Project Charters

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What they are

A project charter is simply a document that provides, at a high level, the reasoning for undertaking a project, the goals, and expected outcomes.

Common fields in project charters

  • Problem/Opportunity Statement: This statement calls out what the problem or problems are and should provide some context for why these problems exist. Articulating that helps to clearly explain what the benefit would be to solving the problem, and an opportunity for improvement.
  • Background Data/Information (if available): Data that demonstrates the magnitude of the problem assists in helping others understand the importance of fixing the problem.
  • Goals/Objectives: Aim for writing S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals. This will help everyone understand what you are really trying to do and will help to ensure successful outcomes. If the goals and objectives are vague, progress is unlikely.
  • Beneficiary Value: Who will benefit from fixing the problem? In our environment, it could be students, faculty, staff, administration or all of the above. Spell the value out because it helps in getting various groups behind doing this work, particularly if they can see how it will benefit their group, or that fixing a problem will have a positive impact on many groups.
  • Out of Scope/In Scope: Articulate what you are specifically tackling as well as not tackling. It is so easy to add more and more (and more) to a project, but this will likely prevent you from getting done what you originally set out to do. Those items that are out of scope are likely other projects.
  • Timeline: Estimate the expected start and end dates. Even a time frame estimate will reassure those involved that the project will not go on forever.

Tips

  • Just do it. Writing a project charter is an essential part of planning any project, effort or initiative. It is not a suggestion, but necessary. If you do not have a charter, there is likely no agreed upon goal or direction. In that circumstance, you run the risk of working on the wrong thing, or spinning in circles and wasting time.
  • Use a format that works for you. There are lots of templates so either pick one or develop one that works for you. Making the writing of a charter overly complicated is going to increase the likelihood of not wanting to write one.
  • Usually charters require several iterations and you need to share those drafts with others, particularly project sponsors.
  • The strongest charters have some baseline or background data which can help jump start projects. This might consist of data that demonstrates the magnitude of the problem, interviews or surveys with key stakeholders that highlight attitudes, current practices, etc.
  • Put your charter in a place where everyone involved with the project can access it. It can be used by others to explain what they are working on to others unfamiliar with the effort.
  • Return to your charters regularly to make sure you are on target. If you feel you are moving in the wrong direction, the charter will provide you with that reminder of what you said you were going to do and help get you back on track.