Project charter

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In project management, a project charter, 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, and defines the authority of the project manager. It serves as a reference of authority for the future of the project. The terms of reference are usually part of the project charter.

A project charter should:

  • Contain the essence of the project.
  • Provide a shared understanding of the project.
  • Act as a contract between the project sponsor, key stakeholders and the project team.

The project charter is usually a short document that refers to more detailed documents such as a new offering request or a request for proposal.

In Initiative for Policy Dialogue (IPD), this document is known as the project charter. In customer relationship management (CRM), it is known as the project definition report. Both IPD and CRM require this document as part of the project management process.

The project charter establishes the authority assigned to the project manager, especially in a matrix management environment. It is considered industry best practice.

The purpose of the project charter is to document:

  • Reasons for undertaking the project
  • Objectives and constraints of the project
  • Directions concerning the solution
  • Identities of the main stakeholders
  • In-scope and out-of-scope items
  • Risks identified early on (A risk management plan should be part of the overall project management plan)
  • Target project benefits
  • High level budget and spending authority

The three main uses of the project charter are:

  • To authorize the project - using a comparable format, projects can be ranked and authorized by Return on Investment.
  • Serves as the primary sales document for the project - ranking stakeholders have a 1-2 page summary to distribute, present, and keep handy for fending off other project or operations runs at project resources.
  • Serves as a focal point throughout the project. For example, it is a baseline that can be used in team meetings and in change control meetings to assist with scope management.

For a large multi-phased project, the charter can be created for each individual phase. For example, there can be an initial charter during the Scope and Seek phase of a project, followed by a Planning charter and an Execution Charter during the build phase of the project.

A project charter will be created in the initiating process group of a phase or a project at the very start. Developing the charter and identifying the stakeholders are the two main actions of the initiating process group.

Inputs to develop a charter can be:

  • Project Statement of Work
  • Business Case
  • Agreements
  • Enterprise standards, industry standards, regulations and norms
  • Organizational process, assets and templates

Typically a project manager takes the lead in developing the charter. The project manager will employ his or her expertise and experience to develop the charter. The project manager will work with the key stakeholders (customers and business sponsors), the PMO, Subject Matter Experts inside and outside the organization, other units within the organization and may also work with Industry groups or professional bodies to develop the charter. The project manager will employ facilitation techniques such as brainstorming, problem solving, conflict resolution, meetings, expectations management etc. to develop the charter.

The charter once signed will provide authority to the project manager to officially execute the project and employ organizational funds and resources to make the project successful.

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