CXO

How to write a more effective project charter

Project charters are documents intended to identify an assigned PM, signify the start of a project, and define key parameters surrounding the project. Get expert tips on writing a project charter.

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Image: iStockphoto.com/hanhanpeggy

Projects can be triggered by multiple factors including, but not limited to, changes to business goals, the need to take on initiatives to meet existing goals, internal and external environmental factors, customer needs, changes to technology, policies, or legal, tax, or regulatory requirements. Whenever a project is initiated, there is a need for a project charter.

Why is a project charter needed?

A project charter is needed to outline the parties executing the project and the parties the project serves. Specifically, the project charter:

  • assigns a project manager (PM) and provides the PM with authorization to initiate project activities;
  • provides some background/history and justification for the project and how it ties in with business objectives;
  • includes information about sponsorship and approvals;
  • identifies the project team, stakeholders, project requirements and expectations, assumptions, and the entire scope of the project, including which individuals are responsible for specific activities and deliverables; and
  • specifies how success will be measured.

When is the project charter created and shared?

The project charter should be created prior to project kickoff and shared with all stakeholders during the kickoff meeting.

Who develops and approves the project charter?

This is often an area of much confusion, but as a rule PMs are heavily involved in the development of the charter due to their high-level expertise. The project sponsor/initiator approves the charter.

SEE: Quick glossary: Project management (Tech Pro Research)

What should be included in the project charter?

All project parameters and the entire scope of the project, including at the very least:

  • an overview, including the background on the project and justification;
  • the requirements and goals of the project;
  • the project sponsor;
  • the project stakeholders;
  • the PM and team;
  • all vendors and other involved parties;
  • all responsibilities, and who they are assigned to;
  • identification of expected deliverables and milestones;
  • all required and available resources;
  • the risks, constraints, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats;
  • the processes and methodologies being utilized;
  • communication strategies;
  • the project timeline and scheduling;
  • the project budget; and
  • key performance indicators (KPIs) for measuring success.

SEE: 10 best practices for successful project management (TechRepublic)

Ask these eight questions to create a more effective project charter

  1. Has there been sufficient time and effort invested into analyzing and identifying the need for the project?
    The risk of not properly analyzing the business and the need for the project is an incomplete project charter that doesn't sufficiently identify key elements or sufficiently rationalize the purpose.
  2. Has a clear link back to organizational strategic objectives been identified?
    A project only offers value to an organization if it can be tied to the overall goals of the business. A project charter that doesn't make a case for this is problematic.
  3. How will the project create value for the stakeholders/business?
    This goes along with having a clear link back to the goals of the business and takes it a bit further to the intended value from the project activities and deliverables.
  4. Has the project scope been clearly and thoroughly defined?
    Being able to fully detail the timeline, cost, quality, assumptions, and other key information is necessary to offer a comprehensive picture and guidelines for stakeholders, sponsors, and project teams.
  5. Are the goals realistic and attainable?
    There's no point in defining and documenting project goals that are unrealistic or questionable and expecting sponsors and stakeholders to have faith that the project will be a success.
  6. What are the risks of not doing the project?
    If the risks of not proceeding with a project are minimal, then the question of why the project is required needs to be further analyzed. That said, there are many internal and external factors that can trigger the need for a project without taking on risk. Make sure you understand the triggers and the risks.
  7. Are the required resources available?
    No project should proceed without the required resources being available when they are needed—this is simply poor planning. Sometimes resourcing can become an issue after a project has begun, so make sure to build in contingencies during risk analysis.
  8. How can success be realistically measured?
    Without a way to measure how well a project is progressing and if goals have been reached, potential KPIs and possibly even the goals need to be reassessed.

In conclusion

Before getting too far into developing a project charter, give sufficient thought to at least these considerations in order to write a more effective charter.

Also see

About Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is the author of "LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership" and Founder & President of Lead-Her-Ship Group. She's also a project management and IT freelance columnist for various publications, and a contr...

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