Breaking Down the Elements of a Project Charter

By Kate Eby | May 16, 2022

A project charter describes the broad details of a proposed project, including key information. We’ll explain what’s in the six main sections and who is responsible for each. 

We’ll cover the six main elements of a project charter and what each of those sections should include, as well as provide expert advice for pulling it together.

What Should Be Included in a Project Charter?

A project charter includes an overview, the scope, an approximate schedule, an outline of necessary resources, and an estimated budget. A project manager generally writes the charter. Project sponsors approve it. 

Nick Vashkevich

“As a rule, the project’s sponsors are responsible for creating the charter,” says Nick Vashkevich, the Head of Services at Akveo. “However, they usually delegate the duty to project managers who define objectives, create a roadmap, and distribute responsibilities within the team. It’s a good idea to show the final version to stakeholders and sponsors to assess the project’s budget resources. Additionally, the stakeholders will help specify the deliverables, goals, and success criteria for your project before you start.”

Project Charter ElementsWho Is Responsible for Determining?
OverviewProject Manager and Project Sponsor
ScopeProject Sponsor
ScheduleProject Manager and Team
RisksProject Manager and Project Sponsor
BudgetProject Sponsor with input from Project Manager
StakeholdersProject Manager


Typically, a project charter should answer questions such as the following:

  • What will this project accomplish?
  • How much time and money is the project expected to cost?
  • What are the benefits of project completion?
  • Who is in charge of the project?
  • What is the project’s priority level?

“A good project charter is clear and contains adequate information that can propel the project forward. It should be simple enough that everyone can understand it,” says Will Cannon, the Founder of Signaturely.  

For more information about project charters and why you might need one, read our guide to project charters.

How Many Elements Are There in Project Charter?

A number of elements are included in a project charter. The sections vary by individual project and company needs. A charter generally includes a title, description, high-level estimate of necessary budget and resources, and who is responsible for the project.

Project charters may also include information such as communication and visibility plans, links to project dashboards, and shared resource spaces. They can also feature risk statements and assessments, relationships to other proposed or ongoing projects, return on investment (ROI) and sales forecast information, and future plans.

What Are the 6 Main Parts of a Project Charter?

The six main parts of a project charter are an overview, an outline of the project’s scope, an approximate schedule, a list of anticipated risks, an estimated budget, and a list of key stakeholders. 

  • Overview: Outline what the project entails and what it should accomplish. Identify dependencies on other projects. Be sure to include how you will measure its success.
  • Scope: Provide a summary of what’s within the project’s scope, and just as important, what is not.
  • Schedule: Build a rough schedule with estimates for milestones and deliverables. 
  • Risks: Highlight any anticipated risks or potential roadblocks.
  • Budget: Create a rough budget that lists the resources needed to complete the project.
  • Stakeholders: Make a list of key stakeholders, their titles, and basic contact information.

To learn more about how to piece these elements together, read our guide to writing a project charter.

What Are the Contents of a Project Charter?

A project charter should always include an overview, an outline of scope, an approximate schedule, a budget estimate, anticipated risks, and key stakeholders. Each of these sections should be brief, but as thorough as possible.

“Keep in mind a project charter is meant to provide a high-level overview of your project rather than a detailed breakdown. Only a few sentences should be required for each section,” says Cannon.

Project Overview

A project overview has a descriptive title, a summary of the problems the project will address, and how you’ll achieve it. Add any links to project dashboards and team portals for easy access to ongoing status.

Give your project a descriptive name. The title should provide a high-level description of the project’s goal. 

Next, write a brief project description that highlights its purpose, priority level, any major goals and milestones, and any dependencies on past or ongoing projects. You should also mention the specific project management methodologies you will use, such as Agile, Kanban, or Scrum

“Include information on how you will track task status, documentation, result delivery, system deployment rules, teamwork methodology, and meetings,” suggests Akveo’s Vashkevich. Read this guide for creating charters for projects using Agile methodologies to learn more about this practice.

The overview is a good place to leave links to any relevant project dashboards and team portals. The earlier you set these up, the quicker your team can start using them to their advantage and the easier it is for stakeholders to monitor the project’s progress.

Project Scope

State everything that is included in the project’s scope and, just as important, the things that are not. It is also important to define how you will measure your project’s success

“This section should also include points and criteria that indicate the project’s successful accomplishment,” says Vashkevich. 

These can be ROI projections, percent increases in sales, fixes to a known issue, or many other factors, depending on the type of project. This element is crucial; if you do not set terms for success, you cannot guarantee a move toward continuous improvement.

Estimated Project Schedule

A project schedule should reflect the time it will take your team to finish the work, not how long you want it to take. Now is the opportunity to build in extra time, so unforeseen emergencies don’t derail your project.

Andrew Dale

Use your team as a resource to determine how long it will take to complete project tasks. “Gather your work team and other stakeholders before creating a job breakdown structure. Although you are ultimately accountable for the work breakdown structure as the business owner, the workgroup is required to establish which tasks are critical, how they are linked, and how long each will take. The last thing you want is to plan on a vital action taking two days, only to have your team tell you later that it can't be done,” warns Andrew Dale, Technical Director at CloudTech24.

Dale continues, “Alternatively, you may realize that what you thought was a week-long assignment can be completed in half the time with an innovative strategy you would never have discovered on your own. Involve stakeholders from outside the work team to gain their support and get the client or customer to sign off as well,”

Anticipated Risks

Describe any potential risks that the project may encounter. Risk assessment is critical in anticipating challenges and addressing them before they become insurmountable and ultimately make your project run behind schedule. 

To learn more about how to identify and avoid risks, read our guide to project risk management.

Estimated Project Budget

Prepare an estimated budget for your project from start to finish. Be sure to include estimates for physical project elements, labor time and cost, and any additional resources you may need. Your budget should always include room for unforeseen events and emergencies, which can increase project costs dramatically if they arise. 

“A project manager who underestimates the need for human resources, for example, can directly lead to cost overruns,” explains Dale. “In this example, if a project requires more labor than originally envisioned, or if a specialty or talent not found in the organization must be outsourced, the entire cost of the project may increase. Furthermore, if a project manager allocates tasks to employees that are unsuited for specific project stages, the work may take longer to complete, or the quality may be compromised and the procedures repeated by someone else, resulting in cost overruns for labor.”

List of Key Stakeholders

List all stakeholders with their roles and responsibilities. “A clear definition of goals, roles, and responsibilities eliminates confusion among the team and management,” says Vashkevich. 

Consider creating a communication plan, and providing a link to that information. Creating this plan at the project’s outset ensures that preferred contact frequency and communication style are available to everyone.

Once you complete the project charter, be sure to add a section for project approval by sponsors. “When the charter is written well, it assists executives in recognizing the project's business worth. They can reference the charter at any time to see how well the project fits within the company's overall strategy,” says Cannon.When you’re ready to create your own project charter, check out our free project charter template and guidelines.

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