PMP project charter

The Power of a Project Charter: Purpose, Creation, and Best Practice

The project charter is an essential component of project management, and in addition, for a Project Management Professional (PMP) candidate, a complete understanding of the project charter is critical for success on the PMP exam. This blog post will explore the role of a project charter, its key components, the process of project charter creation, and best practices.

What is a Project Charter?

A project charter is an important document that formally authorizes the existence of a project. It outlines the project’s purpose, objectives, scope, high-level requirements, key deliverables, project sponsor, and project manager’s responsibilities and authority levels.

The project charter serves as a reference point and guide for stakeholders throughout the project, providing a clear understanding of the project’s goals and boundaries. The project charter is typically signed off by the project sponsor, symbolizing the organization’s commitment to the project.

Role of a Project Charter

The project charter serves as an overview of the project’s high-level constraints, project risk, boundaries, and stakeholders. Additionally, it helps with gathering requirements to create the project scope statement.

The project charter is defined at the very beginning of a project, during the project initiation phase. It ensures that everyone involved in the project is aligned from the start and provides a reference point for making decisions throughout the project lifecycle.

Once the project charter is developed and signed off by the project sponsor, it grants the project manager the authority to proceed with the project planning process and to apply organizational resources.

Why is a Project Charter Useful?

A project charter is useful because it acts as a cornerstone for initiating and defining a project. By formally authorizing the existence of the project and allocating necessary resources, the project charter aligns stakeholder expectations and facilitates effective communication.

Project charters also empower project managers by establishing their authority and responsibilities, fostering efficient decision-making and resource management. Additionally, the project charter serves as a starting point for detailed planning and the development of the project management plan, ensuring a clear direction and the necessary support for project success.

Who Signs and Issues the Project Charter?

The project charter is typically created by a combination of stakeholders, including the project initiator or sponsor, project manager, business analyst, and potentially some members of the project team. Input from these stakeholders helps ensure that the project charter accurately reflects the project’s purpose, objectives, and scope.

The project sponsor, who is usually a high-ranking member of the organization with decision-making authority, is responsible for signing and approving the project charter. By signing the project charter, the project sponsor formally authorizes the project to proceed and grants the project manager the authority to utilize organizational resources for the project’s execution.

Project Charter vs. Project Scope vs. Project Management Plan

The project charter initiates the project and provides high-level information, while the project management plan and project scope statement build upon and refine this information, providing more detailed guidance for the project’s execution and management.

Project Charter: This formal document provides a high-level overview of the project’s purpose, objectives, scope, and key stakeholders. It also establishes the project manager’s authority and serves as a foundation for the project.

Project Management Plan: The project management plan is a comprehensive document that outlines how the project will be executed, monitored, controlled, and closed. It builds upon the information provided in the project charter and includes more detailed plans for scope, schedule, cost, quality, resources, communication, risk, procurement, and stakeholder management.

Project Scope Statement: The project scope statement is a detailed description of the project’s scope, including the project’s boundaries, deliverables, and acceptance criteria. It refines and elaborates on the scope information presented in the project charter and serves as a reference for the project team and stakeholders throughout the project lifecycle.

Key Components

To create a project charter, you typically need input from various stakeholders and project team members. The specific inputs may vary depending on the organization and project, but here are the common elements required to create a project charter:

  1. Business Case: Present a compelling justification for the project that outlines the expected benefits, costs, and return on investment. It demonstrates the value and feasibility of the project.
  2. Project Purpose: Clearly state the reason for initiating the project, highlighting the problem or opportunity it aims to address.
  3. High-Level Requirements: Identify and document the key requirements or outcomes that the project must achieve to be considered successful.
  4. Defined at Organizational Level: Ensure that the project aligns with the organization’s strategic objectives, goals, and priorities. It should contribute to the organization’s overall mission and vision.
  5. Overall Project Risk: Assess and communicate the main risks and uncertainties associated with the project. This includes potential challenges, dependencies, and external factors that may impact the project’s success.
  6. Summary Key Milestone Schedule: Provide a high-level overview of the key project milestones, deliverables, and important deadlines. This helps to establish a timeline and identify critical points in the project’s progress.
  7. Pre-Approved Financial Resources: Secure confirmation or allocation of the necessary financial resources for the project. This includes budget approvals, funding sources, and any financial constraints or considerations.
  8. Project Approval Requirements: Define the criteria and process for obtaining project approval. Specify the decision-making authority and any required approvals from stakeholders or governing bodies.
  9. Project Exit Criteria: Identify the conditions or criteria that must be met for the project to be considered completed and ready for closure. This may include deliverables, quality standards, customer acceptance, or other relevant factors.
  10. Assigned Project Manager: Appoint a project manager who will be responsible for the overall planning, execution, and control of the project. Specify their role, authority, and responsibilities.
  11. Name and Authority of Project Sponsor: Identify the individual who will provide project sponsorship and support. Clarify their role, responsibilities, and decision-making authority levels.

How Do You Create a Project Charter?

