What is the Project Charter?


Definition

Every entity requires a basis for its existence - a country has its Magna Carta or Proclamation of Independence, a Corporation has its Articles of Incorporation or its Vision Statement, and similarly a Project has its Charter. A Project Charter defines the project as what it is and establishes an initial direction that it would take. While not a lot is known about the project at this stage, a few key and foundational things are established in the charter and will be the guiding star for the project through its lifetime.

Components of a Project Charter

  • Vision
  • Objectives
  • Major Requirements
  • Benefits
  • Success Criteria
  • Risks
  • Assumptions
  • Approvers

Why you need a Charter?

Everything needs basis for existence, everything needs a north-star for guidance. Without that, it would get lost. A project is no exception. A Project Charter is needed in a project to provide it guidance as it goes through various phases of execution. Without a single guiding principle, it is very possible that the team would go in all directions and the project would suffer as a result of it.

When (or at what stage in a Project) do you need to create a Project Charter?

The Project Charter is always created at the beginning of the Project. While it is generally created after the funding approval of the project, it may also be created before the funding of the project is approved.

In one circumstance however, a Project Charter may get created later in the life of the Project – this happens when the project is in a recovery mode and the team/PM realizes the absence of a Project Charter and its significance and how it is impacting the Project.

How to create a Charter?

This is a topic big enough to fill its own post. So, out here I’ll only point out the a few most important points to remember while creating a Project Charter.

  • Template: I’ve found that starting with a template of what you need in a Charted always helps. A template provides you with guidance on what information needs to be collected and filled in to the Charter.
  • People to Collect Information: Beyond that, you need to know where to collect the information from. These people will provide you with all the information and the correct information.
  • Process: You may take the approach of going to each individual and collecting the information and putting it all together. But, the approach I’ve found to be more effective is to get all the people together and brainstorm the questions posed by the template. Once the session is over, the information can be put into the document and sent out as the first draft for review and feedback. This makes it a way faster process. However, this process may not be always feasible – due to unavailability of all stakeholders.

For full details check the post on – How to create a Project Charter?

Who is responsible to create a Project Charter?

Theoretically speaking the project manager generally has to bear the responsibility of creating the project charter, getting it reviewed with relevant stakeholders, incorporating all feedbacks (thus making necessary updates) and getting it through the approval process. In practice however, the responsibility may fall on the shoulders of a few other people – for instance the Sponsor, one or more of the key Stakeholders, another Project Manager (who would not be running the project once it is approved and gets started), a Business Analyst, a Project Coordinator – essentially whoever is available at the time, has some bandwidth, and has ample information on the project or has the connections needed to collect that information.

You may be thinking “why?” – the reason is more to do with practicality and resource availability than anything else. The Project Charter is created at the very early stages of the project. While generally it is created after the funding approval, its creation may begin even before the funding approval. Anyway, at the very initial stages of the project, the Project Manager who would eventually run the project may not be available to start drafting the Charter. So, whoever is available and has the context gets the job.

Who should approve a Project Charter?

While the responsibility of creation of the Project Charter could fall on anyone’s shoulders, its approval would (and should) fall only on the shoulders of (at least) a few key people:

  • Project Sponsor: The Project Sponsor in most cases is the most important person signing off on the Project Chanter. In a situation when a Project Charter goes to approval without any funding approved, there may not be any Sponsor available to provide the approval. This is however, not a very common scenario.
  • A Key Customer/Client/User: A key Customer or Client or a User who would benefit from the outcome of the Project.
  • Any other Key Stakeholders: The Project Sponsor, Key Customer, Key Client, Key User are generally the most important stakeholders. However, there may be other stakeholder.

Conclusion

In this post we reviewed what a Project Charter is, what are the components of a Project Charter, why you need a Project Charter, how to create one, who needs to create it and who needs to approve it. I believe that should provide ample clarity on what the Project Charter is.

Please feel free to comment and provide feedback.


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