Writing a Project Charter

by Jennifer Bridges, PMP (formerly, Jennifer Whitt)

writingWriting a project charter has to be one of the most confusing areas to project managers, even though it is written before a project really ever starts. Many people have the impression they don’t do project charters, when in fact they do. Documents synonymous to the project charter are also called a SOW (statement of work), ERD (estimate response document), BC (business case) or quote. Regardless of its name, the project charter is very important in the beginning because it is the formal authorization for a project. Not a whole lot of the planning and analysis has been done yet, so all that’s known at the time of writing a project charter is high level.

The common elements of a project charter include five paragraphs in between the project name and the authorizing signature:

  • The first paragraph simply presents the charter as formal authorization for the project, and goes on to describe it. The description states the organizational need that this project is going to provide a solution for and when it will be done.
  • Paragraph two identifies the scope of the project. It goes into more detail in that it provides the high-level deliverables that will be produced from the project.
  • Paragraph three outlines who the project managers are, what their responsibilities are, and authorizes them to assign resources or whatever else they have to do on the project.
  • Paragraph four identifies the milestone schedule. Remember, this information is still at high-level, so to the best the project can tell, some high level milestones that need to be met are included.
  • Paragraph five is the project budget. Again, it’s early, so the budget is the best that they can allocate for this project.

Lastly, the project charter is submitted to the project sponsor, is the person accountable for the project and who also funds the project. The project sponsor reviews and approves. Typically, stakeholders or a board will also review and approve the document, but the project sponsor literally signs off and dates the project as formal authorization. From that point, the team is allocated to begin planning and to produce a project plan. The project plan outlines the more specific information concerning scope, deliverables, time resources, budget and timelines.

That’s the difference between the project charter and the project plan. Many projects get in trouble when they start their without a project charter, SOW, ERD, BC or quote. But I hope you can see the need and will begin doing your project charters or at least identifying that yes, you are already doing them.

If you found these tips from Jennifer Bridges, PMP (formerly, Jennifer Whitt) of value and are a PMP looking to earn PMI PDUs, you might be interested in her self-paced, downloadable courses at PDUs2Go.com.


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