What is a Project Charter?

What is a Project Charter and does it always take a specific form?
The Project Charter is usually the first document created by the core project team and the project sponsor. This document then becomes the foundation for moving forward on the project to define the full scope and a detailed plan. The charter is a document that captures the essence of the objectives, business rationale, and other supporting decisions for the initiation of the project. When approved at the end of Initiation by the sponsor, it also officially communicates that this new project has been launched with this set of goals.

The project core team consists of the project manager and key functional managers who will be involved in the project through to completion. For example, a project core team for a product development project would consist of managers from engineering, marketing, manufacturing, customer support, and others. They are there to provide the full company perspective on what it will take to achieve the objectives of this new project—what work will be involved, and what "done" looks like.

The Project Charter document can take different forms. Some companies have a standardized outline or form for the document that covers all the above kinds of information about the project. Other companies use the Charter as more of an announcement document to officially launch a project, with more of the objectives detailed in other related documents. Whatever the form, the goals are to 1) state clearly what the executives have "chartered" a project to go do, stating objectives, assumptions, and major constraints; and 2) officially communicate that this project is real, supported by management, and is an effort to be taken seriously and staffed accordingly.

See our Project Charter template for an example of a document format and content. See also the Project Vision document, another way to communicate this high level project information. As you decide what to include in a charter-type document for your project, remember that its purpose is to provide your team the foundation from which to launch the project planning, based on a thorough expression of the project goals and a true authorization to go forward.

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