Maybe this situation sounds familiar to you: you’re one member of a team all working on the same project, and weeks or perhaps months in you find yourself stuck in the middle of a task that should be simple and straightforward, but you need permission from a project lead for something and there’s confusion above you about which project lead can give you the green light.
Meanwhile, your buddy on the project team is asking for your help on an idea that you think is out of scope, but he’s convinced that it’s necessary and neither of you have evidence one way or the other to support your claim. Your project manager is impossible to get ahold of because she’s so busy putting out fires, and you have a horrible feeling that even though the project’s initial timeline is vague, there’s no way that all the necessary deliverables are going to come together in time.
Project Charter Template
The project described above is hectic and disorganized, and all too common in the average workplaces. Chances are that you already know what it’s like to work on a project that had murky objectives, a constantly shifting schedule for deliverables, or lacked defined boundaries. Everyone dreads being assigned to projects like these, and given the likelihood that unpredictable obstacles will spring up during a project’s timeline, this kind of slowdown may seem inevitable.
However, headaches and missed deadlines in the midst of your project can be avoided if you invest a little bit of time into organizing before you start. The best defense a project manager has against unpredictable roadblocks cropping up is a project charter. Hence, we’ve created a simple-to-use project charter template to help you get started.
What Is a Project Charter?
A project management charter is a document that maps out every aspect of your project, serving as both a guideline for future steps in the project as well as a reference that defines the project’s objective, as well as team roles, responsibilities, budgetary constraints, etc. Before your project can get off the ground, everyone on your team must have a full understanding of the objective and the desired outcomes, and the charter is your opportunity to clearly articulate this in your mission statement.
While a project charter has a variety of uses, in broad strokes we can summarize its key objectives as the following:
- A project charter should define the overall project objective. Is it a project with a start and end date? Does it have a natural endpoint or does the finish line need to be defined as part of the timeline? If it’s ongoing, what purpose does this project fulfill in the daily or weekly routine of your business? What is the justification for this project’s existence? Your charter should answer all of these broad, overarching and even holistic questions about your project.
- A project charter should clearly assign the roles and responsibilities of every person involved in the project. This includes not only everyone on your creative project team, but also all of the stakeholders, any project sponsors, vendors, key contacts in other organizations, etc. It is very important to make individual responsibilities crystal clear in writing at the outset of your project, to avoid any confusion over accountability later on.
- A project charter should describe all stages of the project, as well as outlining clear steps (within reason) for the major tasks and provide a timeline and schedule for deliverables along the way to project completion. It’s not your job as a project manager to provide how-to guides for every task for everyone on your team, but broad guidance on who needs to do what can minimize how often team members come to you with questions throughout the project.
Remember that the project charter serves as a contract, defining your authority as project manager as well as acting as an agreement between all involved parties to fulfill their responsibilities.
Project Charter Elements
Now that we have an overview of a charter’s purpose, we can get into the details of what precisely should be included.
- A project overview. This should include a 1 to 2 sentence elevator speech defining the project, as well as some background on the project’s justification. This section should be kept short and sweet, so link to more detailed outside documents if anyone wants to do extra background reading.
- A list of all involved parties and definitions of their roles and responsibilities. Separate this list into categories: stakeholders, management, implementation team, sponsors, etc. Don’t forget to include up-to-date contact information for everyone.
- Related to the above, you may find it useful to include some kind of illustrated hierarchy chart or graphic that shows who each team member reports to.
- A detailed description of ideal project outcomes. The basic project objective should have been described in your overview, so in this section, you can break down the project goals into a bit more detail to give your team an understanding of what success should look like.
- List all project constraints. Some of these may seem obvious to you but put them down on paper regardless.
- Describe all the risks and roadblocks that could come up in the course of this project, and sketch out the contingency plans. You won’t be able to predict every possible hurdle, but it pays to plan ahead for worst-case scenarios.
- A project budget. In addition to the financials, this should include as much information as you can provide about what company resources can and should be used
- Within reason, describe the methodologies that should be used in this project. Again, you may not be able to go into too much detail about the methodology each team member will need to use to complete their deliverables, but a summary of methodologies can be a great help down the line.
- A project timeline, including a clear schedule for deliverables. Setting deadlines for deliverables along the way will keep your whole team on track and avoid a situation where you get close to the final deadline, only to realize that your project is dramatically behind.
