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A project charter is a written document, issued by senior management that authorizes a new project to begin. Different organizations have different policies and procedures for the creation of project charters. Some create very limited charters and issue them early. Some give them a little more thought and include a few more details. It’s those details that can often make a big difference in the success of your project.  In this blog, I’ll outline nine project charter essentials that can help you bring your project to a successful conclusion. Even if leadership didn’t include them in the charter, you can begin the project by nailing down these essentials.

Nine Project Charter Essentials

Inspirational vision statement

The vision statement is a brief statement that describes what you are trying to accomplish and why. Think about how you feel when you are working on something that is clearly inspirational. How does that compare with the feeling when you are doing busy work? Give your team the gift of an inspirational vision statement and they will repay you with a stronger commitment to the project.

Effective project leader

There are many project management certification programs and college degree programs that can help groom an effective leader. But in 2019, people skills are just as critical as the mechanics of how to do project management. Some people seem to be blessed with good people skills. Others don’t seem to have a clue, and often enjoy hiding behind reports and computer screens.

When a project is initiated by senior management, take care to select someone who can effectively motivate and communicate AND knows how to run a project.

Known customer (who & what’s important)

I’m not suggesting that you can’t work with new customers. I’m saying that you need to know your customer. You need to validate what is most important to your customer (and management team.) Is it scope, cost, schedule, quality or risk? Since resources are always limited, at some point, teams will have to choose between scope, cost, quality, risk or schedule. Management (and clients) will try to tell you that everything is important, but there will be trade-offs. So, determine what is most important.

Strong sponsor

Over the years, much research has been done to determine why projects fail. Almost always, a lack of sponsor support is named as a large contributing factor. The project sponsor is typically a member of senior management who is the champion for the project. There may or may not be a project sponsor on projects that are being done for outside customers.

The key here is for the project leader to have a strong working relationship with the project sponsor. It helps if the project sponsor is well regarded by other members of management. The project team needs to know that the project has a champion who can ensure that funding is not suddenly cancelled. The project leader needs to think more like an executive, and the sponsor needs to be able to empathize with those who are down in the weeds looking for bugs.

The sponsor doesn’t likely want to hear about every problem or achievement, however ensuring that they are not caught off-guard when the CEO walks in and has heard about a crisis over the weekend is essential. Sometimes, there is an outside customer AND an internal  sponsor. When that is the case, the sponsor likely has the relationship with the customer. So, iron out your communication plan carefully.

Acceptable constraints

Project constraints are the limitations on the project or the team. During early project planning, evaluate all project constraints. If you have a constraint that is clearly unacceptable, you need to make sure that everyone understands what is going on. Do you need to cancel the project before you’ve started spending money? This is an executive decision. Perhaps you determine you’re just going to have to live with a constraint. Consider treating it like a project risk and manage it during the life of the project.

Validated assumptions

A project assumption is anything taken to be true or false, which may not be so. Before you begin execution, review your assumptions and make sure your assumptions aren’t flawed.

Measurable project benefits

Every project is undertaken to produce a product, service, or outcome that delivers value to the organization. Why else would you invest large amounts of time and money into an effort? Maybe there’s a good reason, but I can’t tell you what it is. So, from my perspective, every project should deliver an outcome that benefits the organization. If you can’t measure that benefit(s), how will you really know if you have succeeded?

Management may or may not have included the benefits the project is expected to achieve and how it plans to measure them in the original charter. But management has to be involved in this discussion. Every organization is different. Some have a PMO, where this is likely being handled. Others will choose to rely on the department(s) that are involved and name someone to be in charge of the measurement process. Keep in mind that you may be measuring benefits for years after a project is completed. Having a department that does that is likely to produce better results.

Long-term project benefits may or may not be included in the project charter, but I recommend the team understand what those benefits are, and the plan for measuring them.  This can be motivating for the team.  Don’t make the method for measuring those benefits an afterthought.

Identified success and failure criteria

Understanding how to measure the long-term benefits that a project will achieve is important. But, it is also essential for project teams to understand how they will be measured for the job that they do. If a project is done to open a new retail location and the store never succeeds, it is not likely because the project team failed.

So, project teams need to identify what constitutes success and failure in the short-term. Failing to open that retail location before the holiday buying season may represent a failure criterion. You will have to be the judge. But avoid heartbreaking failures by understanding success and failure criteria early in the game. Document one or more measurable factors that will define your project as a success and work towards accomplishing those objectives.

Practical budget and deadline estimates

It’s a waste of time to work on projects you can’t deliver. Understand early whether your client (or management team) is looking for a playground that serves 200, or three tire swings and a sliding board. I recommend documenting a preliminary budget range and a target completion date in your charter.

Finish defining your scope, estimating your budget, and deciding on your planned finish date. Then, circle back to the charter and ensure what you have planned is in line with what the charter states. If not, now is the time to clearly resolve that conflict in expectations.

A strong project charter covers these nine project charter essentials and authorizes the project manager to begin working and spending company resources on the project. It’s not a scope of work document – that comes next. The project charter is a broad document that doesn’t typically change as the project evolves.  The size of an organization will dictate the distribution list for a charter, but at a minimum, it’s distributed to the people who need to know about the project. This can be a pretty substantial group.

Email me if you would like to receive a Google or Excel version of a project charter guideline document, with a one-page, printable outline of the most important details in your project charter.