The ultimate guide to project charters (plus a project charter template!)

You can think of a project charter as the oracle of strong project management – it’s your dependable, go-to guide that provides a central point of reference every step of the way. 

Need to double-check who the main stakeholders are? The charter will have the answers. Want to familiarize yourself with project objectives? No worries, check the project charter. 

Any and all well-managed projects have a solid project charter at their core. That’s why we’ve created a comprehensive guide to understanding project charters’ benefits and to creating your own project charter. We’ve even included a handy, free project charter template for you to use. 

What is a project charter? 

A project charter is a key document in project management that outlines all of the important elements that anyone involved in the project may require. Additionally, it’s a formal document and is created by the project manager. 

A strong project charter should provide anyone within the organization with a clear picture of the project, what it involves, who is responsible for what, and a detailed timeline the team is utilizing.  

As a result, the project manager needs to include these details: 

  • Project overview
  • Project objectives 
  • Project purpose 
  • Project scope 
  • Project stakeholders’ roles and responsibilities
  • Project budget 
  • Project risks
  • Project assumptions and constraints 
  • Project milestones
  • Project timeline 

We’ll cover each of these in more detail later. 

The length of your project charter will depend on the nature, size and complexity of the project. For instance, a project charter for a major marketing campaign will naturally be a lot longer than one for a collection of blog posts. 

What are the three main parts of a project charter? 

All of the information contained within a project charter can be broken down into three main parts: objectives, scope, and responsibilities.  

This simplified breakdown groups all of the key information into relevant sections, so that anyone using the project charter document can quickly find the answer to their query. But, what exactly should be included in each section? 

Main parts of a project charter

Project objectives

This section gives everyone involved a clear understanding of the project’s essence and what the business hopes to achieve through its implementation. 

These objectives are the targets or results that your project aims to achieve. These could be, for instance, digital Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) like an increase in website traffic, or an increase in social media followers. Alternatively, they could relate to your workflow speed (such as, a 10% increase in overall delivery speed). The specifics will depend on the nature of your project.

However, every objective should include the following: 

  • Success criteria
  • Project vision
  • Project purpose
  • Project value
  • Critical success factors
  • Company goals
  • Goal statement

Project scope

This section is similar to the project objectives section, but it expands on the aspirations for the project by detailing what will be needed to ensure project success. 

It gives everyone in the team access to a high level overview of the project, and, through this shared understanding, ensures that everyone is on the same page. 

As such, the project scope will need to detail the work required to successfully complete the project. In short, it explains what needs to be achieved in order for the project key stakeholders to approve the project, and for you to confirm project completion

This information should include: 

  • Budget clarity
  • Issue management information
  • Resource management plan
  • Project approval process
  • Stakeholder requirements

Project responsibilities 

As you might imagine, the project responsibilities section of the project charter defines the role and responsibilities of everyone within the project team. 

This section ensures that the project stays on track, and that everyone is collaborating as effectively as possible. It also keeps deadlines and the project’s progress completely transparent.

The project charter should break down the responsibilities of everyone in the team. This needs to include a role description as well as an outline of the tasks, milestones, or goals for which each member is responsible. Moreover, the project manager also needs to provide information about team members’ reporting structure, and a project schedule containing the deadlines and milestones for all contributions. 

What is included in the project charter

Now that we have an overview of the main sections of a charter, we can delve into the details of what precisely should be covered within a project charter.

Elements of a project charter

Project overview

This should include a one to two sentence “elevator pitch” defining the project, as well as some background on the project’s justification. This section should be kept short and sweet, but it can link to more detailed outside documents and organizational resources, in case anyone wants additional information.

Project objectives 

Specify what you want this project to achieve. Every objective should meet the “SMART” criteria of being specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. An objective could be a data-driven target  (such as, increase the retention rate on the company’s online shop by 10% in the next five months), or a less tangible, internal target (such as, improve workplace satisfaction in the next six weeks, which will be assessed through a series of surveys). Either way, objectives should be clearly measurable so you can determine if and when a target has been met successfully. 

Project purpose 

This statement should specify the reasons why you are undertaking this project. It identifies the present need that has led you to devise the project. This could be, for example, your brand’s social media account is receiving very little engagement in comparison to your market competitors. 

Project scope  

A project scope contains a clear action plan for the project, covering all the bases of finances, stakeholder requirements, project deliverables, timelines and resource management. 

Roles and responsibilities 

List everyone involved and separate them into categories: project manager, stakeholders, management, implementation team, sponsors, etc. Don’t forget to include up-to-date contact information for everyone. Then, assign tasks and responsibilities to each person. It can be useful to include some kind of illustration or organizational chart that shows who each project team member reports to for this project.

Project budget

A good project charter should give complete budget clarity. In the project budget section, you need to specify the full project budget and how it is spread between different milestones and tasks, as well as who is responsible for maintaining the budget. This will ensure that the budget is not being exceeded while also promoting the team’s self-management.

