Zig Ziglar once said, “Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have 24-hour days.”
Those two short sentences perfectly summarize the value of a project charter. While a calendar indicates how long your team has to get everything done, a charter plan shows everyone how to make the most out of their allotted time. It sets out exactly what the project will achieve so that you can make the smart and timely decisions that are crucial to success. All the questions – Who? What? Where? When? Why?- all have an answer here.
A project charter is a formal summary of the entire project. It identifies the stakeholders, specifies the scope and everyone’s role in the process, and lists the steps needed to complete the final deliverable. Without it, you’d be like me before I put my contacts in every morning: stumbling blindly along and hoping that I don’t trip over anything along the way.
The primary components of a project charter are explained in detail below. While these guidelines are not universal, they will give you a general idea of what should be included in your own project charter document and prevent your project from being compromised by issues like:
This section explains why the project is being done. I work at a creative agency, so I usually note something like, “Client X is launching a new body lotion made from hypoallergenic essential oils and wants to market to those with environmental sensitivities.”
Some project managers I work with call this part of the charter a ‘Vision Statement,’ as the purpose is to explain the project’s vision. Whatever you decide to call it, be detailed and specific so that the team understands the end goal.
This is where you go into detail about what the project is supposed to achieve. Explain what is being built, developed, or marketed. In my case, I might state that the client wants:
When you specify the deliverables, it’s easier for you and the client to determine if and when the project is complete and successful.
The schedule segment of the charter answers the question “When?” In this section, you specify the final due date and any indicators of schedule progress, such as:
Now you get the answer to “Who?” Here, I list everyone who is involved in the project. In addition to the project manager, this includes:
These sections address areas of the project that may present a challenge or a limitation. The ones I use most frequently are:
I put an approvals section in every project charter I create. It has to be signed and dated by the project manager (me) and the client before work begins. Once I receive my copy back from the client, it goes into my project files in case I ever need to use it.
Although it’s never happened to me, I have heard of instances where a difficult client disputed the way a project was handled, saying that they didn’t know about or authorize the approach. Having a signed approval on hand can be a career saver.
If you’ve never created one before, there are some great examples out there that you can use as inspiration or modify to suit your needs. One of the most widely used project charter templates is this Excel sheet available for download from the Toggl website. It’s blank and completely customizable, so you can use it any time you need to create a team charter.
If you’re looking for a project charter example but would rather not use a spreadsheet, a Google search will turn up plenty of options for you to choose from. Look for documents that can be expanded beyond the typical one to two pages for more complex projects and are simple to save, update, and share.
I use a project management software called Teamweek, which is browser-based and incredibly easy to use. Although the basic version is free, it’s powerful and versatile enough to be used by entities like Spotify, Buzzfeed, and National Geographic.
One of my favorite features is the Gantt chart timelines, which are color-coded for easier visual overview of multiple projects or schedules. I use them whenever I’m creating a new project charter to help me plan the project and schedule resources more effectively. With Teamweek, you can:
Once work begins, I share the timeline with stakeholders so that they can get a bird’s eye view of the project any time they want an update. Speaking of updates, Teamweek works on all Internet devices, so I can manage a project from my desk in downtown New York, a business center at an airport, or from the back seat of a taxi as I go from point A to B. I can’t remember what my job was like before Teamweek and, frankly, I don’t want to!
While your project charter doesn’t have to go into infinitesimal detail, you also don’t want it to be too general. When it comes to areas like goals, objective, and schedule, I’m a huge fan of the SMART model:
Once you’ve got these five points covered, your project charter will be a blueprint for success that you can use again and again.