Worksheet: Project Charter

Every project needs to be clearly defined from the onset to ensure the efforts and investment provide the greatest chance for success. A poorly defined direction or desired outcome has the potential of creating internal strife, anxiety and lack of cohesion, putting at risk not only the given initiative but many future projects as companies strive to remain relevant. A charter is a written manifesto of the project’s reason to exist. It outlines the process, responsibilities and timing, and more importantly, clearly defines the roles and requirements of each of the involved stakeholders, including external resources.


Several years ago, our firm was retained by a major retailer to redefine its business model and customer-branded experience as a means of overcoming the rise in online shopping and showrooming. This client’s broad project brief had been drafted by the project lead and endorsed by the Senior Vice President of Retail. However, during the initial strategy and creative presentation, it became apparent that the organization was not aligned with the final project destination and its impact on the various stakeholders’ areas of responsibility.

More importantly, such a lack of organizational alignment does nothing to decrease the typical organization silos or ensure the outcome will succeed. This is not uncommon, and it often leads to increased project costs and delayed launch dates. 

Organizational change and brand transformation are great platforms to unite the different capabilities of an organization, and we believe that care should be given to gaining alignment before considering executional tactics. The ability to foster a strong understanding of the value and importance of the initiative needs should be integrated with the answer to “What’s in it for me?” for all stakeholders. Unless an organization aligns with the outcome of a rebranding initiative and gains the support of the involved stakeholders, initiatives will often fail and reveal inter-departmental issues. 


Project charters are written manifestos of the project’s reason to exist. They outline the process, responsibilities and timing. More importantly, it will clearly define the roles and requirements of each involved stakeholder, including external resources and capabilities. 

The actual value of the project charter lies in the process required to arrive at a final approved document. The alliance allows the project lead to solicit information and gain input while drafting the manuscript, ensuring that all critical viewpoints and factors are considered. Collaborative in nature, the process establishes a platform for understanding, ensuring everyone participating in the process understands their role and the roles of their colleagues. 

Drafting a project charter also allows the project lead to ensure no gaps in the process, highlight the high-risk stages and deliverables, and verify that all key stakeholders have endorsed and approved the charter before starting the initiative. More importantly, creating a clearly articulated document ensures that the project remains focused on strategy, irrespective of management or leadership changes.


Over the years, we have been exposed to various project charters (based on precedents, legal advice, HR involvement, company culture, etc.). We have combined the best and created a version covering most assignments. 

We recommend that the project charter sections consist of the following core elements:

  • Project Charter Purpose;
  • Project Executive Summary;
  • Business Needs;
  • Project Objectives;
  • Items Out of Scope;
  • Assumptions;
  • Constraints;
  • Risks;
  • Costs;
  • Timelines/Critical Path;
  • Approach;
  • Cash Flow Investment Schedule;
  • Project Team Organization Plan;
  • Approvals.

The intended audience of the project charter is the project sponsor and senior leadership. The charter tracks the required information for approval and should include the needs, scope, justification, and resource commitment.

The following section outlines what each section should include when drafting a project charter. The document can add new units, pending legal requirements and confidentiality needs.

Charter change management

Changes will be applied to the charter document according to the following procedure, and is noted in the covering page section:

  • Direct all change requests to the author of this document;
  • Each change request will be considered. If accepted, the change will be incorporated into a new draft of this document;
  • The latest draft of this document will be circulated for review by appropriate project resources;
  • Approval of the new draft will be by the concurrence of those individuals participating in the study;
  • Once concurrence is achieved, the draft becomes the new version of this document, replacing any existing and previous versions;
  • This document will be distributed to appropriate project resources, and a new version will be notified.

Drafting the purpose section

This section outlines a high-level view of the desired project outcome and reasons for its initiation. Identifying the different types of overall deliverables and any metrics that need to be achieved as part of the outcome is essential. It helps bring focus to the real problem, establishes initial criteria for project success, provides an initial project scope, and identifies core business needs. It may give quantifiable business information to support initial ballpark costs during sizing efforts. 

The purpose section should answer the questions: 

  • What is the desired benefit and outcome of the project?
  • What are the overarching strategies to achieve the use?
  • What are the selected vital metrics? 
  • What are the critical criteria for success? 

Briefly describe the current business environment, including structure, capability, and process, as well as specific goals driving the need for this project. The purpose section of the charter is often derived from the CEO’s long-term strategy and vision for the organization and how it will be achieved through this given project. Before the actual charter document draft is initiated, we recommend that the purpose section be defined and crafted as part of senior leadership team discussions. 

