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How to develop a robust project charter

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A project charter is an essential document that is part and parcel of project management best practices. It provides an overarching view of the project, starting it on the right foot.

A robust project management culture provides companies with a rigorous process supported by document templates for every step of the “project life cycle”. As a reminder, the phases of the project life cycle are the following: Initiation, Planning, Implementation and Closing, including a project-level feedback loop.

The project charter is a deliverable of the Initiation phase. In fact, it is the bridge between the Initiation and Planning phases, the point at which an informed decision can be made as to whether to continue with the project or scrap it.

The more detailed the project charter is, the better the various stakeholders will understand the background, the goals, and the challenges they’ll face at the various stages of the project. The concepts of this article are taken from the Project Management Institute (PMI) standards.

Below is an annotated list of standard information that any project charter should contain.

Charter Section
Notes
Title page
Name of project, name of project manager, name of project sponsor (client company, section or department), name of client’s representative (project representative), date, version.
Summary
A few sentences providing a high-level summary of the project (Executive Summary).
Background
Why are we doing this project? What problems or strategic objectives does it address?
Goal
What is the final deliverable of the project (a short sentence including an action verb and a single deliverable).
Objectives
A list of tangible results and benefits the project sponsor hopes to attain. These statements must be “SMART”: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-limited.
Description, Inclusions/Exclusions
A paragraph describing the project, followed by any specific project inclusions and exclusions.
Critical Assumptions and Constraints
A table of any restrictions or limitations, internal or external to the project, affecting the performance of the project. For example: delivery deadline, budget limit, availability of resources, etc. Any assumption that is critical to the success of the project. (Factors believed to be true, real or certain, but not yet confirmed. These assumptions will be validated at the planning stage).
Implementation Strategies
An analytical table assessing the relevance and the risk related to the various implementation strategies, whether internal, external (outsourcing) or joint (in partnership, using joint internal-external resources), if applicable.
Impact of Project on Environment
A table assessing the project’s impacts of all types: technological, sociocultural, organisational, political, legal, economic, infrastructural, etc.
Stakeholder Analysis
A table assessing the power and interest of the various project stakeholders. Persons or organisations involved in, or affected or influenced by, the project.
Risks and Opportunities
An assessment of the various risks based on probabilities, and preventative or mitigation measures taken.
Preliminary Budget
A phase-by-phase assessment of the effort and costs relating to the project at each one of its stages (or deliverables).
Preliminary Schedule
A preliminary project calendar broken down by phases and stages.
Operating Costs
Recurrent, yearly expenses related to the project post-implementation.
Added Value
A table comparing the current situation and the expected situation post-implementation. This assessment is based on strategic objectives (economic, technological, client, organisational, others).
References
Sources of information that went into developing the charter.
Recommendation of the Project Manager
Recommendation on the approval, rejection of conditional approval of the project.
Signatures
Signatures of the project manager and of the client sponsor.

As you can see, a solid project charter requires a considerable effort in order to document the proposed project’s main parameters. Skipping this deliverable can have financial, human and material consequences for companies. This work allows teams and decision-makers to assess the relevance of projects and their alignment with the organisation’s strategic decisions.

Carlo Rossi.

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