This post looks at the major elements of the Project Charter and how they link back to strategy. It focuses on how to write a Project Charter – and then asks ChatGPT what it would include in a Project Charter!
How to Write a Project Charter
The Project Charter is often the first document that the actual project manager of the project writes. Other documents, such as Business Case and Feasibility, are done prior to committing to the project – and a project manager who writes these can be a strong candidate to manage the eventual project.
The Project Charter is the first step in getting your arms and head around the project. One approach is to begin to break down the project into these four components:
- Project Definition – Defines the vision, business objectives, technology objectives for the projects. If also defines the scope and key deliverables.
- Project Organization – Defines the ecosystem of the project – the customers, stakeholders, and roles. Then it outlines how the various roles will be covered, whether by individuals, committees, or in combination with multiple roles. And it defines the PM responsibilities and provides an initial project org chart.
- Project Plan – Provides an outline of the initial approach through the phases of initiation, planning, execution, and closure of the project. Then it provides a high level Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) for a level or two of the components of each of the phase, with milestones and dependencies. Finally, it outlines the human, physical, and financial resources needed and approach for delivering a quality output.
- Other Project Considerations – These include such important items as risks, potential issues, priorities, assumptions, and constraints.
The Project Charter is High level. It is your first attempt to begin to understand and plan for these things. There are more detailed documents to prepare for many of these components and sub-components. This is usually necessary on a large project, but for smaller projects, the Project Charter level of detail may be enough.
Part 1 of 4: Project Definition and Link to Strategy
The project definition is where you can provide the strongest link back to the strategic drivers of the project. Project definition includes:
- Vision – High level vision that is short, concise, and achievable.
- Business objectives – Business-specific objectives with expected measurable results.
- Technology objectives – Technology-specific objectives also with expected measurable results.
- Scope – What is and is not included in terms of processes, organizational areas, locations, data, applications, and technologies.
- Deliverables – High-level description of specific deliverables, including item, components, and general description.
These needs to be defined well enough to provide clear direction as the project is defined more explicitly at deeper levels. It also needs to provide the connection between what the project is to deliver and the overall organization direction, purpose, and strategy.
I typically use the Project Charter in these PM templates (paid link):
Part 2 of 4: Project Organization and Link to Execution
Who are the customers and stakeholders? What roles and responsibilities are needed? How will the effort be organized?
These are the basic questions. The results should be a clear outline describing:
- Customers – Who will use the deliverables? Who specifically can represent the customers, or segments of customers, throughout the course of the project, to provide guidance and feedback?
- Stakeholders – Identify stakeholders by asking: Who is effected by the project but lives outside the project? Stakeholders include company executives and managers, company staff, industry and regulatory people, government bodies, neighborhoods and localities, and physical and virtual communities. It is helpful to identify the specific interests of each stakeholder. It is also critical to identify ‘friendly’ stakeholders who will work with the project team throughout the project.
- Roles – Project roles include: Sponsor, a critical role who shepherds and protects the project at the highest levels; Reviewers, who, personally as a group, add stage-gate discipline to the execution process; Project Manager, who organizes and manages all execution; and Team Members, who bring various skillsets and work capacity to the project.
- Responsibilities – The list of responsibilities for each role identified above. Ideally, it is a full job description and includes not only skills but performance criteria and metrics for measuring performance.
- Structure – The organization chart for the project. Who reports to whom, and the relationships, straight line and dotted line, in a clear, easy to understand visual for everyone to see.
This outline describes the project organization for the life of the project – from initiation to closure. The project organization, like the project itself, is temporary and will be disbanded once the project is complete.
Lucid provides an interesting tool for collaborating on org charts (paid link):
Part 3 of 4: Project Plan – High Level Approach
The Project Plan first outlines the approach to implementing the project through each of the project phases – Initiation, Planning, Execution, and Closure. Then it expands that plan into a high level plan – not too detailed unless it’s a small project – to establish a clear timeline.
The timeline ideally is categorized at the highest level by the phases described above. To keep it high level, the Work Breakdown Schedule (WBS) can be limited to one level below the phases. This enables the project to get some footing and direction, and then the lower level details and tasks of the WBS can be completed later.