Project assumptions and constraints

Some obstacles may seem obvious to you; regardless, be sure to describe all the roadblocks that could come up in the course of this project, and sketch out contingency plans. You won’t be able to predict every possible hurdle, but it pays to plan ahead for worst-case scenarios.

Project risks 

Consider and identify any potential risks that may be present in the project details. For example, common project risks include technological risks (such as data security), the risk of exceeding the budget, or health and safety risks. Once you have identified the risks, explain how you can mitigate them as much as possible when undertaking the project. 

Project milestones and timeline

Project milestones mark important stages of a project that summarize multiple tasks. Accordingly, this section needs to include a detailed timeline that lists each milestone and task, who will be working on it, and when the work is due. Be sure to include both general milestones (smaller stages) and major milestones (critical project steps) and the requirements for each.

Project deliverables 

Project deliverables are the tangible or intangible outputs of a project, such as a content piece, a new product or a new piece of software. These deliverables need to get approval before the project can be signed off as complete. In this section, the project manager lists these deliverables, alongside instructions on how to measure whether they have been achieved. 

How to write a 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. Just follow the below step-by-step guide:

How to write a project charter

1. Collect information from all parties involved in your project.

This includes basic steps like making sure you have everyone’s correct contact information so that you can stay in touch with your team. However, you should also take the time to ask your colleagues and stakeholders about their perceptions of the project’s objectives, as well as how they see their role in the project. This information-gathering step will help you write your project charter.

If some of the answers you get reveal that not everyone is on the same page or that some people have developed incorrect impressions of the project’s scope, this is useful information for you as well. It lets you know what misinformation you will need to correct for people through your charter document. 

2. Write the project statement first.

This may end up being the hardest part of the whole charter as it requires condensing a lot of information down into a few concise sentences. Take your time crafting the language of your project overview, because the project statement acts as the vision that will guide the shifting gears and disparate parts of your project – in other words, it’s a make or break for project success.

3. Define the project objectives and purpose.

Now it’s time to define the project objectives in a clear way. This means every objective should be “SMART” – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Objectives that are expressed in this way leave less room for misinterpretation and are easier to measure as you gauge the success of your project. 

Writing down the project purpose also helps other project members to understand the importance of the project and its goals. 

4. Define the project scope and boundaries.

Defining the project’s scope and setting boundaries should convey a clear picture of the project’s size and impact. This helps your team to focus on the things that are really important for the project and have a greater impact on its success. Without a clear scope, it would be impossible to know where a project starts and ends. 

5. Create a realistic schedule. 

Now that you have clear objectives and a defined scope, you can start with the detailed planning. To create a realistic schedule, you first need to define all milestones, tasks, and deliverables that need to be completed in order to create the project outcome. 

When you have all this information, you can add it into a timeline, assign each milestone and tasks to a project member or members, and set start and due dates for each step. While you create your schedule, you also need to consider dependencies between milestones and tasks.  

6. Add more details.

You now have the broad shape of your project charter. At this stage, you can add other important information like project deliverables, roles and responsibilities, budget, assumptions, risks and roadblocks. If you prefer to knock out the hardest tasks first, it might be helpful to first tackle the items that might require the most descriptive writing and creative thinking and leave the straightforward practical steps for last.

7. Get feedback and approval.

Once your project charter contains all the information that is required, share it with all project stakeholders for their review and approval. A tool like Filestage helps you collect feedback in a structured and streamlined way.  

You can upload your project charter to Filestage’s centralized platform and invite all reviewers to view the document. With one click, they can easily review the charter and leave comments to point out any areas that are incorrect or missing.

Feedback and Approval - project charter template

After the first review round, you can make changes to the project charter according to your stakeholders’ feedback. Then, you can upload the new version of the charter to get the final approval before you kick off the project. 

Five important tips for writing a compelling project charter 

Without a doubt, a project charter contains a lot of information to manage. So, we’ve shared our five top tips for creating a top-notch project charter that will ensure the best possible success for your project.

Five important tips for writing a compelling project charter

Use a project charter template. 

A template ensures that you don’t omit any section and that the information you provide is accurate and sufficient. It also helps that everything is provided in a clear and well-organized manner. You can find three free project charter templates below.

Write clearly and concisely. 

When writing your project charter, use clear and simple language. Avoid going into unnecessary detail as this will only make the document longer and more difficult to navigate. You can use bullet points, graphs, and other visual aids to help communicate your points. 

Be specific. 

Building on the point above, specificity is key to a good project charter. When completing each section, make sure the information is as relevant and specific as possible – if a sentence strays from the point, remove it! 

For example, when detailing a project’s risks, be specific about where the risk originates, how concerning it is, and the steps that you’re taking to minimize it. 

Conduct adequate research. 

