The project charter is a crucial document in project management as it lays out the project's purpose, objectives, stakeholders, risks, resources, and dependencies during the project planning stage. Here, you’ll learn what’s included in the project charter and how to write one.
A project charter is a short, straightforward document that serves as the foundation for a project. The project charter functions as both the project’s internal marketing tool and reference guide.
Project charters in project management should briefly outline the project’s objectives, plans, and stakeholders without delving into a sea of details. Project charters typically include the following elements:
Why is your team proposing this project? How will it help move the business forward, boost growth, or relieve pain points? What is the expected return on investment?
Your project charter should define the specific outcomes your team plans to deliver. Setting and communicating clear boundaries can keep team members from straying from the predetermined project scope.
Learn more about scope management
In your project charter, decide on a limited number of primary objectives. Keep these goals SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.
Identify the resources your team will need to be successful, including personnel, funds, time, materials, equipment, and any contributions you may need to source from a third party.
Learn more about resource management
Learn more about project time management
How much will the project cost? You may need to adjust your estimate as the project proceeds, but creating an initial budget helps get stakeholders, executive sponsors, and team members all on the same page.
Learn more about cost management
What could go wrong? While focusing on the negative may sound counterproductive, taking the time to identify potential pitfalls can prepare your team for unforeseen challenges down the road.
Learn more about risk management
When one piece of a project can’t start until a previous step has reached a certain stage, that’s known as a dependency. It’s important to outline the optimal sequence of tasks—including all dependencies—within the project plan. This helps you identify the necessary resources and highlight potential scheduling issues, especially when the scope of your project requires certain tasks to be completed in order.
Learn more about project constraints
Datasheet: Agile Marketing Cheat Sheet
Teams should write their project charter before the project begins. First, project managers hold a high-level discussion with their team, including any relevant stakeholders. Once teams have a good idea about the overall direction of the project—including stakeholder expectations—they may turn to a project charter template to help get them started. Here are a few product charter examples that might give you some ideas.
When writing your project charter, be sure to include each of the project charter elements listed above. After you complete your draft, share it with your larger team for feedback and approval.
Project charters serve two principal functions:
Create a project roadmap—One of the main purposes of your project charter is to establish expectations for the project. Whenever the team has doubts about the project’s direction, they can look to the project charter for guidance.
Market the project to stakeholders—A well-drafted project charter serves as your project’s principal internal marketing document, which you can show to stakeholders, managers, executives, and clients to help justify the cost, secure resources, and gain buy-in.
Writing a project charter requires a bit of time and attention up front, but the investment will be well worth the effort. Your project charter will serve as a guiding document that keeps the team aligned to a common vision and boosts stakeholder confidence in your project.