Any project requires clear management and leadership. Successful projects don’t just happen. Even with the best of teams, a clear project scope, objectives and roles need to be defined for a team to launch a successful project.
Whether you're new to project management or an old pro, project charters are tremendously helpful to organize projects and keep everyone on track.
What is a Project Charter?
A project charter is a brief document that explains the project in a clear, concise manner. Usually designed with high-level management in mind, the charter should contain the scope, objectives and participants in the project, so anyone can understand the project concept in a short amount of time. A project charter should also delineate a number of roles and responsibilities, including stakeholders if necessary, while also outlining some of the goals and deadlines in the project.
Ultimately, the project charter addresses the following questions in any project:
Although brief, a project charter is often also a formal document based on a statement of work (SoW) for an agreed upon business need and is usually established at the start of the project. Ideally, a project charter would be developed during the planning phases of the project when all the pieces of the project are being pulled together. Then once the project is ready to go, the project charter would be put forward for final approval by the stakeholders.
Benefits and Importance of Using a Project Charter
Project charters are helpful in keeping projects on track and teams accountable, leading to more successfully completed projects and projected outcomes achieved.
Project charters don't just stop there. Beyond that, when completed they offer additional benefits including:
- Overall clarity – clear guidelines for the entire team, including important milestones, goals and responsibilities
- Set scope – projects are less likely to be out of control when budgets and anticipated working hours are defined in the charter
- Saved time – a clear charter helps projects can stay on track and avoid costly setbacks or scope creep down the road
- Enhanced team dynamics – with the project manager and sponsor defined, it’s easier to keep an entire team motivated and happy. (To define every role in a project, we suggest using a RACI Chart).
The project charter is also hugely beneficial for one primary purpose: providing the project leader with the authority that they need to work on the approved project. This approval is important because the project cannot move forward without the necessary resources. When the charter is written clearly and correctly, executives are able to see the clear business value in the project and refer back to it later to follow the project as it reaches various milestones. This is also important because it prevents unnecessary scrutiny over the project and general misunderstandings, which could shut the project down.
What Components Need to Be Included?
There are a few components that need to be incorporated in a strong project charter. These include:
- A statement of the problem that the project is going to address. The purpose of the project should include clear, concise language.
- A business case stating why the project is being completed and how to relates to the strategic goals of the organization. This section can also include resource requirements needed to move the project forward. This should include the budget.
- A statement of the project’s objectives or how the success of the project is going to be defined. These should be approved by the project sponsor.
- A start and end date that creates a clear timeline, which will help win management approval and keep the working team on task.
- The scope of the project, defining what is within the purview of the project and what isn’t.
- The team members who are going to be participating in the project along with the stakeholders. This includes the business unit or service area impacted, departments within the business unit, the project leader and project sponsor.
As mentioned, these components should be included in every project charter, ideally when the project charter is created. The components contained in a project charter should also answer the following questions:
- What is the business case, or why should the project move forward? The project charter has to state why the time, effort, and money is necessary.
- Who is going to lead and who is going to sponsor the project? The project charter needs to state who is directing the work team and the sponsor that will champion the work to executive management.
- How will the project be measured? There should be measurable results and benefits that demonstrate the value to the business. This can be reducing or avoiding costs, increasing customer satisfaction, or growth opportunities.
These questions will help you and your team get in the right mindset to begin the process of writing and will set up a solid foundation for any project charter.
Start Creating a Project Charter with These Tips and Best Practices
It can be difficult and a bit overwhelming to figure out where to start with a project charter. There are a lot of pieces that have to come together. Organizing them and finding the right balance of brevity and detail can be a challenge, but it doesn't have to be.
Here are our tips and best practices when starting project charters:
- Use a template. Defining a project is an important task, but it can feel difficult and overwhelming when you're starting from scratch. We suggest using the project charter template found in Minitab Workspace to ensure all the pieces are included and different work groups are using the same document. This template can help to provide direction since all the most useful form fields are included for you to complete. The template can also be customized depending on your needs and since it's made digitally, is easy to update and share when needed.
- Involve the right people. While too many cooks in the kitchen can be a hindrance, it is important to ask for input from a representative of each business unit or department. Some teams have different perspectives of a business benefit so be sure to ask for input from all teams involved in the project.
- Identify risks. Be up front about risk level, especially in complicated projects. This helps set expectations with stakeholders and executives in case certain risk factors cause delay. Plan for solutions ahead of time to make the executives and the team more comfortable with the project.
- Remember this is a guide. The project charter is a roadmap both for the project, as well as the stakeholders. Make sure it's easy to follow for anyone involved and reference the charter throughout the life cycle of the project.