A project charter is a short document that defines a project’s purpose and outlines how it will be executed. It names the project manager, lays out the project schedule, and identifies key stakeholders and team members who will be involved. The person authorizing the project is known as the project sponsor, and the reason for the project is the business case. The project sponsor and project manager are not always the same person.
A project charter is both a project planning asset and a marketing tool that acts as a proposal to entice stakeholders. The document is meant to be brief and straightforward. When someone reads your project charter, even an outsider, they should easily understand the goals and project timeline.
Above all else, a project charter should define these key areas:
Why does your business need to pursue this project? What’s motivating it?
What is the essence of the project, including its scope and breadth?
Who will be needed to work on this project, and how will you accomplish it? What resources are required to be successful?
To flesh out each of these areas, the charter will include scope, deliverables, assumptions, dependencies, constraints, a benefit-cost analysis, and the anticipated return on investment. The final result is a document that captures high-level planning information, so all stakeholders and contributors who are part of the project have a shared understanding of what they aim to accomplish.
Defining the essence of your project
To define a new project, you first need to revisit previous projects. Were you able to meet your goals for prior work, and depending on the answer, how can you better shape this project? If you have successfully completed past goals, think of the resources or practices that enabled you to do so, and if you were unable to meet your goals, what held you back? Past shortcomings can turn into powerful lessons that prevent it from happening again.
While it’s a good idea to prioritize a primary goal for your project, you should have secondary goals too. And if you’re reaching to achieve something especially ambitious, it’s okay to set some alternative goals. To help you set and reach your goals, you should review case studies, which portray actual results and break down an initiative's catalyst, actions, and results. You can also put your project to test by creating a proof of concept — a feasibility exercise persuading stakeholders that a project is achievable.
Determining project scope
To determine what’s in and out of scope for your project, you need to identify realistic timelines and budgets and plan out resource allocation. Getting your collaborators on the same page about the breadth of a project helps them work with more confidence and motivation because they know what's expected of them and who's counting on their work.
The project's scope depends on the business need driving the project, past projects’ performance, project timeline and budget, and the people available to work on it. The project scope also defines the project manager's authority and the organizational resources they may utilize.
Project managers know how crucial delegation is to complete a project on time and within scope. Delegating tasks and responsibilities to various team members lets every stakeholder understand what to expect from who and when. By assigning work before beginning the project, you realize any knowledge gaps across your team, allowing you time to set people up with additional training or onboarding they need to be successful.
To ensure accountability and keep all contributors up to date, you must schedule regular check-in meetings and use project management software with built-in progress trackers. This software sends notifications across the team when a task is finished, at risk, or overdue, and has project performance dashboards that help you keep track of the remaining budget, completed phases, and upcoming tasks.
Drafting a Project Charter
Creating a project charter may seem intimidating if you’ve never done it, but there are countless project charter templates and examples available for free online that will help you get started. To create the project charter that sets up your organization to hit its goals, you need to make sure it includes answers to these questions:
Why are we doing this project?
What are the goals?
What are the potential issues, risks, or blockers?
Who is involved in this project?
Have we tackled similar projects before?
Is this a larger project with multiple phases we need to break down?
As long as your charter addresses these crucial elements and includes a detailed view of the budget, resources, and timeline, your project process will be smoother and primed for better results.
Why You Should Use a Project Charter
It’s a mistake to underestimate the value of the project charter. Even though it’s a short document, your project should not begin without one. If you do, you may not know how to measure success, what a realistic schedule and budget look like, and your team won’t feel as confident that they can get the job done. It also puts added pressure on your project manager to adapt to less-than-ideal circumstances along the way.
A project charter is also a great way to make proposals to stakeholders and appeal to their interests, such as projected profitability and other benefits. It helps you get approval to complete the project the way you want, sets a blueprint for the project plan that everyone can sign off on, and serves as a reference throughout the project. This is enormously helpful once you’ve spent months working on something and may have lost sight of your end goal.
If you run into alignment issues throughout a project, you can refer back to the charter. It operates as a contract between the project sponsor, project manager, and other stakeholders as a high-level agreement of how the work should be executed.
BQE Solutions for Better Projects
A project charter is crucial to the success of your firm, but it’s just the start of executing high-performing projects. You need a project management solution like BQE CORE to reach your full potential. CORE was designed for professional firms, with powerful expense reporting software and automatic billing software built into an award-winning PM platform.
With solutions tailored to your industry, such as legal billing software, project management software for engineers, and practice management software for accountants, CORE knows exactly what tools your firm needs to be profitable and work more efficiently on behalf of clients.
Start your free trial of CORE today to discover powerful project management solutions built for firms like yours. For more resources on how to hone your project management skills, check out the rest of the BQE Software blog.