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Project charter: how to make the most of it

When it comes to project management, keeping the end goal in sight is not always easy. With multiple stakeholders involved and lengthy projects with several milestones, a project charter is the key document to keep track of what has to be achieved. This article highlights the benefits of having a clear project charter in place, provides a well-rounded view of what a project charter is and guides project managers on how to create an effective project charter.

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Project charter: definition, audience and content

The project charter is the document that is the backbone of successful project management. Taking the time to create this document will bring undeniable benefits to the project and will keep everyone focussed on the end goal.

What is a project charter?

To put it simply, a project charter is a document that summarises a project. It is short, straightforward and references everything that someone needs to know about the project. As such, it highlights the state of play, the desired outcome, the key milestones of the project, the stakeholders involved and any associated business case. Project charters are a good way to present a project to senior leaders who have limited time and need to grasp the ins and outs of a project quickly. All resources involved in the project should have access to it and the content of the charter should be updated on a regular basis. Doing so will ensure the end goal is kept in sight.

Who is the project charter for?

The project charter is created by the project manager and the team assigned to the project. Generally speaking, the project charter is used by the project team and project sponsors. The document is also a great way to introduce someone new to a project.

The use of the project charter by the project manager and project team

The charter is the go-to document for the project team. It is created at the beginning of the project and is a good way to kick off the project. The document should clearly highlight the structure of the team including roles and responsibilities. When it comes to creating the project charter, every stakeholder involved should provide their insight on the goals and potential pitfalls of the project.

The use of the project charter by the project sponsors

Project sponsors are critical to a project charter. As senior sponsor, they support the initiative and are key to addressing roadblocks. In a way, project sponsors ensure the viability of the project by elevating it.

Typical content of a project charter

The content of a project charter will vary depending on the project itself. However, here are the sections most often included in the document that you can use to create your template:

Project name

Large projects tend to have a name and even branding. This brings more singularity to the project.

Stakeholders and sponsors

The list of stakeholders involved as well as the sponsor should be included in the project charter. In this section, the project manager should clearly highlight the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved.

Requirements

This section highlights what needs to happen in order to achieve the desired outcome. This can be high-level and form the basis of the project milestones.

Anticipated constraints

Every project has a set of constraints or roadblocks associated with it. Spotting these and being transparent about them will bring efficiency to the project.

Milestones

Lengthy or complex projects need clear milestones to keep everyone in sight. Milestones also allow to address dependencies between different tasks.

Key deliverables

For every project, there will be a set of deliverables. These can be part of milestones or the end goal of the project itself. Having an understanding of the necessary deliverables will make it easier for the project team to move forwards with their assigned tasks.

Desired outcome

When creating the project charter, ask yourself about the desired outcome. This section should be clear, brief and answer the ‘Why?’.

The project manager is the owner of the project charter. The document should be created at the very beginning of the project and should form the backbone of the project plan.

The importance of a project charter for project management

In a way, a project charter is the backbone of a project. The section below provides some useful content on why this document is so important for successful project management. It highlights the benefits of the document throughout the life of the project.

Why is having a project charter essential?

Every project aims to take the business one step forwards, but also presents challenges. Having a project charter provides a roadmap to the project and gives it structure. It can also simplify complex areas and keep everyone accountable.

Importance of a project charter

The charter aims at ensuring everyone involved in the project is on the same page. It will assist in managing expectations by defining a clear scope, budget and timeline. It is the go-to document for anyone new to the project but should also be used throughout the project by the project team.

Although creating a project charter might seem lengthy, doing so will save a lot of headaches and will ensure roadblocks are anticipated.

Benefits of a project charter

Provides transparency

By creating a project charter, the project team gives the project visibility within the business. If there are no confidentiality concerns, the document can be accessible to all. It is the go-to documentation to understand a project and should provide transparency.

Forms a project roadmap

The project charter is the first document created when launching a project. The content of the document is essential to creating the roadmap of the project. It provides direction to the project and lays out the different milestones.

Promotes the project and its importance

Not all projects are obvious. It is essential that the purpose of the project and its benefits shine through the project charter. This will market it to senior sponsors and will lead to their buy-in.

Thwarts scope creep

Avoiding scope creep is a balancing act when leading a project. It is nonetheless a must for successful outcomes. The project charter gives boundaries to the project. It anticipates risks and avoids wasting time and resources.

Serves as project kick-off

Presenting the project charter is a good way to kick off the project. It puts everyone on the same page and clearly highlights what needs to be done. When the project charter is presented to senior sponsors, it can also serve as a green light to the project.

Ensures continuity

A key benefit to project charters is that they allow for continuity. In long projects, it is not unusual for project managers to change. With a charter in hand, the transition to the new project manager is smoother as they have all the information they need on the project.

Project charters serve as reference points for all involved. Creating a thorough but to-the-point document will prevent a lot of hassle.

How to write an effective project charter

When a project involves a lot of stakeholders and has multiple milestones, it is often difficult to stay focussed on the desired outcome. In such cases, writing the project charter can be challenging and one might not know where to start. This section delivers some tips on how to write your project charter and how to stay focussed.

Essential project charter tips

Stick to the point

An effective project charter goes straight to the point. Keep it simple and short. Sometimes, one page is enough to summarise the project. Anything more might be adding unnecessary details.

Be unequivocal

The content of the charter should be explicit and there should not be room for doubt or ambiguity. Anyone seeing the document for the first time should fully understand it without explanations.

Work as a team

Involving the project sponsor at the early stage of charter creation will bring efficiencies. This is because project sponsors have visibility over the bigger picture. Additionally, their full buy-in means that they will be key in navigating the politics of the project.

Make sure the document answers key questions

What we mean by staying ‘to the point’ is that the project charter needs to answer some key questions. The project managers and the project team should ask themselves the following questions when creating their project charter:

What is the purpose of the project?

The objectives of the project are key. The project manager and team should ask themselves what the purpose of the project is, what it aims to achieve and why it matters. To ensure the objectives are clear, use the SMART principles. This will make the objectives specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound.

What is the project scope?

The scope of work is a must in the project charter. It defines the ‘What?’. Paying particular attention to the project scope will ensure that there is no scope creep and that what isn’t part of the project is not made a focus. It is also useful to manage expectations.

Who is involved in the project?

Beyond the project manager, projects involve stakeholders who are likely to have an active part in the project. Listing all individuals involved as part of the project team or project sponsor as well as clearly defining their roles in the project will prevent a lot of hassle. It will also make stakeholders accountable.

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