3 elements every project charter needs

Julia Martins contributor headshotJulia MartinsApril 5th, 20214 min read
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Getting started on a new project or initiative can be an exciting feeling. But what about the step right before that, when you need to get your project approved?

The project pitching and approval process can feel like a black box if you’ve never done it before. From gathering the right information to presenting it in a way that works for your project stakeholders, you want to make sure you have the materials you need to succeed. One way to do that is with a project charter.

What is a project charter?

A project charter is an elevator pitch of your project objectives, project scope, and project responsibilities in order to get approval from key project stakeholders. In the charter, you should provide a short, succinct explanation of the main elements of your project before you get started. By creating a project charter before getting started on other, more in-depth project planning documents, you can get approval or course-correct if necessary.

A project charter is one of many project planning materials you can create. Here’s how it compares to other project planning elements:

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Project charter vs. project plan

A project charter should only include three elements: your project objectives, scope, and responsibilities. Once your charter has been approved, you should then create a project plan. Your project plan builds on your project charter to provide a more in-depth blueprint of the key elements of your project.

There are seven key elements in a project plan:

  • Goals

  • Success metrics

  • Stakeholders and roles

  • Scope and budget

  • Milestones and deliverables

  • Timeline and schedule

  • Communication plan

Read: How to create a project plan that works to keep you on track

Project charter vs. project brief

project brief is a short document that you should create after your project has been officially approved. The brief is a condensed version of your project plan that your project team and stakeholders can refer back to frequently. Your brief, like the charter, provides context about why this project is a good idea, in addition to what you’ll be doing during the project.

A project brief has four parts:

  • Background information

  • Project objectives and success criteria

  • Project timeline

  • Target audience

Read: 5 steps to writing a clear project brief

Project charter vs. business case

A project charter and business case have the same fundamentals: these are both tools to pitch a project to the appropriate stakeholders. The main difference between a project charter and a business case is scope.

A business case is a formal document that explains the benefits and risks of a significant business investment. For example, if you’re pitching a large-scale investment with an external agency, a significant increase in current business practices, or a new product line or service, you’d want to create a business case. Alternatively, if your project needs approval but it’s smaller in scope—for example, a campaign that’s similar to past campaigns or a product launch that fits within your current go-to-market strategy—create a project charter instead.

Read: The beginner’s guide to writing an effective business case

Should you create a project charter?

There are a variety of project planning tools, and a project charter isn’t always the best one for the job. Here’s when to create one—and when you might be better off creating something else.

  • Create a project charter to pitch and get approval for a project. A project charter gives stakeholders a clear sense of your project objectives, scope, and responsibilities. Key stakeholders can use the project charter to approve a project or suggest changes.

  • Create a business case if your project represents a significant business investment. A business case includes additional information and documentation, including the project’s return on investment and any relevant project risks.

  • Create a project plan if your project has been approved. A project plan will build on your project charter to provide additional information, like the project timeline or key project milestones.

  • Create a project brief if you want to create a document that summarizes the key high-level details of your project plan.

  • Create an executive summary if you want to provide a summary of your document to executive stakeholders.

  • Create a project roadmap if you want to view a high-level timeline of your project in a Gantt chart.

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How to create a project charter

In a project charter, you’ll share project details with key stakeholders in order to get approval to kick off your project. There are three main project charter elements:

The “why”

To begin your project charter, share your project objectives and project purpose. In this section, you should outline why this project is important and what the key objectives are for the end of the project. Make sure your project purpose clearly explains why it’s important to work on this project and how this project will support your company goals.

In addition to your project purpose, you should also clarify your project objectives. These are the things you plan to achieve by the end of the project, like deliverables or assets. To create good project objectives, follow the SMART method. Make sure your objectives are:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Realistic

  • Time-bound

Read: How to write an effective project objective, with examples

The “what”

The second key element in your project charter is the project scope. Your project scope statement defines exactly what is and isn’t part of the project. When you draft a project scope, you’re setting boundaries and, more importantly, outlining what you won’t do during the project timeline.

As you create your project charter, the most important part of explaining scope is outlining the ideal project budget. Remember, you will use your project charter document to pitch this project to stakeholders—so you need to clearly show what the budget is and where that money will go.

Read: The quick guide to defining project scope—in 8 steps

The “who”

In the final section of your project charter, you should explain who will be working on the project. This includes any key project stakeholders, executive stakeholders, project sponsors, and the general project team. If you haven’t already, draft up a brief resource management plan to illustrate how various resources will be allocated during the project.

Read: Your guide to getting started with resource management

Example project charter

[Project brief] Marketing campaign project charter

Project charter template

When you’re ready to get started, follow this easy-to-use template to create your next project charter.

Project name

Name your project. Make sure this is descriptive enough that most people will understand what you’re working on.

Project manager

Who is the point of contact for this project?

Last revision date

Your project charter is a living document. Including the last revision date can be helpful for team members who are frequently checking back on the charter.

Project purpose

Why are you working on this project?

Project objectives

What deliverables and assets do you plan to achieve by the end of the project?

Project scope

What are the boundaries of your project deliverables? Which initiatives are not included in the project?

Project team and resources

Who is working on this project? Which resources (e.g. people, tools, and budget) are available for this work.

Stakeholders and approvers

Who are the project stakeholders? Who needs to approve the project charter or any project deliverables?

From project charter to project success

Once your project charter has been approved, you can move forward with project planning. As you create additional project planning documents and get started with project management, make sure you are storing all of your project details in a centralized tool that everyone can access.

Naturally, we think Asana is the best tool for the job. With Asana, you can manage team projects and tasks to stay in sync and hit your deadlines. Learn more about the benefits of project management.

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