Writing Your Project Charter
When it comes to writing your project charter, it should be a straightforward process. If you’ve never written a document like this before, there is no need to stress. We have provided some examples of templates that you can fill out and use to get you started with your charter. The steps for writing are as follows:
- Collect information from all parties involved in your project. This obviously includes basic steps like making sure you have everyone’s correct contact information, but you should also take the time to ask your colleagues and stakeholders about what they think this project’s objective is, as well as how they see their role in the project. This information-gathering step will help you write your project overview. If some of the answers you get reveal that not everyone is on the same page or that some people have developed incorrect impressions about the project’s scope, this is useful information for you as well, as it lets you know what misinformation you will need to correct for people in your charter.
- Write the project overview/mission statement first. This may end up being the hardest part of the whole charter for you, as it will require condensing a lot of information down into a few concise sentences. Take your time crafting the language of your overview, because it acts as a vision statement that will guide the shifting gears and disparate parts of your project.
- Define the project’s scope and its boundaries. You want to do this early on because otherwise, you might waste time on writing a section of your project charter only to later realize that the task in question is ultimately irrelevant because it’s outside of project scope.
- Define your project outcomes. For this step, it might help to first let your imagination get carried away and be as idealistic with the project outcomes as you can. Then get a bit more realistic and describe the project outcomes that are realistically attainable and desirable.
- Now that you have an endpoint with your project outcomes, separate those outcomes into chunks that can become deliverables for your team along the way. Create a realistic schedule for when each deliverable should be completed.
- You now have the broad shape of your project charter. You can fill in the rest of what you need (methodologies, budget, risks and roadblocks, etc) in whichever order you choose, although if you’re the kind of person who likes to knock out the hardest jobs first, it might be helpful to first tackle the items that might require the most descriptive writing and creative thinking (probably the contingency plans and the methodologies) and leave the straightforward practical steps to fill in last.
How to Use Your Project Charter
Once you have your project management charter fully written, you may be wondering how to best utilize it. First of all, make sure that the charter is easily accessible to everyone on your project team. This sounds basic, but you would be surprised at how many businesses forget about the importance of keeping simple documentation readily available. Make sure that all employees know where to find it electronically, distribute paper copies, and have additional paper copies posted somewhere central (such as an office bulletin board) if that is appropriate for your office layout and team structure.
Your charter is a living document, and no matter how much of a Type A perfectionist you are, you won’t be able to create a perfect charter with no revisions ever required. The nature of business and project management means that unexpected things are bound to happen throughout your project, and your plans will need to adjust. Your charter is a living document that can and should evolve with the project, and you’re making a mistake if you don’t revise it as needed throughout the course of your project.
You also don’t want to let your whole team, or yourself, forget about the project charter once you’ve created and distributed it. You didn’t work hard on this document just to shove it towards the back of a desk drawer and let it collect dust. Refer to your charter during project check-in meetings, and check your progress against the timeline and goals you set for your team in the charter.
Lastly, it is practically inevitable that at some point during your project, at least one person on your team will be confused about what their role is or what’s included in their responsibilities. This is where your project charter being a contract comes in handy. When you have all roles and responsibilities neatly laid out in writing at the beginning of your project, it eliminates later confusion and helps everyone stay accountable.
Project Charter Example
Now, you’ve learned a lot about project charters and how to create them. Let’s take one step back and check out existing project charter examples. Obviously, you can’t simply copy them. But they’ll help you get started and provide valuable inspiration.
Your project charter justifies itself
If you are new to project management or you’ve taken on a larger project to manage than what you’re used to, your charter document can truly be your saving grace. Your project management charter defines the project’s objective and purpose, clearly assigns roles and responsibilities of all involved parties, and define your project’s methodologies, timeline, and scope. No matter how reluctant you might be to put in the time and effort to write this document now, you probably won’t get more than a few days into your project before some event or question requires you to turn to your project charter. In no time at all, your charter document’s usefulness will justify the work you put into creating it.
Having this document will make it so much easier for you to deal with any unexpected obstacles life throws at you during the course of your project. Instead of having a disorganized mess on your hands with the danger of missed deadlines and unhappy stakeholders, your project charter will help you steer your tight ship on the correct course, regardless of any rough waters you might encounter.
Max is a SaaS enthusiast and loves actionable content that provides direct value.