What You Need for a Great Project Charter

In this article, let's explore what you need for a great project charter.

John Maxwell says, “All great leaders possess two things: They know where they are going, and they are able to persuade others to follow.”

And, one of the most powerful tools for improving project communication is the project charter.

Think about it—in the project charter process, project sponsors and managers have the opportunity to engage key stakeholders for the express purpose of defining the vision of a project.

Without a project charter and clear communication, people are left to their own devices. And believe me, individuals, groups, and organizations will come up with their own versions of the project. United, project teams succeed; divided, they fall.

So, what do you need to create a great project charter?


Tired of confusion and rework due to a lack of early stakeholder engagement and agreement? Join me in the What, Why, & How of Powerful Project Charters. Just want the RiskNotes? Grab a copy of my eBook—Start Writing Your Project Charter Today.

1. An Engaged Project Sponsor

First of all, you need an engaged project sponsor. PMI Pulse research shows actively engaged sponsors are by far the top driver of projects meeting their original goals and business intent.

Sponsors are typically senior level executives from the C-suite. These individuals should possess authority in the organization that allows them to secure the funding and resources necessary for the project. They should also ensure that their projects align with the vision, mission, goals, and strategies of their organization.

So, how do sponsors start projects? These leaders see a need or opportunity. For example, the head of the Accounting Department may see billing problems due to a dated bug-prone billing system. Furthermore, the sponsor creates and submits a project charter to the Project Board or similar group for approval.

PMI Pulse research shows actively engaged sponsors are by far the top driver of projects meeting their original goals and business intent.

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So, what do you do when your sponsor is busy and you are having difficulty getting their attention? Elizabeth Harrin provides some great tips on What to Do When Your Sponsor is Too Busy.

2. Engaged Project Stakeholders

In addition, we need engaged stakeholders. Not everyone, mind you, but we do want the key stakeholders involved in the project charter process. Wise sponsors invite key stakeholders to the initial meetings to discuss the project charter and to obtain their input.

When sponsors choose to ignore stakeholders or purposely keep them out of the charter process, risk increases. These same stakeholders will discover the project later and may adversely influence the project. It's not like they have malicious intent. Rather, they understand aspects of the project that they sponsor was not aware of such as regulatory requirements or how the project may affect other operational activities. 

3. A Project Charter Template

Over time, organizations develop organizational assets such as project management templates. Ask your PMO or project management group if a project charter template is available.

The template provides structure and the common elements prescribed within an organization. Keep in mind, you may need to modify the template to some degree to fit your project. For example, you may add your project success criteria to a template that lacks this element.

Online Course: The What, Why, & How of Powerful Project Charters

One of the best ways to reduce communication risks early in your projects is by writing project charters. This is not a documentation exercise! The aim is to ensure that the project sponsor, project manager, and the key stakeholders are on the same page. In this course, you will discover the 16 powerful elements of a project charter, how to use a project charter after initiation, the four project charter checkpoints, the secret sauce of writing clear goals, and how to right-size your project charters.