What Is a Project Charter and How Do I Write One?

Grace Pinegar
Grace Pinegar  |  March 8, 2019

Remember our childhood ideas of adulthood, where we imagined days of eating nothing but candy, staying up past midnight to watch cartoons, and doing virtually anything else we wanted?

While the candy and cartoons truly are unlimited, it came as an unpleasant surprise to me that even adults have to ask permission sometimes. In the project management world, permission is more commonly referred to as “approval,” and can be sought out through a document called a project charter.

Project charters are written documentation with which a project manager has the authority to begin a specific business venture. Project charters are often written by a project manager. 

Not all businesses will create a project charter as a solo document; some will wrap a project charter and a business case into one. Before getting to work on a project charter, ensure you speak with your company’s management and understand their expectations and preferred documents.

Now that we’ve got that all squared away, let’s discuss the specifics of a project charter.

What is a project charter?

A project charter lays out the essentials of a project. This documentation identifies a project’s scope or scale, defines objectives and deliverables, and outlines key players. More specifically, a project charter will name the project’s stakeholders and verbalize the authority the project manager has regarding this venture. 

project charter example

Image courtesy of Ulysses Room

The project charter outlines the risks and benefits of a project and identifies the exact business problem this project is aiming to solve. If these elements sound familiar, it’s because they’re all also included in the more extensive project management document, a business case. 

Again, make sure you understand your business’s preferences and expectations before beginning your project documentation. 

Now that you’re familiar with the concept, let’s go over the various elements that make up a project charter.

Elements of a project charter

To ensure you’ve included all that your business deems necessary in a project charter, be sure to consult with a member of management or even a stakeholder. The following are considered best practice elements to include in a charter.

project charter make a project charter

 Image courtesy of ProjectManager

Goals and business problems

First and foremost, a project charter should define the business problem a project is seeking to solve. What is the goal of this venture? Increased revenue? More site traffic?

Project team members

This part of the project charter lists all who are involved in the project’s execution and what roles they play. Will you need the graphic design team to spend a week of their time helping you build a website? List that here.

Stakeholders

Also referred to as “sponsors,” this part of the charter lists the decision-makers in upper-management as well as those who are in executive roles. Stakeholders often have authority to approve or deny a plan and can allot more resources to a project when needed.

Requirements and costs

What all will you need in order to complete this project? Include this in the project charter as it will your project's approval.

Constraints

What might hold this project back from succeeding? What do you lack that might change your performance? What could impede progress? Think of all of these things and include them here.

Solutions

A project manager is responsible for discovering the best solution to a problem. In this section of the project charter, a project manager will list the various solutions they think could be applied to a business problem. PMs should be sure to outline which solution they prefer to execute.

Additionally, how can you solve the constraints listed in the previous section?

Milestones

A project milestone is a start date, end date, and any accomplishment in between. How will you determine when a project begins, when it ends, and what other steps in the middle determine success? List your milestones so other members of management, as well as stakeholders, know what events to look for in this project life cycle.

A project management tool is helpful in monitoring project milestones. 

project charter project milestone

Risks

Risks differ from constraints in that risks define what could go wrong within a project as opposed to the existing limitations at the start of a project. Communicating risks shows managers you’ve had the foresight to consider potential issues.

Deliverables

What physical, readable, communicable results are you hoping to develop from this project? This is perhaps the most important part of your project charter, as it’s the section wherein you’re able to communicate to management the results at the close of a project.

Why use a project charter?

Now you know what goes into it, but why? It seems that in businesses, over communicating is key. It’s significantly more important to have multiple documents regarding the purpose of the project than it is to have nothing. 

project charter example

 Image courtesy of Project Management Skills

Authorize project

Project charters are the official documentation that gives a PM permission to carry out a project and ultimately solve a business problem.

Communication

A good project charter gets everyone on the same page regarding the aforementioned elements. Instead of having a flurry of emails with details here and there, all necessary information is documented in one place.

Reference

Discrepancies in the workplace are no fun. Creating a well-documented project charter provides you a clear point of reference should there be any disagreements after the fact.

Consider this territory...charted

Now that you know how to write a project charter, you can get to work on one of your own! Every new project feels like unchartered territory until you get to it.

To learn more on project management, read up on choosing your project team and business case examples that have worked.  

Grace Pinegar
Author

Grace Pinegar

Grace Pinegar is a lifelong storyteller with an extensive background in various forms such as acting, journalism, improv, research, and now content marketing. She was raised in Texas, educated in Missouri, and has come to tolerate, if not enjoy, the opposition of Chicago's seasons.