Here are some additional elements of the Project Plan that are good to address:
- Key Milestones – What are the major project steppingstones to success. What are the ‘big rocks’ that need to be moved, and by when. They represent significant events or the end of significant stages of the project?
- Key Dependencies – What activities are important ‘lever’ points, where they have an impact on another activity within the project framework. Similarly, what project activities will have an impact on something outside the project. Finally, what activities outside the project will have an impact on activities within the project?
- Resource Plan – Identify by role when resources will need to begin and end their efforts, and what portion of their time is needed. This might be adequate for the charter, as more detail in identifying, recruiting, and employing the resources can be a topic for a more detailed plan, all depending on the size and complexity of the project.
- Financial Plan – This is a project budget, and should include some description of the value the project brings in terms of Business Case. It should include all groups of costs – people; buildings, equipment, and tools; IT infrastructure; communications internally and externally – often to include a marketing or public relations component; and organizational change management costs.
- Quality Assurance Plan – For the charter, the QA Plan should at least provide a clear sense of the challenge and scope of managing the quality aspect. A high degree of complexity, as in larger projects, will definitely require a separate and more detailed Quality Management Plan.
The contents and degree of detail in the Project Plan needs to be tailored to the specific project.
These PM templates (paid link) include Project Planning and other excellent templates:
Part 4 of 4: Other Critical Project Considerations
Here the Project Charter captures some major and specific items that need to be managed closely. They include:
- Risks – At this point, this does not have to be an exhaustive list. However, it does need to identify the major risks to the project. This will include a description of the risk, the probability and impact, and a short plan of action(s) that can be taken to mitigate the risk.
- Issues – This is a good place to capture any concerns that are not included in the Risks. This can include a description of the issue, assigned priority (ie H/M/L or 1-5), and actions needed to handle and resolve the issue.
- Assumptions – This area also intermingles with the Risks and Issues. State what you are assuming for the plan. Capture any potential deviations from the assumptions in the Risks and Issues.
- Constraints – Again, Constraints intermingle with Risks and Issues – and even Assumptions. Constraints can include resources (financial and human), supply limitations, limits to technical expertise, and availability of physical resources such as equipment and buildings.
The key is to identify anything important to the project and make sure it is captured and addressed. Everything important has its place in the Project Charter.
Project Charter Link to Strategy, Project Management – and AI
In lieu of including the usual section on the impact of the Project Charter to strategy and project management, I’m going to leverage Artificial Intelligence (AI) and ask ChatGPT this basic question:
“How do you write a project charter?”
Here’s what ChatGPT answered:
“A project charter is a document that outlines the purpose, goals, stakeholders, and scope of a project. Here are some steps to follow to write a project charter:
- Define the purpose and scope of the project: Identify the main objectives and goals of the project. This could include the problem the project aims to solve or the opportunity it aims to exploit. Define the scope of the project, including any limitations or boundaries.
- Identify stakeholders: Identify all stakeholders who will be affected by the project, including the project sponsor, team members, customers, and end-users.
- Develop a project team: Select and assign team members to the project and outline their roles and responsibilities.
- Create a project timeline: Develop a timeline for the project, including key milestones and deadlines.
- Establish project success criteria: Establish clear and measurable criteria for determining the success of the project.
- Develop a communication plan: Develop a plan for communicating project progress and results to stakeholders.
- Define the project budget: Establish the project budget and any financial constraints or risks.
- Create a risk management plan: Identify potential risks and develop a plan for mitigating and managing them.
- Obtain project approval: Get approval from all necessary stakeholders before proceeding with the project.
- Review and finalize the project charter: Review and revise the project charter as needed to ensure it accurately reflects the project goals, scope, and requirements.
Once the project charter is complete, it should be distributed to all stakeholders to ensure that everyone has a clear understanding of the project objectives and expectations.”
I asked AFTER I completed the core sections of the post. The ChatGPT response is shorter and seems to capture the main ideas clearly and concisely, albeit with less depth.
My reaction: I’m impressed!
For help in solidifying the link between strategy and project execution,
consider Flevy toolkits – anything from business toolkits to business case frameworks
to project charter templates (paid link):
Conclusion and Further Resources
This post looked at the major elements of the Project Charter and how they link back to strategy.
Please comment and share your experience with Project Charters!
Below is an excellent video from projectmanager.com on writing a Project Charter: