Project Charter to Ensure Project Success

The project charter is likely the single most important document (or artifact) during the project lifecycle, in the project toolbox. Yet many times it is created, filed, and never reviewed again. Albert Einstein is often credited with the quote, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” While the quote may be found in many forms, the basic premise is always the same: Invest time up front to ensure a successful outcome.

Project charter is the key tool in a project lifecycle in which to invest up-front time. It is essentially a contract between the project lead/manager, sponsor, and team by which to execute the project according to clearly and concisely defined deliverables, goal, scope, and success criteria. I believe it is a living document during the early phases of the project lifecycle, and may be revised as new information and facts are discovered. At a minimum, changes to the charter shall be approved by the project manager, sponsor, and team and, in many cases, recorded in the change log.

Benefits of a well-documented project charter include:

  • Providing alignment of the vision and goal to team members
  • Securing authority to execute to a plan
  • Serving as a reference point to ensure focus on the goal
  • Providing a baseline for change control
  • Describing what success means for the team
  • Detailing the current condition and planned future condition

Project Charter development and maintenance process:

  1. Project manager drafts the project charter with input from project sponsor
  2. Project manager socializes the drafted project charter with key stakeholders (may include team members) for input and feedback
  3. Project manager refines project charter based on feedback
  4. Project manager reviews the final draft of the project charter with sponsor and team (and key stakeholders, as appropriate) to secure sign-off
  5. Project manager and project team execute the project, as defined in the project charter
  6. Project charter may be revised in the early phases of the project lifecycle, based on input from change control, issue management, and/or risk analysis; all project charter revisions are subject to agreement and sign-off, based on original approval requirements

Note: You may wish to reference PMBOK® 5th Edition for PMI® processes that make up the knowledge area for project integration management, specifically develop project charter. Develop project charter by defining, documenting, and approving the project description, deliverables, goal, scope, and success criteria, thereby providing the project manager authority to apply resources to the project.

Project charter templates may vary based on project types, such as transformation, operational excellence, continuous improvement, Lean Six Sigma, or product/service development and deployment projects. Regardless of the project type, each template will likely contain many of the components found in the following example. This image depicts a basic charter template, along with its elements.

I believe it is imperative to train and coach your project managers to spend appropriate time developing and socializing the project charter to gain support of the project and sign-offs, as defined.



Project Charter to Ensure Project Success

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