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Project Charters: Roadmap and Anchor for Successful Projects

Project Charters: Roadmap and Anchor for Successful Projects

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Last Updated October 11, 2023

One of the most important elements of project management is the project charter. It’s a necessary roadmap with critical points of reference, which helps guide the team through the process toward reaching its goal.

The project charter can help the project manager anticipate and resolve issues so they can be fixed at the outset – rather than halfway through the work, when impact may be more severe. A well-conceived project charter can help foresee problems that throw roadblocks onto the project, such as inadequate project manager authority, misaligned expectations of scope, unclear processes, resource availability or preventable risks.

A project charter is a single, consolidated source of information that defines the project’s boundaries. More importantly, it’s an anchor that holds the project manager and team to objectives, and a guide through the milestones on the path toward successful project completion.

The project charter describes the project, examines its parts and helps determine the approach to complete it. It also helps breakdown everyone’s role in the successful completion of a project. Specific sections can include:

  • Project overview/business case – This section explores the project’s importance to the business and its employees and customers, as well as the need for immediacy and the consequences of delay.
  • Project vision – This goes hand-in-hand with the overview/case, only it expands the company’s vision for improvements that can be key project outcomes. It also defines how success will be measured and identifies potential stages for failure.
  • Problem statement – This section provides a look into the symptoms of a negative project. It then determines the root of the problem and helps devise a way to counteract it. It defines the problem and its extent – where and when it occurs and its impact. Critical-to-quality elements are identified in this section, as well. It’s important for the problem statement to be clearly stated to ensure everyone is aware of potential issues, and how to avoid them in the future.
  • Goals/objectives – Identification of the intended outcome is another important facet of the project charter. Goals need to be realistic, achievable and measurable. Project improvement targets must be stated, along with key metrics. This section also must address the expected impact the project may have on business costs.
  • Project scope – A process mapping technique helps establish the scope. The scope helps identify how long the project may take to complete and how it may affect team members. Some questions addressed in the project scope might be:
    • Is a clear objective determined?
    • How is the team going to focus its work?
    • Is the scope clear and attainable?

Other facets include budgetary limitations, identification of the project’s decision-makers and clarity over the project team’s area of influence and approach in focusing its work.

  • Champion and team roles – The champion is the strategist and facilitator of a project charter. The champion signs off on the project charter and ensures it covers company strategies. The champion also assigns the project’s team leader, sponsor, and financial advisers, and determines the best combination of people on the project.
  • Anticipated financial benefits – This section details the expected hard and soft savings for the project. It also defines other financial benefits such as cost avoidance and actual budget effects.

The project charter is a critical part of the project management process, and it’s something that a business will likely reference throughout the life of the project.