problems, and how will you mitigate them?

3. Draft your project charter

Now that you have all the information, it’s time to draft your project charter. This document will outline your project goals, objectives, scope, budget and timeline.

It’s important to have a clear and concise document that everyone involved can understand. This will help ensure that everyone is on the same page and that there are no surprises down the line.

4. Get sign-off from key stakeholders

Once you’ve drafted your project charter, it’s time to get sign-off from key stakeholders. This includes your boss, department heads and other team members who will be involved in the project.

This is an important step, as it ensures that everyone has given their approval and is on board with the project plan.

5. Revisit and update as needed

As your project progresses, you may find that you need to update your project charter. This is normal, and it’s important to be flexible and adapt as needed.

Make sure to track any changes and updates so that everyone involved is always up-to-date.

three people sitting around a table while creating a project charter

Final thoughts

There you have it — a simple guide to creating your own project charter. It’s an important document that will help keep your project on track, so it’s worth taking the time to get it right.

Remember that your project charter isn’t meant to be inflexible or unchangeable. It should be adaptable to reflect the ever-changing landscape of your project, acting as a guidepost rather than a straitjacket.

With that in mind, make sure to revisit and update your project charter as needed, and always ensure that everyone involved is kept in the loop.