To create a project charter, you typically need input from various stakeholders and project team members. Follow the steps outlined below, which align with the key components mentioned earlier:

  1. Define the Purpose and Project Scope: Clearly articulate the purpose of the project based on the business case and establish its boundaries, deliverables, and exclusions.
  2. Set Project Goals and Objectives: Identify and document the specific goals and objectives that the project aims to achieve. Ensure they are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).
  3. Establish Project Manager and Team Roles: Assign a project manager who will be responsible for overall project coordination and leadership. Define the roles and responsibilities of the project team members.
  4. Define High-Level Project Schedule: Develop a high-level project schedule that outlines the major milestones and key deliverables. This helps to provide an overview of the project’s timeline.
  5. Develop a High-Level Timeline and Budget: Create a timeline that identifies important project dates and milestones. Establish a high-level budget that outlines the estimated financial resources required for the project.
  6. Establish a High-Level Risk Management Plan: Identify potential project risks and uncertainties that may affect the project’s success. Develop a high-level plan to manage and mitigate these risks.
  7. Define Communication Protocols: Establish clear communication protocols and channels for effective information exchange among project stakeholders. Define how communication will be conducted, who needs to be involved, and the frequency and methods of communication.
  8. Obtain Formal Authorization: Seek formal approval and authorization for the project charter. This may involve obtaining sign-off from relevant stakeholders or governing bodies.

By following these steps, you can create a comprehensive project charter that outlines the purpose, scope, objectives, roles, schedule, budget, project risks, communication plan, and formal authorization of the project. Remember to tailor the project charter to the specific needs and requirements of your project and organization.

Tips and Best Practices

  • Use a standardized project charter template: Employ a project charter template specific to your organization or industry to ensure consistency and adherence to organizational guidelines.
  • Be clear and concise: Focus on high-level information and avoid getting into excessive detail. The project charter should provide a clear overview of the project without overwhelming the reader with unnecessary details.
  • Involve key stakeholders: Collaborate with relevant stakeholders, such as the project sponsor, project manager, business analyst, and potentially some members of the project team, to gather input for the project charter and ensure that all perspectives are considered.
  • Define project purpose and scope: Clearly articulate the project’s purpose and scope, outlining what the project aims to achieve and its boundaries. This helps provide a shared understanding among stakeholders.
  • Establish project milestones: Create a summary milestone schedule to keep the project on track and measure progress.
  • Establish roles and responsibilities: Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the project manager and other key team members. This helps to create accountability and ensure that everyone understands their role in the project.
  • Develop a high-level timeline and budget: Estimate the project’s timeline and budget, providing a baseline for tracking progress and managing resources.
  • Identify risks and mitigation strategies: Proactively identify potential risks and develop high-level plans for addressing and mitigating those risks throughout the project.
  • Establish communication protocols: Set communication channels and protocols for sharing information among stakeholders and keeping everyone informed about project progress.

By following these best practices, you can create an effective project charter that sets the foundation for successful project planning and execution.

Common Mistakes When Creating a Project Charter

Common mistakes in creating a project charter include:

  • Getting too detailed: The project charter should focus on high-level information, providing a clear overview of the project. Including excessive detail can overwhelm the reader and make the document less effective as a reference point.
  • Overloading the charter: Trying to include more information than necessary can make the project charter confusing and difficult to navigate. Stick to the essential elements to keep the project charter focused.
  • Blending team charter elements: Mixing team charter elements, such as individual roles and responsibilities, with the project charter can dilute the document’s purpose. Keep the focus on the project’s high-level goals and objectives.
  • Lack of stakeholder involvement: Failing to involve stakeholders in the creation of the project charter can lead to misaligned expectations and potential conflicts later in the project. Ensure that all relevant stakeholders contribute to the charter development.
  • Unclear objectives and scope: Ambiguous or poorly defined project objectives and scope can lead to confusion and scope creep. Clearly articulate the project’s purpose, goals, and boundaries to avoid misunderstandings.
  • Unrealistic timelines and budgets: Overly optimistic timelines and budgets can set the project up for failure. Ensure that your estimates are realistic and achievable to avoid disappointment and frustration later.
  • Insufficient risk identification: Failing to identify and address potential risks can lead to unexpected issues during the project. Proactively identify risks and develop high-level plans for mitigating them.
  • Inadequate communication protocols: Poorly defined communication channels and protocols can hinder information sharing and collaboration. Establish clear communication guidelines for the project.
  • Skipping formal authorization: Neglecting to obtain formal approval from the project sponsor can result in a lack of authority for the project manager to proceed. Ensure that the project sponsor signs off on the project charter.
  • Not revisiting the charter when needed: While the project charter should remain relatively stable, it may occasionally require clarification or adjustments. Failing to revisit the charter when necessary can lead to confusion and misaligned expectations.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can create a more effective project charter that serves as a solid foundation for your project.

Project Charter and the PMP Exam

The PMP exam assesses your knowledge, skills, and experience in project management. To succeed in the exam, you need to have a comprehensive understanding of the project charter and its role in project initiation. Some aspects you should focus on include:

  • The purpose of the project charter
  • Components of a project charter
  • The process of creating a project charter
  • Inputs to the project charter
  • The relationship between the project charter and other project documents, such as the project management plan and project scope statement
  • Best practices and common mistakes in creating a project charter
  • Integration with other knowledge areas in the PMBOK Guide

Tips for PMP Exam Success

To succeed on the PMP exam, make sure to study the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide, which serves as the foundation for project management best practices. In addition, consider attending PMP exam preparation courses, participating in study groups, and utilizing online resources such as practice exams and discussion forums. A strong understanding of project charters will not only help you on the PMP exam but also enable you to apply this knowledge effectively in real-world project management situations.


The project charter is a vital tool in helping to define the project’s purpose, scope, and key stakeholders. By following best practices and involving all relevant stakeholders in its creation, a project charter can lay a strong foundation for successful project planning and execution.

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Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO
Director of Product Development at
Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO