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Writing a project charter is a waste of time, …. or is it?

“Why on earth would you spend time on a Project Charter!” was one of the first things I heard from a stakeholder when taking over a running project that had run foul. It was evident for me that a project charter was needed in this situation, but I felt I needed a compelling story for more skeptic contemporaries.

Why do you need a project charter?

The project charter outlines what is to be achieved in a project, outlines the way forward including roles and responsibilities. I see it as a contract between the organization and the project leader which will be used as a reference throughout the project.

To determine why such a document is required, let’s start by looking at a few things that could go wrong. The particular project which I referred to earlier had run into quite a few issues: budget overrun, timelines missed and the overall project far behind schedule, a quarreling project team, a discordant steering committee …

After sorting out the mess, three major topics came up: non-aligned objectives and scope creep, lack of resources and skills as well as lack of financial transparency resulting in a budget overrun. In addition, there were also people issues on this project. Whilst a project charter can give a common base of understanding, the people issues need to be considered and taken care of in parallel.

How does the project charter help to avoid these problems?

First and foremost, your project charter brings together all your stakeholders, defines the common goal as well as the rationale why this project should be done. As a project manager this is your license to run the project requesting other people’s time and resources.

One critical success factor is aligned objectives. There needs to be a common understanding amongst the stakeholders of the problem to be solved as well as the required achievements and deliverables of the project. Nevertheless, objectives and way forward are also linked to other ongoing activities in the organization. Well-aligned objectives will prevent redundancies and avoid results diametrically opposed to what everyone else in the organization is trying to achieve.

The next critical success factor is the scoping of the project. The scope defines what is done within the project and equally important what is not done. If the scope is not well defined ahead of time and diligently followed thru during the project, a monster called “scope creep” emerges. Scope creep happens when lots of ideas and problems that are related to your project start to become part of the project. Which in turn makes your problem bigger and bigger …. until it becomes practically unsolvable.

In the end this boils down to being able to effectively and efficiently use your scarce resources to reach the objectives of your project.

Now how to convince the skeptic?

Personally, I would recommend to anyone whether at the start of a new initiative or if it is already underway, to make sure, a formal project charter is established and approved by the stakeholders. The project by itself will pose enough challenges along the way, let’s at least make sure to operate from a stable base. So far, I have yet to meet a single skeptic who hasn’t turned into a fervent fan of project charters by the conclusion of a successful project.

If you found this article interesting, please leave a comment or follow my blog at

Key building blocks of a project charter and key success factors will be the topic of one of my next blogs.

Additional Ressource: A Guide To Managing Scope Creep

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