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Last updated on 11/24/22

Write a Project Charter

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What Is a Project Charter?

A project charter is created to detail the project’s scope and objectives, as well as the roles and responsibilities of key project members.

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) 7th edition defines a project charter as:

“A document issued by the project initiator or sponsor that formally authorizes the existence of a project and provides the project manager with authority to apply organizational resources to project activities.”

Simply put, a project charter formally and concisely describes the project and authorizes the product manager to start the project activities.

Authorizing a project charter means giving formal approval so that the project can begin. This authorization signals the change from the initiating phase to the executing phase in the project management lifecycle.

Why Create a Project Charter?

Some of the main applications of the project charter are:

  1. Set the context of the project: The project charter summarizes the motivations for the project and the reasons decision-makers authorized it. If team members join the project later, they can see the reasoning behind their assigned tasks. 

  2. Clarify who has the authority to make decisions: The project charter identifies the project sponsor, key decision-makers, the project manager, and the responsibilities of various team members.

  3. Maintain focus during the project's life: The project charter is a short document specifying the project's scope and intended outcomes. Members can consult the project charter during team meetings concerning scope, or change requests to keep decisions focused and goal-oriented.

What Are the Elements of a Project Charter?

The CapGemini consulting group is believed to have conceived the BOSCARD model during the 1960s. This model is a checklist to ensure that strategic documents include the following key elements:

  • Background

  • Objectives

  • Scope

  • Constraints

  • Assumptions

  • Risks

  • Deliverables

Let's examine each of these in more detail.

Background

The author should briefly describe the organization's current situation, key motivations, and business drivers for the project. Then, they should explain why there is a need for change and cite the key decision-makers who authorized the project.

Objectives

Although it is tempting to think that any project where all tasks are completed on time and within budget is successful, it is not always the case. Each project should have clearly-defined objectives that represent the target outcomes. Objectives should be SMART, which means specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

Scope

The scope of a project specifies what is included (and what is not). Often, a list of key items outside the project's scope is as valuable as a list of items that inside it. Without some clearly-defined boundaries, a project could go on for a very long time.

Constraints

The author should list all boundaries or constraints that a project faces, including:

  • Budget 

  • Time

  • Key resources

  • Regulatory 

  • Legal 

Assumptions

At this early stage of the project, it is common to work with some decisions based on incomplete information. Although you will learn more about these uncertainties as the project progresses, it may be impossible to have all of the information at this stage. Therefore, one important Charter role is to clearly state assumptions. This way, if the assumption becomes invalid, you can remind stakeholders that it was all part of the initial decision-making process and revisit those decisions.

Risks

The author should list any risks that could impact the project. Listing risks does not mean they will happen - just that they might. It is a good idea to specify the likelihood and potential impact of each risk. For example, a change in government might be unlikely but could stop project progress.

Deliverables

Deliverables are a list of products or features that will be delivered as a result of project completion. This section should mention the formal approval process for the deliverables' acceptance.

What does a project charter look like? And how can I build one?

Here are some free project charter templates  to help you create this document. You can also check out a filled-in project charter that follows the BOSCARD model.

Let’s Recap!

  • A project charter is a document that specifies the project’s scope and objectives, as well as the roles and responsibilities of key project members.

  • A project charter should be a one-page document.

  • You can use the BOSCARD model to ensure you include all appropriate sections in a project charter:

    • Background

    • Objectives

    • Scope

    • Constraints

    • Assumptions

    • Risks

    • Deliverables

  • Once a project charter is authorized, the project can formally begin.

Now that you have the authority to begin the project, it’s time to move on to the planning phase of the project management lifecycle. But first let’s see how much you’ve learned about the initiating phase in the next quiz.

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement