Project documentation – The Project Charter

This is the first in a series of posts each discussing one of the must have documents without which any project is likely to fail. 

The Project Charter poster image
The Project Charter

The Project Charter is the document that breathes life into the project. Everyone knows that the Project Manager (PM) runs the project. But it is the Project Charter that formally authorises the PM to act. Until the Charter is signed off, there is no project to run.

The Project Charter is a top level document. It states the aims and scope of the project, but not in detail. (That is the job of the Project Definition Document). In a few short sentences, the Project Charter outlines the main motivation, the key benefits, affected areas and proposed timescale. Usually, it will include a statement of the methodology that will be followed. Depending on the organisation’s policy, it might also include budgetary costing (sometimes in a confidential appendix). The brief project description from the Charter must be well written as it will be quoted verbatim in official presentations and news releases.

Arguably the most vital role of the Project Charter is to name the key stakeholders and secure their ‘buy-in’ to the project. Typically this group is designated as the Project Board or Steering Committee and will comprise about six to eight Heads of Departments. These will represent all affected end users and essential central services such as legal and finance. The group meets regularly for the duration of the project to monitor progress and approve any changes. However, they are owners, not coalface workers, and will delegate representatives to work on the day-to-day implementation activities. 

In any organisation, people move. Promotions, resignations, reorganisations are the human ‘landscape’ that the PM has to negotiate daily. The Project Charter provides stability within this landscape. Reading the Charter is the quickest and most reliable way to bring a new Head of X up to speed with what is happening in their corner of the world.

Finally, when a project becomes overwhelming in the sheer complexity and quantity of data and demands to be processed, a fresh read of the Project Charter can often answer the question– what exactly are we trying to do here?