When it comes to getting the green light to start a new project, there’s no resource more beneficial than a project charter. It outlines the project and includes key participants, scope, objectives, and overall goals. It’s an incredibly useful document that, once complete, is often used to get sign-off on a project.
A project charter is typically one to two pages, but it can be longer depending on the size, type, and complexity of the project. This article will walk you through the essential elements of a project charter, provide free project charter templates, and share real-world examples to help you get started.
Free Project Charter Templates
Download a free project charter template in Excel or Word. We've also provided a customizable project charter template in Smartsheet, a collaborative, real-time work execution platform that allows you to better plan, manage, and report on project details.
What Is a Project Charter?
A Project Charter provides a big picture overview of the project and often does double-duty as the business case. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI® ), the organization that puts out the text, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), a project charter organizes and documents a project’s needs and expected outcomes.
This resource helps provide a foundation for basing project decisions and ensuring they are in line with company goals. As such, it should include success metrics, how to accomplish the project, key players, and goals. It’s imperative to work with team members to help define these attributes before getting started.
Essential Elements of a Project Charter
Depending on your industry, you may call a project charter a project definition report or a project statement. While they all have similar elements, you don’t have to include every item for each project charter you create.
Remember, the project charter provides a high-level description of the business need and useful information to get the project approved. Here’s what to include in your project charter:
- Title: A descriptive title of the project should be at the top of your project charter. For example, “Marketing Campaign” doesn’t say much. However, a title like “Social Media Marketing Campaign to Increase Awareness of New Product” informs readers about the type of marketing campaign and why you’re starting the project.
- Brief Description: Include a few sentences that explain why you want to do this project and what you hope to accomplish. Include the business need it will fulfill and how this project is in line with existing company goals or ongoing work happening within the organization.
- Background: Provide information that explains how the project came to be. The background can also be part of the brief description. For example, if the project charter is for a technology update, you will have already included background information on the need in the brief description.
- Goals/Deliverables: This is a high-level statement of what you hope to accomplish with this project. Deliverables are sometimes separate, but it can be part of the goals section since it is what you plan to accomplish. For example, a goal might be to create a new web app. The deliverable would be to create a new app with three key features.
- Scope: This answers the question, “What is being produced by the project?” Provide an overview of services, products, or results that you plan to develop. It can also be useful to include what is “out of scope” for this project. Defining what’s out of scope early on can help keep a project on track down the road.
- Impact on Other Business Systems and Units: Also referred to as resources, this describes what is required to accomplish the project. It outlines how many resources and what support will be needed. Resources can include things like work from other departments, contractors, and teams within the company.
- Stakeholders: The stakeholders are the people who you’ve been working with to create the project charter. For example, the sponsor has a project idea, but requires assistance from people in other departments or even an outside vendor to get it accomplished. Before writing the project charter, the sponsor has already met with stakeholders to get their input. Note: The key stakeholders are not necessarily who will approve the project, but they will likely be affected by the project.
- Roles and Responsibilities: This covers who is going to do what and identifies the responsibilities of the team. For example, the project manager would be responsible for hitting milestones on time. Identifying roles at the onset is useful for setting expectations and letting people know what is required.
- Milestones: An overview of the project schedule, milestones define significant aspects within the project such as phases, stages, and decision making.
- Budget: How much is the project going to cost in terms of finances, human resources, and materials? Budget can also specify the source of funding. Note: sometimes this information has already been estimated in the business case.
- Constraints, Assumptions, Dependencies, and Risks: Create a section for an initial assessment of known risks that could affect the project’s outcome. It includes factors that are known to be true, but will be evaluated in more detail during the project planning phase. It also takes into consideration existing constraints and dependencies that could change the project’s scope. For example, you may need a specific team to help complete the project, but they are currently working on another project.
- Success Measurements/ROI: Establish how you will define project success. Metrics should include what’s important to the stakeholders and how it fits into strategic business goals.
- Project Approval: This is the “sign on the dotted line” section. Depending on the type of project, it typically includes a signature space for the project sponsor, a client, and project manager.
Six Sigma Project Charter Guidelines
A project charter is one of the first steps in any Six Sigma project. As part of the Define phase of Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control (DMAIC), it is essential to project success. It’s an agreement between the Six Sigma team and management.
The Six Sigma Project Charter has similar guidelines as those mentioned above, but requires a bit more detail. Here’s an overview what to include in a Six Sigma Project Charter:
- Title: A descriptive name for the project.
- Black Belt/Green Belt: Identify who is leading the project.
- Mentor/Master Black Belt: Who is the project leader’s resource? This is the person the Black Belt/Green Belt can turn to when issues or questions about the project arise.
- Role of Champion: The Champion provides strategy and helps facilitate Six Sigma activities. He or she can be part of creating the business case, setting deliverables, assigning the right people to the task, and signing off on the project charter.
- Start Date: The date the project leader begins working on the project.
- Anticipated End Date: When will the project be complete? The Mentor or Master Black Belt typically determines the project end date and considers current business conditions when making this decision.
- Business Case: Describes the issue, why the company should do the project, and its overall effect on the organization. In addition to explaining why the project should be done now, it also covers consequences of delaying the project.
- Problem Statement: What are the issues that the Six Sigma team will address? This statement provides a clear definition of the problem including impact, where it occurs, scope, and critical-to-quality elements. The statement should be concise and easily understood by members of the organization.
- Goal Statement: This defines project targets that need to be met to realize the project’s purpose. When creating this statement, employ the SMART method.
- Project Scope: Use the process mapping technique to define the scope. Identify budget limits, decision makers, the objective, and the team’s area of influence.
- Critical Success Factors: What do you need to successfully complete the project? Consider things like financial and time constraints, available resources, support, who will clear roadblocks, and the guide and coach for the team.
- Impact on Stakeholders: Identify the individuals who are affected by the project and have a vested interest in the outcome. Also, define how the team will communicate with stakeholders when necessary.
- Project Milestones: The project Champion sets project milestones, and they should create a timeline that accounts for the DMAIC stages.
- Project Vision: What are the expectations of the project and how will the organization measure success? This section is a good place to identify potential failure areas.
- Expected Financial Benefits: Define the budget impacts and cost avoidance, as well as the anticipated savings that can come from completing the project.
Avoid Pitfalls with a Project Charter
A project charter defines the vision, goals, and objectives of the project. It gets everyone on the same page early on and establishes stakeholder buy-in, roles and responsibilities, and measurable impact.
However, if the charter isn't initially completed correctly, issues can arise. Something as seemingly simple as an unclear title can lead to problems down the road. Make sure to correctly select the right time, provide an accurate timeline, and write a clear goal statement that’s linked to company strategy.
Want to receive weekly updates of the Smartsheet Blog? Sign up here.
PMBOK is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.
Streamline Your Project Charters with Smartsheet for Project Management
Having a thorough, visible, and collaborative project charter is key to the efficiency and success of your projects. To ensure that your project plans reach the outlined goals and objectives on time and on budget, consider using a tool that enables you to plan, manage, and share project details, make updates in real time, and track progress from anywhere.
Smartsheet is a work execution platform that enables enterprises and teams to get from idea to impact - fast. Top project management leaders rely on Smartsheet to help align the right people, resources, and schedules to get work done.
Use Smartsheet to streamline initiative and project planning, improve collaboration, and increase stakeholder confidence. Share project vision, details, and resources with internal and external stakeholders to increase transparency. Stay up to date on status with automatic alerts, and reports and dashboards that roll up details to help ensure your projects come in on time and on budget.
Try Smartsheet to discover why millions of project managers around the world use it to improve their project management efforts.