What Is a Project Charter?

Project charter diagram.

When you initially charter a plane, you don’t need to provide a seating chart or list of names to the airline company. But you need to know how many passengers you have, the cost of the trip, and your destination. The project charter provides similar clarity and direction for your project. So how do you create a project charter?

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What Is a Project Charter?

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A project charter is a short document that explains the project in clear, concise wording for high-level management. Project charters outline the entirety of projects to help teams quickly understand the goals, tasks, timelines, and stakeholders. It is an essential deliverable in any project and one of the first deliverables as prescribed by the PMBOK Guide and other best practice standards. The document provides key information about a project and also provides approval to start the project. Therefore, it serves as a formal announcement that a newly approved project is about to commence. Contained also in the project charter is the appointment of the project manager, the person who is overall responsible for the project.

What Information Does the Project Charter Contain?

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When preparing the project charter, utilize the SMART method. Be Specific, ensure your goals are Measurable, Attainable, Relevant to the project, and Timely. The project charter includes:

  • Purpose and objectives of the project in clear, concise language
  • Requirements of the project at a very high level and without much detail
  • Project description in a paragraph or two that explains the project
  • Known high-level, major categories of risks for the project
  • Schedule of events with the start and end dates
  • Major events or milestones along the path.
  • Budget or summary of how much the project will cost
  • Requirements from the organization for approval, including what to approve, who will approve, and how to get the approval
  • Key players or stakeholders in charge of which parts of the project and who will approve the plans to go through
  • An introduction of the project manager, project sponsor, and their authority level

Read also: How to Write SMART Project Management Goals

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Main Components of a Project Charter

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A project charter is a living document outlining the issues, targets, and framework. A charter needs six main components that define the reasons for the project, explains how it improves the business, enumerate what steps are necessary to complete, and identify the stakeholders responsible for the project. The project charter components are:

  1. Problem statement
  2. Business case
  3. Goal statement
  4. Timeline
  5. Scope
  6. Team members

Why Are Project Charters Useful?

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The main reason every project needs a project charter at the very start is because without it, there is no proof or official document that an authorized project manager defined and presented a project and gained its approval from stakeholders to proceed. A project charter also provides several benefits:

  • Formally authorizes the project to commence
  • Creates a common vision and shared understanding of the project
  • Empowers the project manager to lead the project
  • Identifies the high-level objectives and scope of the project
  • Defines what success will look like at the end of the project
  • Gains support for the project by announcing it to the whole organization
  • Ensures that key stakeholders are aware of the project
  • Secures budget and resources for the project
  • Serves as the point of reference for the project team

Read also: Significance of Keeping Documentation in Project Management

Key Sections of a Project Charter

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Most project management methodologies and frameworks prescribe the use of a project charter but do not define the actual contents of the template. This is understandable, because projects differ in a variety of ways, such as in size, criticality, type, or approach. But the accepted principle in writing a project charter is that the document should help clarify the what, why, who, when, and what cost aspects or questions of the project. Referencing the PMBOK Guide, the inclusion of following sections in a project charter will answer these aspects and questions:

Project information

This section includes the name of the project, its ID (if organizations use one), the name of the project manager, and its sponsor(s). It can also include additional but brief project description details.

Business need, problem, or opportunity

This section tries to identify what the main driver for the project is for it to exist. It provides the context or situation that led the sponsor to start the project.

Project objectives and benefits

This lists the goals that the project will try to achieve. A guide for writing the objectives is to use the SMART acronym: they should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bounded.

Project organization

This section identifies the people governing the project. It should clearly show the key roles for its management and direction. Using a RACI chart can be helpful.

High-level project scope

This section outlines the boundaries of the project at a high level. It is important to identify not only its scope, but also what is out of scope. Specifying key deliverables of the project should also fall in this section.

High-level project timescale

The project charter should list the key stages and the estimated duration of the project at a high level, including its milestones. However, the project manager should exercise caution in writing the project schedule, assuming that the project will immediately start after the approval.

High-level project budget

This section identifies the budget requirements of the project at a high level. It should include capital and revenue expenditure forecasts.

Key assumptions

This section lists the main assumptions that the project team took. It is important also to assess how these assumptions can impact the project should the team realize later that the assumptions they made were false or inaccurate.

Key project risks

This lists the main risks that may impact the project if they materialize. It assumes that the project team cannot avoid encountering the identified risks.

Success criteria

This section identifies the key metrics to help assess if the project is successful or not. The measurable terms describe an outcome that is acceptable to the end-user, customer, and stakeholders.


One-Page Project Charter Example

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When creating a project charter, it is important to understand context. Project charters are usually very lengthy documents. This is to ensure that it completely describes the background of the project, the different options considered, the details of the scope, and other factors. For large projects, an additional one-page Project Charter Summary provides the summary of the most important sections of the full project charter. For small projects, this one-page template is an acceptable alternative. This short project charter is also useful when communicating with executives, who are usually not interested in all of the details and particulars. The sections of the document are as follows:

  • Project Name
  • Project Description
  • Target Date
  • Costs
  • Gains
  • Project Team
  • Key Milestones
The Master of Project Academy has a  Project Charter template you can download. They also offer 50 other project management templates.

