Charter your way to a new project

by garyg 26. May 2010 11:43

I’ve gotten a lot of questions from people lately on what a project charter is, and what elements they should include in one to create a good one.  Created under the Initiating Process Group under PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge), it is the one of the first steps performed once you have the initial concept for a project nailed down.  I’m going to cover the basics here of what it is, key features, and just as important, what it is NOT.

The “official” definition is a document that formally authorizes a project or phase of a project (for larger ones) and captures the initial requirements that satisfies the stakeholder expectations.  This can also be an iterative document that further defines or validates the decisions made in previous phases.  Items that are used to build the charter include:

  • Statement of work
  • The Business Case
  • Enterprise Environmental Factors  (corporate culture, government regulations, infrastructure, stakeholder risk tolerances, etc.)
  • Organizational Process Assets (standard processes, templates, historical info, financial data, etc.)
  • The Contract (may not have one if you are an internal team)

The main thing you want to keep in mind while building the Project Charter is that it is not a replacement or extension of the contract.  You need to things in plain business speak as much as possible.  We will undoubtedly be pulling items from the contract, but it needs to readable and tell a fluent but brief story that clearly conveys the business value.  You will also want to cover any significant risks, and  the costs of course.  The goal we are aiming for is authorization to proceed with project as described.

One question I from internal project teams working within a larger company is what to do about a contract.  Most of the time it wont exist and getting one signed isn’t going to happen.  The PMBOK doesn’t really cover that situation except for the obvious, if it isn’t there you can’t use it.  I would suggest that you could refer to your groups charter (if you have a long standing and well written one) at this point and make specific references to it in your Project Charter.

Lastly you need to consider a signature section.  For projects with an external group I consider it a must.  For internal groups you need to let your company culture be your guide.  If your company requires signatures on PO’s and other internal agreements they you’ll want to make sure that you are gathering them on the Project Charter as well.  If not, a simple acknowledgement of receipt (i.e. email) by all authorizing parties may suffice.

About the author

Gary Gauvin is a 20+ year Information Technologies industry leader, currently working as the Director of Application Lifecycle Management for CD-Adapco, a leading developer of CFD/CAE solutions. Working in both enterprise environments and small businesses, Gary enjoys bringing ROI to the organizations he works with through strategic management and getting hands-on wherever practical. Among other qualifications, Gary holds a Bachelor of Science in Information Technologies, an MBA, a PMP (Project Management Professional) certification, and PSM (Professional Scrum Master) certification.  Gary has also been recognized as a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional.

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