What is a Project Charter, and How Can It Be Used in Project Management?

Three creative agency employees reviewing a project charter

In project management, it can be tempting to jump ahead to the exciting stages of planning and execution. That’s why we all dedicate a lot of time to learning the ins and outs of running a successful project, working with our team efficiently, and engaging stakeholders effectively every time. But before you even book in your project kick-off meeting, there’s an additional stage that must not be overlooked: project approval.

You have to pitch a project to your stakeholders and get it approved before you even consider looking at the next steps, which can feel like a lot of pressure. That’s why you need a project charter.

What is a Project Charter?

In project management, a project charter is a short document formally describing your project. It provides an overview of a project’s top-level details, including what you want to achieve, how the objectives will be met, and who will be involved.

What it’s not: While it may look similar in its structure, a project charter differs from a project plan. A project charter is brief and only contains the details necessary to get started. Once you have approval and make any amends requested by the stakeholders, you can begin building out your project plan. 

What is a Project Charter Used for?

Any project requires a lot of documentation, and this begins before the project has even been approved. Though it may be replaced by more in-depth documentation once you’ve completed your plan, including budgeting and mapping out your course of action, your project charter is one of the most important documents you’ll create. Here’s why it’s essential you put significant consideration into preparing your project charter.

 It Authorizes the Project

This summary document is what will sell your plan to your stakeholders. Your project charter will tell them, more or less, what their return on investment will be and offers them a chance to provide feedback or request changes. In short, without a project charter, there’s no project.

Internal Marketing Tool

The finalized project charter provides you and the stakeholders with a simple document to show others when asked about the basics of the project. This not only saves you time explaining but can get others excited about the project, too.

Your Project Roadmap

The project charter is the first step in planning but will stay with you for the remainder of the project. When more granular detail isn’t necessary to inform a conversation or decision, the project charter will come in handy as a point of reference and can act as a living document if you wish to make changes later.

What is Included in a Project Charter?

While a project charter should be succinct, it can cover a lot of ground. These are the key elements to include.

Justification for the Project

First up, you need to outline your business case, answering ‘Why are you proposing this project?’ Stakeholders will want to know how the project will support the business’s overall goals and what the objectives are for the project.

Objectives and Constraints

It’s recommended that you select a concise list of objectives, all of which should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound). 

Second to this, the stakeholders will be interested in knowing what could stand in the way of you meeting these objectives. If you don’t consider your constraints early, you’re sure to hit a stumbling block before long.

Project Stakeholders

It’s essential to list the stakeholders involved in any project, not just because this is critical information that impacts the running and reporting of the project, but because these are the people whose expectations you will need to manage. Also, include the members of your team and their responsibilities.

Project Risks

While it isn’t fun to dwell on the negative sides of project management, it’s important to be realistic about risk. Outlining the issues your team could face will help you avoid challenges later in the project.

Project Overview

Without going into too much detail, provide an overview of the project. This can include costs, a suggested timeline, required resources, and the end deliverables, including what is in and what is out of the scope.

Read more about how to define project scope.

How Will Risks and Constraints be Managed?

It can be worth considering contingencies as early as when you begin writing your project charter. This is especially important if the project carries more risk than your typical projects or the stakeholders are interested in seeing how you plan to handle more challenging issues.

Project Benefits

What good will the project do for the business and the stakeholders? Including benefits is optional but can go a long way to selling the project!

What Does a Project Charter Template Look Like?

While every project charter will look slightly different depending on the industry and requirements, using a template is a good starting point. Remember, you can customize this project charter example to fit your needs:

Project Name: Cool App Creation

Project Manager: Sophia L.

Date or Date Last Revised: Tuesday 11th January 2022

Project Description: A desktop application for monitoring device energy consumption, filling a current gap in the market.

Project Purpose/ Business Case: The creation of this app supports us in reaching our business-wide goals of launching one new app per quarter being recognized as an industry leader in desktop app development.

Objective: This project will be considered a success when:

  • Cool App has reached 10,000 downloads
  • A 120% ROI has been generated for the business.

Constraints: These objectives could be compromised by:

  • An unexpected competitor app entering the marketplace
  • Delays in being approved by various application stores
  • Stakeholders, approvers & the project team

Investor: Mary K.

Project Manager: Louis R. 

Designer: Maddie C.

Front-End developer: Claude R.

Back-End Developer: Naomi W.

QA Engineer: Frank L.

Risks: The potential risks to the project include:

  • Delays in launching caused by delayed approval or additions to scope.
  • The requirement of additional rounds of testing, and therefore budget.

Project Overview

Scope: Development of desktop app functional across all operating systems

Budget: $5,000


January: Storyboarding and wireframing

February: Building

March: Beta-testing & development

April: Launch


How to Write a Project Charter

Now we know what information we need, let’s review the process of filling in these sections.

Define project goals

Your first step is to clarify your vision for the project and how this aligns with your stakeholder’s expectations for the business. Understanding the overall objective will help you break this down into goals or project scope.

Determine Project Organization

What roles do you need people to play in order for the project to succeed? Your list of roles will include stakeholders, customers, and your general project team.

Build an Implementation Plan

While you don’t need a detailed project plan at this stage, it’s worth creating an outline. This should include the notable milestones of the project and the date you expect to achieve them by.

 Identify Risks and Roadblocks

Looking at your goals and timeline, ask yourself what could trip you up. What would happen if a key member of your team was unwell? Is there any chance your primary material could run out mid-way through construction? Could an office move disrupt plans?

How to Implement a Project Charter Successfully

Base it on Insights from Your Team

The most robust plans are informed not by one voice but by insights gathered from the whole team. You may be the project manager, but that doesn’t mean you have to complete the project charter all by yourself. Consider arranging some time to discuss your plan with your team and take their thoughts and concerns into account. The way your team interacts can be hugely impactful to project success. Talk to your team — the project charter will be the better for it. 

Create a Template

Chances are, you’ll need to create a project charter again in the near future. While the document doesn’t take too long to pull together, you’ll save yourself time and guarantee you have everything covered when you next need to write one.

Create a Plan

One way to guarantee you’ll win the confidence of your stakeholders is by being clear on your plan from the beginning. No one likes asking a question and getting a vague answer. While your project charter doesn’t need masses of detail, an outline of key milestones and a timeline for implementation will help you answer more challenging questions.

Resource Planning

Anticipating your resource requirements, including equipment, materials, and labor, helps you accurately estimate your budget and can save you time when it comes to planning resources following approval. 

Hit the Ground Running

If your project charter is water-tight, there’s little doubt that you’ll get the go-ahead in no time. Get started on the right foot with Forecast. With seamless project tracking, metrics that update in real-time, intelligent budget reconciliation, and automated resource planning, Forecast’s powerful planning tools help you do the best job every time. 

Meet the expectations of your project charter and sign up for a free 14-day trial of Forecast below.

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