How a project ends has a lot to do with how it starts. Yet the true beginning can be traced back before the kickoff meeting—to the project charter. When properly constructed, a project charter can serve as a compass, steering team members toward shared goals and nudging them back on track when a project begins to drift into unexpected territory.[i] —Amy Merrick (2014)
For the Project Management Institute (PMI), one of the first deliverables on a project is the charter. Driven from a sponsor, it outlines needs, assumptions, constraints, and high level requirements and deliverables to meet those requirements. Timeline and budget, a stakeholder list, roles and responsibilities on the project, and risks can also be defined in the charter (“Project Management Book,” 2013).[ii]
Having worked as a project manager for over 20 years, I have found that the projects that fail do not have correct planning in place. Missing from these endeavors—right from the start—is a powerful tool called the charter. One reason why the drafting of a charter is often dismissed from the starting phase of a project is because it is seen as time consuming. However, after having written hundreds of charters, I can speak from experience when saying that a charter can be completed in less than two hours when all of the right participants are present, whether in a physical or virtual meeting.
A minimal investment up front can save so much time and resources when questions on the project are later raised. Questions will come up; they always do. But when they do—and with a well-written charter in place—you will know the boundaries, contacts and decision makers, major deliverables, risks, and overall goals. And if there are timelines already known, then major milestones can be represented, which helps to build the detailed project plan. However, the meaningfulness of the document is arguably most often discovered when in the throes of the project itself.
When you’re up to your neck in the daily challenges…it can be easy to forget why you are doing what you are doing and to lose sight of your original priorities, not knowing whether the decisions you are making firmly support the overall objectives. A well-written project charter is a powerful daily tool for judging the effectiveness of a development effort.[iii] (Lynch & Horton, 2011, para. 1)
In the Scriptures we find many corollaries to our present business practices. For example, God states that He has a plan for each of our lives: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11 New International Version). And in support of His plans, we have been given His Word, which serves as a charter of sorts by providing us with many of the same key elements recognized as requirements for a well-written project charter in the business realm.
Can you discern the similarities and make the correlations with some degree of liberty?
The project charter is not created by the Project Manager. Instead, it is issued by the sponsor to empower the Project Manager with the authority to begin the project and obtain resources for project activities. The project charter should include at a minimum the following:
- business need for the project which links the project to the organization’s overall strategy
- stakeholders and their initial requirements
- objectives or quantifiable criteria that must be met for the project to be considered successful
- definition of what is in scope (at least at a high level), as well as out of scope for the project
- constraints and assumptions[iv] (Gilchrist, 2012, para. 1)
[i] Merrick, A. (2014, July). Project charters can point you toward success. Retrieved from Project Management Institute: http://www.pmi.org/Learning/PM-Network/2014/project-charters-point-toward-success.aspx
[ii] Project Management Institute, Inc. (2013). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK Guide) (5th ed.). Newton Square, PA: Author.
[iii] Lynch, P. A., & Horton, S. (2011). Web style guide (3rd ed.). Retrieved from http://webstyleguide.com/wsg3/1-process/8-project-charter.html (para. 1)
[iv] Gilchrist, P. (2011, August 1). The importance of having a project charter. Retrieved January 5, 2015, from