Defining the business needs

The business needs section provides more excellent details about the intention and final destination of the project and answers the following questions:

  • What business or market dynamics drove the need for the project?
  • What are the critical requirements for the project?

Defining the business needs will help give greater context to the project drivers and flag key challenges. It will also allow the stakeholders to combine efforts in addressing critical challenges during briefings.

Identifying measurable business goals

Objectives describe what the project will achieve and deliver and should be “SMART”: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Based. Specific and concrete objectives should be deliverable-based. The completion of a dream should be evident through creating one or more deliverables. If the high-level statement does not imply the creation of a deliverable, it may be a goal. If the information is too low-level and describes features and functions, it may be a requirement statement.

Define what is out of scope

One of the critical reasons projects run into difficulties is confusion about what is not included in the project scope. This “scope creep” may arise simultaneously with new tactical opportunities or unintentionally when different stakeholders have conflicting views of what is being delivered. The unfortunate impact of such misalignment is that issues arise further down the execution process, where course corrections can be costly and timely. What is not in scope must be identified and highlighted to avoid these issues as part of the project charter. 

Out of scope should answer the following questions:

  • What deliverables are not included in the project and why?
  • What expenses, investments or related costs are not included?
  • What support and resource components are not included?

Making the correct business assumptions

Assumptions are crucial to the success of a project, as they are the variables the organization took into consideration when it committed to the project. They also allow projects the leap of faith from known facts to an educated guess around pertinent information. These project hypotheses cover the various facets that will impact the project’s outcome. The following may serve as a starting point worth considering:

  • Effort: The estimated tasks and activities required to manage the project and produce deliverables.
  • Schedule: The estimated tasks and events needed to complete the project are organized into a structured sequence to meet a specified project end date.
  • Resources: The estimated staff resources needed to complete the project, according to the type, work hours, and skills.
  • Budget: The estimated project cost, allocated to tasks, resources and phases as needed to complete the project.
  • Vendors and Procurement: The anticipated performance of contractors, vendors and suppliers to deliver goods and services according to signed agreements and project requirements.
  • Management Process: Management standards can serve as a constraint on project performance.
  • Product Offering: The range of services and offerings which will form part of the initiative and potential gaps.
  • Digital Omnichannel: The path to purchase dimensions across the various product offerings and the impact on digital versus conventional experiences and platforms.

Raising the flag on risks

Every transformation project involves a certain level of risk. The project charter must identify these risks and potential strategies to overcome them as the project progresses. This risk typically falls into the following categories:

  • Investment: Budget overruns due to the uncertainty of critical phases of the project.
  • Commitment: Ability to access the right resources and people to provide information or support the initiatives.
  • Communication: Ensuring all key stakeholders are aligned and updated on the project’s progress.
  • Process: Certain phases of the project may have a higher risk of timely completion due to variables outside the project team’s control.
  • Restrictions: The project may be impacted by local or federal laws and regulations which could be under review during the project stages.
  • Identifying the project costs

This section of the project charter identifies all potential costs associated with the project and should outline when the charges are incurred as part of the project timing. Prices should include fees, disbursements and any outside resources required to complete the assignment. 

Outlining the project timelines

A detailed and thorough project timeline is included to support the process and key milestones. This is critical as time commitment from the senior leadership team and steering committee can impact the project schedule, jeopardizing key phases and deliverables. The project timeline should include all project streams across the various departments and roles that may affect the outcome.

Define the process and key deliverables

The project charter should include a high-level project process with key deliverables that reflect the presented proposal. Each primary phase and the task must be highlighted and aligned to the critical path and cash flow sections.

Provide a high-level cash flow schedule

To support the process and timelines, the project charter should include a billing schedule which aligns with the strategy and timelines.

Identify the project team structure.

This section of the project charter should clearly articulate each individual in the project and their specific roles within the process and deliverables. It is essential to understand and define the role of each person on the project and what portion of the deliverables they are directly responsible for. Clearly defining roles will avoid any confusion or potential gaps in the project.

Clarify the approval process

Most projects have several tiers of approval, and the project charter needs to identify the approval process and critical individuals responsible. On complex projects, the approval process needs to determine who approves each key deliverable and which form the approvals need to be documented (email, written memo, in-person, meeting minutes, etc.)


Most projects fail due to a lack of alignment and clarity about the destination. Scope creeps, miscommunication, poorly managed expectations and cost overruns are all potential risks of a project that can be avoided through the development of an effective project charter. Much care must be assigned to drafting and approving this document within the organization before initiating any project.


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