You will need to carefully gather information from a number of sources. For example, you will speak to key stakeholders to identify their requirements, analyze data and competitors to pinpoint the project’s need, and identify how your project will support the overall business objectives. All of this will require thorough research – which is time well-spent. 

Gather input from your team members and stakeholders.

The feedback step of the project charter creation process is invaluable. With Filestage, you can share your project charter draft with multiple reviewers (including external stakeholders). They can then leave their feedback directly on the file and even discuss it with other reviewers in real time. 

What is a project charter template? 

As we mentioned above, a project charter template is a good way to ensure your project charter ticks all the boxes. Search for a simple project charter template that aligns well with your project goals and overall business targets. Then, all that’s left to do is for you to fill it in! 

To help you get started, here are three project charter templates that you can use for free. 

Project charter template by Filestage

What is a project charter template 

Filestage has created a project charter template that is perfectly designed for users of any experience level and projects of any size and scope. This easy-to-use template covers all bases, including project objectives, financial aspects, roles and responsibilities, risk management plan, and more. 

FREE TEMPLATE

Get the free project charter template

Project charter template by Project Manager 

Project charter template - Project Manager 

The Project Manager website has created a project charter template which is available as a downloadable Word document.  

This effective charter template consists of a series of tables, each grouped and ordered in a professional, easy-to-follow structure. Alongside all of the standard fields, this project charter template also contains a section to assist with document control, history, and management. 

Project charter template by the Digital Project Manager 

Project charter template - Digital Project Manager

Digital Project Manager has created a downloadable project charter template which is structured as a customizable Word document. Additionally, by joining the website’s membership program, users can also download a completed version of the template. Project charter examples like this are great for a project leader who may not have worked with charter documents before. 

Differences between a project charter and other documents  

One question that might still be on your mind is: What makes a project charter unique? What makes this document different from all of the other forms of project documentation out there? Well, we can answer that for you.

Project charter vs business case

A business case document is designed to help a project manager professionally convince the leadership or management of the need for a project. All of the information that it contains – from the risk assessment to the breakdown of key data – is all written with this angle in mind. In short, it is a document that is designed to convince. 

 A project charter, on the other hand, is created once the project has been approved. It functions to help the team work on a pre-approved project in a way that maximizes their chance of achieving the defined objectives.  

Project charter vs project plan

In essence, a project charter outlines a project’s objectives and why they are valuable. It also contains a clear strategy for how the project manager and the team will achieve them. 

In comparison, a project plan is created based on the information defined in the charter. A plan gets down into the details of the project workflow and provides much more information about the timeline, milestones, tasks, and dependencies. 

Typically, a project plan document will closely resemble a Gantt chart (filled with data, milestones, deadlines, and progress tracking information), whereas a project charter is displayed in tables or in written paragraphs.  

Project charter vs project brief

The major difference between a project charter and a project brief is the length. 

Project briefs are designed to be short and usually only consist of a couple of paragraphs. Their purpose is to succinctly describe the key elements of a new project, providing a brief summary of the project’s vision and value. With the project brief, stakeholders or external contributors can quickly understand a project’s objectives, without spending hours wading through a long document. 

In a project charter, the project management team will expand on the information provided in the project brief, building upon the points to include key deliverables, the project’s purpose, more information about the reasoning behind the project’s objectives as well as how they will be met. 

Project charter vs statement of work

Similar to a project charter, a statement of work includes key deliverables and a detailed project timeline. The key difference here is that a statement of work acts as a legal document.  

A statement of work is often used in project management as a contract that specifies the work that will need to be completed by a vendor. This document is then signed by both the client and the vendor to show that both parties have agreed to the work as specified in the document. 

While a project charter contains similar information, it is not legally binding, so it can be strayed from or altered by the project manager if needed. 

How to use your project charter 

Once you have your project management charter completed, you may be wondering how to best make use of it. First of all, make sure that everyone in the project team knows where to find the charter and that it is easily accessible. 

Your project charter is a living document that needs to be updated throughout the project. The nature of business and project management means that unexpected things are bound to happen and your plans will need to adjust. 

You also should keep the charter in the top of your team’s mind and refer to it during project meetings, when you can check your progress against the timeline and goals you set for your team in the charter.

Lastly, it’s 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 becomes an invaluable aid to project management. When you have all roles and responsibilities clearly laid out in writing at the beginning of your project, it eliminates later confusion and helps everyone stay accountable.

Conclusion 

A project charter is a fundamental element of any new project. With it, you can make sure that you communicate information that is clear, accurate, and easy to follow. 

In turn, a strong project charter ensures that your team is able to approach the project in the most organized, efficient manner possible. By approaching the project with transparency, it’ll be much easier for the project team to work on their tasks, keep track of deadlines, and achieve their goals. 

And with a simple project charter template at your disposal, you can be sure that every project charter you create is precise, well-ordered and clear in its communication. Download your free project charter template today!

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