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Does a Project Charter or Project Initiation Document Lead to a More Manageable Project Delivery?

~ By Susan de Sousa

Close-up of a businessman's hand with a gilded pen writing a document

Initiating a project usually involves writing one of two documents; a Project Charter or a Project Initiation Document (PID). Now a great many things happen during initiation. High level scope is determined, deliverables set and budgets estimated.

If these aren't investigated and documented effectively it can adversely impact the entire successful delivery. But which document is better for ensuring this?

Well to give a quick overview, a PID is a highly detailed paper which forces a PM to spend time upfront in seriously thinking about the deliverables, processes and governance required, before it even starts. A Project Charter is far less detailed and hence requires much less from a PM. It is essentially a quick way for work to get underway fast.

However, despite this, both documents have a similar feel and endeavour to fulfil the function of enabling effective initiation. But as you will have already seen, both definitely put the emphasis in different areas.

So which is better? Well if you have a small project then writing a long, convoluted PID doesn't make sense. On something this size it is highly likely the deliverable will be simple, the amount of resources utilised small and there will be just the one Sponsor.

On bigger or more complex projects, writing a PID will definitely make sense. Yes it is a detailed paper to complete, but ironing out issues surrounding scope, roles, responsibilities, development process and governance upfront is absolutely vital to prevent confusion later on.

The approval process for each document certainly bears this out. A Charter can be approved simply by the sponsor. A PID requires all the sponsors and other key individuals to formally approve it. This is harder to get and certainly takes time, but it means that activities start with all the stakeholders signing up to the same understanding of what is being delivered and when.

Therefore if you are ambitious and want to work on the big, high profile projects then you really have to have a good idea of how to write both documents, quickly and efficiently. This however is much easier than it looks as many PM's have found to their cost when they end up encountering the dreaded scope creep and budget deficits.

Needless to say any aspiring PM has to be conversant in writing both a Project Charter and a Project Initiation Document as both are equally valid ways of starting projects. However, as with many things, completing both takes a particular knack and is one which is definitely well worth learning, as having this skill is a great enhancement to any Project Manager career.


My Project Management Expert provides all the information you need to know to become a successful project manager, including how to write a Project Charter and a Project Initiation Document


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