Mastering the Basics of Project Management: The Project Charter


In project management environment, a project charter is a very important document, project definition or project statement is a statement of the scope, objectives and participants in a project. It provides a preliminary delineation of roles and responsibilities, outlines the project objectives, identifies the main stakeholders, terms of reference (like a project dictionary) and defines the authority of the project manager. It serves as a reference of authority for the future of the project.

strategy

You must always remember that the project initiation process is a critical component of the overall project delivery process because the time lost “up-front” identifying and formalizing new projects necessities is seldom recovered throughout the remainder of the project life cycle. No matter what you call the document that is used to initiate the project, the process and content utilized to capture and approve the project concept will have a significant impact on time to market and reduce the number of “false starts” associated with new project requests. Consistent and well-understood project initiation processes and deliverables makes it “easier to do business” with the project delivery organization.

What a project chart must include?

The information captured within the project charter is utilized to provide a high level description of the project concept (business need or problem to be solved), and answer some basic questions utilized to justify approving initiation of the next step in the project delivery process (project planning and execution) and this document will guide the Project Manager during all the execution phase of the project. So, a good project chart must include, at least, the information listed below:

  • Why? Describes the goals and benefits of completing the project. A good project charter will provide a description of tangible benefits to the organization, including quantification of the potential range of benefits (optimistic – realistic – pessimistic).
  • What? Describes the high level scope of the initiative, and the key requirements associated with the request (often in the form of critical success factors).
  • Who? Provides a list of the primary person/organization requesting the project (the project sponsor), and the key people/organizations impact by the project (stakeholders). It is helpful to describe how the people/organizations are impacted (e.g., suppliers, subject matter experts, end users, customers). Here I used to creat a Matrix of responsabilities
  • When? This is the beginning of your High Level Project Plan. Highlights timing related requirements associated with fulfillment of the project request (e.g., window of opportunity).providing the key project milestones and target dates.
  • How? Describes what is known about the project delivery process. In many cases the project is not starting from a “blank piece of paper”. The project may represent an enhancement to an existing product or system, or the implementation of a product / technology that has already been identified or purchased.
  • How much? Establishes funding available to complete the project request (e.g., amount budgeted in the organization’s budget), and/or cost related parameters associated with fulfilling the project need. In many cases, the project charter will define a rough order of magnitude type estimate for completing the project (e.g., +/- 50%).
  • What else? The charter will include any additional information that is relevant to approving the project request and initiating the next step in the project delivery process (e.g., project assumptions or constraints). The project charter may also include an assessment of risks and issues associated with the project request.
  • What is not included? In my experiencie, this is the one of the most important definitions at the very beginning of any project: Establish a clear and precise activities, shopping and resources that are not part of the project scope. This prevents, in the future, the project team waste time and money running activities that were not planned originelmente and therefore to be included in the project plan, would require a budget revision and a change in project scope.

Once defined, the Project Chart must be communicated between all stakeholders in the project: This is the document that will guide the next steps of the project, as we have seen. Here we have a simple example of a project chart document:

project charter

Key elements of a project charter

  1. Written – Although the initial idea may be communicated and vetted verbally, project initiation requires some form of written documentation to efficiently approve the request and launch the project planning effort. In addition, documenting the project charter enables collaboration of key stakeholders, and improvement of the end deliverable.
  2. Objective – The project charter should fairly represent the perspectives of all key parties involved and impacted by the project request. Although the project charter is not intended to be a legally binding document, it is expected to be a reasonable representation of the anticipated benefits, as well as the estimated effort required to fulfill the request.
  3. Explicit – A project charter should clearly and concisely shows each of the key elements of the project’s request/scope – goals/benefits, timing, costs, risks/issues. Based upon the information known at the time the project charter is created, these elements should be described in detail, and quantified if possible. In many cases, the use of project assumptions enables quantification of benefits, costs, and timing. Project charters that contain ambiguous elements are often the source of contention and change during the project planning and execution processes.
  4. Available – The project charter should be maintained in a location that is available to all stakeholders. Collaboration on the project charter improves the quality of the end deliverable. In addition, the project charter represents a deliverable that will continue to be referenced throughout the project life cycle, particularly during the project planning process.
  5. Consistent – Establish a template for the content and organization of the project charter. Within the template describe how the content can be tailored based upon the size, complexity, and type of request. Best practices and lessons learned from previous projects are used to continue to enhance the project charter template.
  6. Approved – As defined by the organization’s project initiation process, the project charter should be approved by the appropriate parties (including sign-off) prior to launching the project planning process. All project charters (in process, approved, and rejected) should be maintained in the project office’s project archives.

Without a project charter, the goals of the project will be ambiguous and often understood incorrectly by the key stakeholders, each having a different point of interest in the project. The result is a project beset with conflicting priorities, role confusion, and in many cases, as failed project.

Bonus: Mastering the Basics of Project Management: the Project Scope

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4 thoughts on “Mastering the Basics of Project Management: The Project Charter

  1. Pingback: How do I estimate based on risk? | Project Management in Practice

  2. Pingback: The Curriculum as a Project Charter: Project Management for Teachers Part II | Heather MacCorkle Edick

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