What is a Project Charter?

What is a Project CharterWhat is a Project Charter and why is it important?

One of the first and most famous charters is the Magna Carta. Written in Medieval Latin almost 800 years ago, it set out the rights of citizens in feudal England and formed the foundation of modern democracies. It went through a number of adaptations and provided a basis for later constitutional documents including the Unites States Constitution which was inspired by those same principles.

The broad definition of Charter is a written document issued by an authority, creating an entity (in our case a project), and defining its rights, principles, purposes, rules and privileges.

A project charter announces that a new project has started and ensures your project gets off to the right start, with management support and aligned with organisational objectives. The multiple purposes of a project charter include:

  1. announcing a project has begun
  2. authorizing the project
  3. demonstrating management support for the project and project manager
  4. setting out management expectations for the results
  5. spelling out the nature and scope of the work
  6. broadly defining the project deliverables, schedule and budget
  7. aligning the project with organisational objectives

What are the benefits of a Project Charter?

To understand the benefits of crafting a well-written a project charter let’s imagine a project without a charter. What could go wrong? And how does having a comprehensive project charter overcome these problems?

The overriding issue is that projects without a formal charter drift and become aimless because –

  • The project and the project manager lack authority. Projects are always competing for limited resources and the absence of formal authorization makes it difficult for project managers to obtain the required resources. The primary purpose of the charter is to formally authorize the project and most importantly, gives management’s stamp of approval for the project and the project manager.
  • There is no written demonstration of management support for the project. The act of creating a charter shows management support for the project and the project manager.  The Project Sponsor is named and gives their backing to the project.
  • There are no clear expectations for project outcomes. Without clear goals, project outcomes are unlikely to be achieved. The act of creating a charter forces senior management to spell out clearly what the project should do and sets out management’s expectations for results.
  • The scope and nature of the project may not be clearly defined. The project charter helps by setting out the nature and scope of the work. A formal charter reduces the potential for projects to grow in scope without control, a process called scope-creep.
  • The project could set off in a direction that is not aligned with organisational objectives. A key ingredient of a project charter is the inclusion of the Business Casethe benefits of the project to the organisation and how the project will contribute towards the organisation meeting its objectives.

A project charter provides a bird’s eye view of the project by describing a preliminary framework of the project’s goals, scope and high level deliverables. It demonstrates the commitment of the organization and senior management to the project and provides formal agreement about the projects details.  It will set your project on the right track and help it to continue in the right direction.

Your project charters will not be as famous or indeed as well known as the Magna Carta or the Constitution, but they serve a valuable project management purpose and will help you leave a legacy of successful projects behind you.

Continuing Professional Development offers a series of online project management courses to advance your project management skills and your career while adding to the intellectual wealth of individuals and organizations. Click here to find out more about our online Project Charter course. This course gives you practical skills so that you can confidently answer What is a Project Charter after you have completed the example project charter template based on our case study.


About the Author

Vivian’s career in professional engineering spanned 35 years of technical, business, management and governance experience. She draws on her industry experience to write articles that are practical and relevant to a wide range of readers. Her aim is to get you thinking and help you meet your continuing professional development requirements.


  1. Chandy says:

    Well written and to the point, with a bit of history too! Thanks!

  2. I love this. It truly explains crystal clearly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *