Project Management

How to Write a Project Charter

The project charter is the document that formally authorizes a project. The project charter provides the project manager with the authority to apply organizational resources to project activities. A project manager is identified and assigned as early in the project as is feasible. The project manager should always be assigned prior to the start of planning (if possible) and preferably while the project charter is being developed.


In my experience this is not always possible, but I highly recommend that you follow this and as the very least, as soon as you (or someone else) is assigned as the Project Manager, draft this document and have it signed off by the stakeholders.


A project initiator or sponsor external to the project organization, at a level that is appropriate to funding the project, should issue the project charter. Projects are usually chartered and authorized external to the project organization by an enterprise, a government agency, a company, a program organization, or a portfolio organization, as a result of one or more of the following:


·         A market demand (e.g., a car company authorizing a project to build more fuel-efficient cars in response to gasoline shortages)

·         A business need (e.g., a training company authorizing a project to create a new course to increase its revenues)

·         A customer request (e.g., an electric utility authorizing a project to build a new substation to serve a new industrial park)

·         A technological advance (e.g., an electronics firm authorizing a new project to develop a faster, cheaper, and smaller laptop after advances in computer memory and electronics technology)

·         A legal requirement (e.g., a paint manufacturer authorizing a project to establish guidelines for handling toxic materials)

·         A social need (e.g., a nongovernmental organization in a developing country authorizing a project to provide potable water systems, latrines, and sanitation education to communities suffering from high rates of cholera).


These stimuli can also be called problems, opportunities, or business requirements. The central theme of all these stimuli is that management must make a decision about how to respond and what projects to authorize and charter.


Make sure to have these requirements documented and signed off as they will be used to create the Project Scope Document.


Project selection methods involve measuring value or attractiveness to the project owner or sponsor and may include other organizational decision criteria. Project selection also applies to choosing alternative ways of executing the project.


Chartering a project links the project to the ongoing work of the organization. In some organizations, a project is not formally chartered and initiated until completion of a needs assessment, feasibility study, preliminary plan, or some other equivalent form of analysis that was separately initiated.


Developing the project charter is primarily concerned with documenting the business needs, project justification, current understanding of the customer’s requirements, and the new product, service, or result that is intended to satisfy those requirements. The project charter, either directly, or by reference to other documents, should address the following information:


·        Requirements that satisfy customer, sponsor, and other stakeholder needs, wants and expectations

·        Business needs, high-level project description, or product requirements that the project is undertaken to address

·        Project purpose or justification

·        Assigned Project Manager and authority level

·        Summary milestone schedule

·        Stakeholder influences

·        Functional organizations and their participation

·        Organizational, environmental and external assumptions

·        Organizational, environmental and external constraints

·        Business case justifying the project, including return on investment

·        Summary budget.


During subsequent phases of multi-phase projects, the Develop Project

Charter process validates the decisions made during the original chartering of the project. If required, it also authorizes the next project phase, and updates the charter.



Contract (When Applicable)

A contract from the customer’s acquiring organization is an input if the project is being done for an external customer.


Project Statement of Work


The statement of work (SOW) is a narrative description of products or services to be supplied by the project. For internal projects, the project initiator or sponsor provides the statement of work based on business needs, product, or service requirements. For external projects, the statement of work can be received from the customer as part of a bid document, for example, request for proposal, request for information, request for bid, or as part of a contract. The SOW indicates a:


·        Business need – an organization’s business need can be based on needed training, market demand, technological advance, legal requirement, or governmental standard.

·        Product scope description – documents the product requirements and characteristics of the product or service that the project will be undertaken to create. The product requirements will generally have less detail during the initiation process and more detail during later processes, as the product characteristics are progressively elaborated. These requirements should also document the relationship among the products or services being created and the business need or other stimulus that causes the need. While the form and substance of the product requirements document will vary, it should always be detailed enough to support later project planning.

·        Strategic plan – all projects should support the organization’s strategic goals. The strategic plan of the performing organization should be considered as a factor when making project selection decisions.


Enterprise Environmental Factors


When developing the project charter, any and all of the organization’s enterprise environmental factors and systems that surround and influence the project’s success must be considered. This includes items such as, but not limited to:


·        Organizational or company culture and structure

·        Governmental or industry standards (e.g., regulatory agency regulations, product standards, quality standards, and workmanship standards)

·        Infrastructure (e.g., existing facilities and capital equipment)

·        Existing human resources (e.g., skills, disciplines, and knowledge, such as design, development, legal, contracting, and purchasing)

·        Personnel administration (e.g., hiring and firing guidelines, employee performance reviews, and training records)

·        Company work authorization system

·        Marketplace conditions

·        Stakeholder risk tolerances

·        Commercial databases (e.g., standardized cost estimating data, industry risk study information, and risk databases)

·        Project management information systems (e.g., an automated tool suite, such as a scheduling software tool, a configuration management system, an information collection and distribution system, or web interfaces to other online automated systems).


Organizational Process Assets


When developing the project charter and subsequent project documentation, any and all of the assets that are used to influence the project’s success can be drawn from organizational process assets. Any and all of the organizations involved in the project can have formal and informal policies, procedures, plans, and guidelines whose effects must be considered. Organizational process assets also represent the organizations’ learning and knowledge from previous projects; for example, completed schedules, risk data, and earned value data. Organizational process assets can be organized differently, depending on the type of industry, organization, and application area. For example, the organizational process assets could be grouped into two categories:


·         Organization’s processes and procedures for conducting work:

o    Organizational standard processes, such as standards, policies (e.g., safety and health policy, and project management policy), standard product and project life cycles, and quality policies and procedures (e.g., process audits, improvement targets, checklists, and standardized process definitions for use in the organization)

o    Standardized guidelines, work instructions, proposal evaluation criteria, and performance measurement criteria

o    Templates (e.g., risk templates, work breakdown structure templates, and project schedule network diagram templates)

o     Guidelines and criteria for tailoring the organization’s set of standard processes to satisfy the specific needs of the project

o     Organization communication requirements (e.g., specific communication technology available, allowed communication media, record retention, and security requirements)

o     Project closure guidelines or requirements (e.g., final project audits, project evaluations, product validations, and acceptance criteria)

o    Financial controls procedures (e.g., time reporting, required expenditure and disbursement reviews, accounting codes, and standard contract provisions)

o     Issue and defect management procedures defining issue and defect controls, issue and defect identification and resolution, and action item tracking

o     Change control procedures, including the steps by which official company standards, policies, plans, and procedures—or any project documents—will be modified, and how any changes will be approved and validated

o     Risk control procedures, including risk categories, probability definition and impact, and probability and impact matrix

·        Procedures for approving and issuing work authorizations. Organizational corporate knowledge base for storing and retrieving information:

o     Process measurement database used to collect and make available measurement data on processes and products

o     Project files (e.g., scope, cost, schedule, and quality baselines, performance measurement baselines, project calendars, project schedule network diagrams, risk registers, planned response actions, and defined risk impact)

o    Historical information and lessons learned knowledge base (e.g., project records and documents, all project closure information and documentation, information about both the results of previous project selection decisions and previous project performance information, and information from the risk management effort) and defect management database containing issue and defect status, control information, issue and defect resolution, and action item results

o     Configuration management knowledge base containing the versions and baselines of all official company standards, policies, procedures, and any project documents

o     Financial database containing information such as labor hours, incurred costs, budgets, and any project cost overruns.


Develop Project Charter: Tools and Techniques


Project Selection Methods

Project selection methods are used to determine which project the organization will select. These methods generally fall into one of two broad categories:


·        Benefit measurement methods that are comparative approaches, scoring models, benefit contribution, or economic models.

·        Mathematical models that use linear, nonlinear, dynamic, integer, or multi-objective programming algorithms.


Project Management Methodology


A project management methodology defines a set of Project Management Process Groups, their related processes and the related control functions that are consolidated and combined into a functioning unified whole. A project management methodology may or may not be an elaboration of a project management standard. A project management methodology can be either a formal mature process or an informal technique that aids a project management team in effectively developing a project charter.


Project Management Information System


The Project Management Information System (PMIS) is a standardized set of automated tools available within the organization and integrated into a system. The PMIS is used by the project management team to support generation of a project charter, facilitate feedback as the document is refined, control changes to the project charter, and release the approved document.


Expert Judgment


Expert judgment is often used to assess the inputs needed to develop the project charter. You will see this technique used in many of the Project Processes. Such judgment and expertise is applied to any technical and management details during this process. Such expertise is provided by any group or individual with specialized knowledge or training, and is available from many sources, including:


·         Other units within the organization

·         Consultants

·         Stakeholders, including customers or sponsors

·         Professional and technical associations

·         Industry groups.[i]



[i]  2007 Project Management Institute, Four Campus Blvd., Newton Square, PA 17903

November 16, 2008 - Posted by | PMP, Project Initiation |


  1. Hi…

    I am a student and trying to write a charter but I would like you to help me,my company deals more with environmental awareness and the question is what are the risk associated with typical company.

    Comment by Judith | August 19, 2010 | Reply

    • I would be happy to help you. I charge $50 an hour with a half hour free to start off. Does that sound reasonable to you?

      Comment by Donna Ritter | August 19, 2010 | Reply

  2. Ok – give me your phone number and I’ll call you Monday either at 11:00 or 4:00 which ever is better for you. I could also call you Tuesday in the morning. Let me know what’s best.


    Comment by Donna Ritter | August 21, 2010 | Reply

  3. Nice article. I would say that you did your best to write it! I was looking for information on writing a project charter, then finally found your post… Thanks. It was clear and comprehensive.

    Comment by Eric Morkovich, MyMG | October 28, 2010 | Reply

  4. Hello Donna.
    I like your blog. I thought it would be great if we both could exchange backlinks. – We are trying to highlight ideas on the Project Management discipline.
    We would be glad if you accepted our proposal for backlinks exchange.

    Please let me. Thanks. (eric.morkovich at gmail .com).

    Comment by Eric Morkovich, MyMG | November 17, 2010 | Reply

  5. please can i have some knowledge on the project time management

    Comment by elvis Wiafe Boateng | March 5, 2011 | Reply

    • That is a huge subject. If you read the PMBOK and have questions I’d be happy to help.


      Comment by Donna Ritter | March 8, 2011 | Reply

  6. hi there i have case study based on NHS
    can you help me with this task?

    A project Initiation Document (PID) is a key part of the PRINCE2 project management approach. Develop an agenda for a Project Initiation Workshop in preparing the PID. Explain the purpose of the meeting,who is required to attend and why they must be there the attendees and the purpose of each item on the agenda.

    Comment by fitz | March 23, 2011 | Reply

  7. i am a student trying to write a project
    for an information technology,my question is help me find some ideas on how to tagle this.

    Comment by leonard bore | March 30, 2011 | Reply

    • The PMP community is quite large. There is probably a chapter close to where you live. If so, they have monthly meetings that are quite informative. Also read up on it and check oot PMI’s website at


      Comment by Donna Ritter | June 18, 2011 | Reply

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