So what is a project charter? Why should you care?
The PMBOK (or PMOBOK) 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 the authority to apply organizational resources to project activities."
I boil that down to this: project charters summarize the framework for new projects (who, what, when, where, what if) and are contracts, or agreements, between the project leader and the project team members, as well as the project leader and the project sponsor. Planning ahead and being prepared are not new life concepts, but the project charter encourages structure throughout the planning process.
Project charters can include the following sections:
- What is "in scope" and "out of scope" for the project
- These are important distinctions for stakeholders.
- Clarity of this content can prevent future arguments, especially between the project delivery team and the project customers.
- High level project summary and purpose or justification
- Objectives for what the project should accomplish (also known as deliverables)
- These should be specific, measurable, realistic, and time-bound.
- They define what the end of the project “should look and feel like”.
- Team member roles and descriptions for each role
- This is not trivial and a very important section to “put down on paper”.
- High level timeline of events or milestones
- The timeline could be divided into phases and should easily be understood by others not involved with the project.
- Team-generated RADIO list
- Potential Risks, Assumptions or Constraints, Dependencies (key handoffs), Issues, and Opportunities
- Budget summary
- Estimated project spending should refer back to the high level timeline, i.e. the amount of funding needed to reach each milestone or complete each project phase.
- List of key stakeholders (who is impacted by the project and/or needs to provide input)
In summary, the project charter is a useful road map which guides the creation of more detailed project plans. Project charters should be a collective of the project team’s opinions. For instance, if the project team is involved with the creation of the project charter, this will drive team ownership and accountability for the project’s success.
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