Nine Project Charter Essentials to Guarantee Success

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.

Inspirational vision statement

Effective project leader

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)

Strong sponsor

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

Validated assumptions

Measurable project benefits

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

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

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 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.

Writes on project management, leadership, team building, and value delivery. Imagining work management in the future.