Tips for Writing a Project Charter

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Writing effective project charters comes with experience. However, it is possible to write good enough ones early on by following some advice from professionals who have spent their careers learning how to write great project charters.

Keep it brief

Try to keep the project charter simple and brief. Most likely, the more pages it contains, the less chances it will get read.

Be explicit

Try to get to the point as early as possible. Project sponsors and other stakeholders are busy professionals who may not show interest or enthusiasm reading a vague summary of a project.

Build it with your sponsor

Most often, the sponsor hands it over to the project manager to write the project charter. However, the project charter is always better with the involvement of the sponsor, whether in support or actually co-creating and reviewing the document.

Next Steps for Your Project Charter

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After creating the project charter, encourage the sponsor sign off without delay. Without the sign-off, there is no formal approval and authorization—and no project. Also, it is advisable to share the document promptly after approval. When more people in the organization know what the project is about, the easier it is to have supporters on board. Since the project charter is a key document in the initiation phase of a project, creating a great project charter lays the right foundation for the project and provides a greater chance it will proceed smoothly in its remaining phases.

Tools for Planning and Upholding a Project Charter

Prroject management software can play an important role in developing your project’s charter by allowing your team to analyze risks and choose appropriate stakeholders based on their existing resources and abilities. Project management tools also provide a view of the project’s timeline, each goal, and the progress team members make. Below, we’ve gathered some examples of project management software that helps keep teams more aware of progress toward achieving the project charter you’ve worked so hard on.

1 Wrike

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Wrike is the most powerful work management platform on the market, enabling teams to plan projects and collaborate in real time. Our award-winning software is trusted by 20,000+ companies across the globe, including Sony, Estée Lauder, and Siemens.

Wrike’s customizable features include Gantt charts, request forms, dashboards, cross-tagging, time tracking, and proofing. Integrate with 400+ apps from the likes of Microsoft, Google, and Salesforce. Automate repetitive tasks and achieve 50% faster planning. Work from anywhere with 100% access to your files via our mobile and desktop apps.

Whether you’re a small startup or an established brand, Wrike has the solution for you. Paid plans start at $9.80/user/month. Join our community of 2.3 million — start your free two-week trial today.

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2 ClickUp

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ClickUp is one of the highest-rated project management tools today. Use Docs, Reminders, Goals, Calendars, Chat, scheduling, assigned comments, custom views, & more with this all-in-one project management tool.

Used by 800,000+ teams in companies like Airbnb, Google, and Uber, it brings all of your projects into a single app! Built for teams of all sizes and industries, Our fully customizable & proprietary features make it a must-have for anyone wanting to keep project management in one place.

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3 monday.com

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monday.com Work OS is an award-winning no-code work management platform that helps teams manage projects and workflows more efficiently.

Used by 152,000+ customers worldwide, this fully customizable software lets you plan, manage, and track every project in one place. monday.com offers time-saving and easy-to-use features such as automations, time tracking, document sharing, and real-time collaboration. Multiple board views such as Gantt and Kanban help you structure and navigate tasks and projects the way you prefer, and dashboards give a high-level overview of your progress.

In addition, integrations with apps such as Outlook, Microsoft Teams, Gmail, and Excel, allow you to easily continue working with your favorite tools from within the platform. monday.com also offers dedicated solutions, such as monday dev and monday sales CRM, designed to answer the needs of specific industries.

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4 Smartsheet

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Smartsheet is a leading work execution platform that has real-time work management features, collaboration and automation tools. Users are presented with a familiar and easy-to-use spreadsheet-like interface. However, it has enterprise-grade capabilities that even Fortune 500 companies like Cisco, Bayer, HP, and PayPal are confident to adopt in their business. Strong project management features enable teams to utilize different views of real-time data, and switch easily from Gantt, card, grid and calendar views. Smartsheet has automatic update requests, and can be used for waterfall and agile projects, product launch, sprint planning, and more. The resource management feature provides users the visibility who is busy, and who is not, in real-time. They can also attach files, share sheets, get notified, view the activity log, export, email, and print.

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5 Zoho Projects

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Zoho Projects is an online project management application that helps its users to plan projects, collaborate with employees and clients, keep track of time, manage documents, and generate charts and reports. Users work on a central platform where they can keep track of progress, discuss ideas, communicate easily and stay updated. It is cloud-based and highly accessible, where user data is kept safe with stringent security systems. The software is also scalable depending on the number of projects, with the option to add more features. Zoho Projects is a cloud-based project management tool that helps you plan your work, track it efficiently, and collaborate with your team wherever they are.

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