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Crafting a Useful Charter

~ By Kenneth Darter

A close up of a hand holding a pen while reviewing a document

A project charter is the key document during the initial stages of a project. But sometimes the project team jumps ahead into the project without taking the time to craft a useful project charter that helps guide the project through the rough waters. While many organisations and project management methodologies outline what is needed for a charter, it is important to make sure that the final document will be useful to the project team. Making sure that the following items are taken into consideration and included in the charter will help the charter do something other than sit in a binder on a shelf once the project starts.

State the Purpose

The charter should contain the purpose of the project front and centre. This statement or outline will help inform everything that is done on the project and guide the team in making sure that the original purpose of the project does not get buried while requirements are defined and scope is creeping. This purpose is also vital in using the charter as an on-boarding tool for people who join the project team after the initiation phase of the project lifecycle.

Short and Simple

Overall, the charter should be short and simple. Burying useful information in a document that is too big to be read in a sitting will not help anyone in understanding the project. While some projects may be intended to solve very complex problems or create large integrated systems, the charter is not the place to put all of the details on how the final product will be developed. The project charter is the place to provide information that describes the overall purpose of the project, not all the messy details that will be discussed and torn apart during the project.

The Road Map

Once the purpose is explained simply, then the charter should provide an outline or a high-level road map that shows how the project team will get from initiation to execution and finally to project close out. Any landmarks or pit stops should be described. This information is useful not only to the project team, but also to stakeholders who need to know what to expect during the project lifecycle. This road map can be graphical or descriptive in the document as long as it shows people how they will get from point A to point B. While the purpose of the project should not change, the road map might change while the project is being executed.

Answer Questions Unasked

Lastly, the project charter should answer the questions that have not been asked yet. This may require some thinking and research on the part of the project manager, but it can be a very useful exercise to try and anticipate what questions the project team will have about the project and go ahead and lay out the answers in the charter. These answers will help clear the way for the project to move forward and succeed.


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