How to Write a Project Charter Document

Instructor: Michelle Marshall

Project Manager and Governance, Risk & Compliance Specialist

In this lesson you will learn how to write a project charter document, what main elements should be included, where to source the information, and why it's important to have the document formally approved.

As a project manager, when you're assigned to manage a project one of the first and most important documents you will need to draft is the project charter. You will do this during the initiation or start-up phase of the project.

What is a Project Charter?

When writing a project charter, you should remember its purpose. A project charter contains important information about the project, as well as its goals and objectives. It also formally authorizes the project to begin and gives the project manager authority to do his or her job, so, in a way, it serves as a contract between the project sponsor and the project manager. Without a charter, a project is like a group of travelers without a map -- you have nothing to guide you in the right direction.

The Elements of a Project Charter

Let's imagine that you've just been assigned to manage a project to build and launch a new website. When you draft the charter for this project, you will need to include the following information:

• The project's background, why you are embarking on the project, and a description of the business need that the project will meet. For example, the background could be that the company currently does not have a website, so the project will meet the need of the company to have a web presence and enable customers to purchase their products online.

• The key objectives and goals, or desired achievements, of the project. These should be written using the 'SMART' format, which ensures that the project goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. For example, the goal of your project could be to build and launch a website that contains company information, product information, product ordering facility, and online payment functionality, by the end of October.

• A description of the deliverable(s) resulting from the project. These are the products, or outputs, of the project, and it's important to be clear from the start exactly what they will be, to avoid confusion or disagreement down the line. So deliverables for your project could be things like the business requirements document, the website design specifications, the coding files, the website itself, the marketing plan, and so on.

• Project scope and exclusions. The project scope describes everything that the project will deliver, and the exclusions list things that are not included in the scope. Confusion over project scope is one of the major causes of scope creep, which is the term used for the scope of the project widening as the project proceeds -- something you, as project manager, do not want! So, for example, we could specify that the project scope includes the design, build, and launch of the website, but excludes the training of back-office staff on how to deal with orders placed on the website.

• Any assumptions or constraints affecting the project's schedule, budget, or quality. Assumptions are things taken for granted at the start of a project. In our example, one assumption could be that adequate funding and resources will be made available for the project. Constraints are limitations or parameters within which the project must operate. For example, the website has to be able to run on a certain operating system used by the company.

• Key stakeholders of the project. This would include a list of all the parties who either are customers of the end product of the project, or have a vested interest in the successful delivery of the project, or are required to assist with delivery of the project in some way.

• Estimated project budget. The budget, or the amount of money to be used for the project, is likely to be estimated at this stage, as sometimes a detailed budget can be arrived at only after the planning stage.

• High-level project plan and milestones. Again, this is likely to be only an indication of the timing of certain project milestones, as detailed planning still has to take place.

• Project approach. This describes the methodology that the project manager will follow.

• Project team structure. This illustrates, by means of a type of drawing called an organogram, the project team's structure and reporting lines.

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