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What is the Definition of a Project Charter?

The project charter is an important document in project management providing a preliminary outline of the project's scope and objectives, identifies the participants in a project and defines their roles and responsibilities. The project charter also serves as a formal written and signed agreement between the project's stakeholders regarding the details of the project.

A project charter describes your research project and how you will approach it, and it lists the names of all stakeholders. It's a critical component of the project management initiation and planning phases. You will refer to it throughout the life of the project.

An example of a Project Charter

Why is a Project Charter Important?

Facilitating effective project communications, between various people coming from different backgrounds and differing project interests, the project charter clearly and concisely documents the agreed on project scope, objectives, and approach as well as the major deliverables of the project. It is meant to be referenced throughout the project life cycle. In short, the project charter helps to ensure that all the project stakeholders are on the same page and minimizes the emergence and impact of miscommunication, role confusion, and conflicting stakeholders interests.

What to Include in a Project Charter?

Though project charters will vary depending on the specific details of each project, all project charters generally include the following elements:

  • Project Authorization. A concise statement identifying the authorized project by name, code, or number.
  • Project Manager Authorization. Identify the project manager and define his/her responsibilities.
  • Key Stakeholders. A list of all the major project stakeholders, including a brief description of their roles and responsibilities.
  • Project Goals. The goal statements in the project charter must be identical to the goals established in the approved project proposal.
  • Project Priorities. List any project priorities in terms of time needed for completion, the cost of the project, the level of quality or performance of the finished product(s), etc, in order of importance.
  • Product Requirements. List any product expectations- i.e. what the finished product is expected to look like or do.
  • Project Assumptions. List and describe the assumptions related to the project. These are any variables, such as the availability of specific resources, information, and funding that must be in place for the project to be completed within the given budget and time frame.
  • Project Constraints. Any project limits in terms of time, budget, or quality and performance standards should be clearly described.
  • Project Risks. List any possible obstacles and risks that might hinder project implementation and include a plan of action for how to contain and minimize these risks.
  • Project Deliverables. List the project "deliverables." These are the products, information, reports, etc that will be delivered to the client at the end and throughout the duration of the project.
  • Cost Estimates. Any estimated costs included in the project proposal should be referred to in the project charter.
  • Schedule Estimates. List the major project time estimates and milestones as described in the project proposal.
  • Change Control. Define the process of introducing changes to the project charter or the approved project management plan.
  • Success Criteria. Define the measurements and other criteria that will determine the success of the project.

Defining the Project Charter

Before start, define what needs to be accomplished and decide how the project is going to proceed. The charter lays the foundation of the project. It includes a statement of your project's needs. What is the history that has led to the need? How was it recognized, and why is it planned now?

Next, stipulate the project's purpose. How will you reach your goals? What deliverables can you promise? What are the risks? You must identify your project resources and technologies, and reflect on task dependencies. It's also important to define your indicators of success.

Last, you must tie in to all this the roles and responsibilities of your project team. You must define resources--both human and material--and specify who or what will fill them. The charter forms a contract with all stakeholders involved in the project.

The project charter is a single, consolidated source of information about the project in terms of initiation and planning. Basically, the project charter defines the boundaries of the project, no matter what type of project management methodology you are using. It is much more than an effective planning tool. It serves both as anchor, holding you to your objectives, and as navigator, guiding you through the milestones that will mark your progress. The original project charter will not change throughout your project's life cycle. Once it is approved by the stakeholders, you cannot modify or change the original charter without agreement by all parties involved.


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