A great idea means nothing if you can't convince others of its worth. For that, you need a fantastic elevator pitch. Contrary to what you might think, that doesn't mean you should stand in the company elevator practicing a rapid-fire sales speech before the doors open again.
We hate to burst your bubble, but the reality is your project needs approval before you can take action. There’s a lot to think about when it comes to project management. So, before any key stakeholders give you the thumbs up, you need to get your proverbial ducks in a row. What you need is a project charter.
Here’s what you’ll learn in this article:
- What is a project charter?
- Why do you need a project charter?
- 10 critical elements of a project charter template
- 3 examples of project charter template
- How to create a project charter template with Cascade
What is a project charter?
A project charter is a concise, formal document that outlines the essential details of any project, namely the objectives, the scope of the project, and an explanation of the stakeholders and their responsibilities that will help you achieve your goals.
Also known as the project definition or project statement, this integral aspect of project management is the foundation of your internal marketing and strategy.
Think of your project charter as the documented version of an elevator pitch. It's a short and sweet summary of the project, which you can use to convince your partners, employees, and investors to get on board.
Why do you need a project charter?
Imagine you've got a hot new SaaS product. It's time to launch a new marketing campaign. The world is going to love this—all you have to do is get the word out and watch the sales roll in as your team party like it's 2019. Your team is ready. They just need the plan.
You step up to the mic and say, “Go do stuff!”
The silence is deafening. It doesn’t matter if your idea is a unicorn, dragon, or any other kind of mythical beast—without clarity of how to execute, your team can’t bring it to life.
We don’t like to exaggerate much at Cascade. So, you can believe us when we say that the project charter is the single most valuable document in your entire project. (Yes, really). But why?
Because this vital asset is much more than words on paper—it’s the one source of truth that brings everyone together.
It’s the driving force behind team alignment, the North Star that unites everyone under a shared vision.
The project charter is your blueprint for success.
Here are six benefits of a project charter that will make you do a happy dance (when nobody is watching, obviously):
1. Defines your project objective
If your project lacks specific objectives, your team won't have a clear sense of direction. Without context, the only thing that will roll in is tumbleweeds. Your project charter sets the goals, so everyone knows what they must do—this will save you a lot of wasted time and resources.
2. Aligns your project’s objectives with organizational objectives
There are no wasted efforts in a smart strategy. Every project has its place in the greater scheme. With a good project charter, you can explain how these objectives connect to your broader organizational goals and company vision. If you have to woo investors or persuade reluctant employees, this clarity is vital.
3. Encourages company-wide buy-in
When your project takes its first little baby steps, the project charter is your go-to marketing tool. This spit-polished version of your master plan can sway key stakeholders to give their approval. Whether you need to get a sign-off from grumpy George the CCO or persuade a lead investor to flex their pursestrings, a good project charter can sway fence-sitters like a Jedi mind trick.
4. Authorizes project managers to execute
Your project charter grants formal authorization to project managers so that they can get busy with execution. If you don't have the go-ahead to commit your company resources, there's a chance the big chiefs in the company might cancel the project at any time (and put you in the naughty corner for your attempt to run an unauthorized project).
5. Prevents scope creep
When projects don’t have clear boundaries around the project deliverables, you will face the frustrations of scope creep. This ugly little gargoyle can pop up in poorly-planned projects to torment teams, blow budgets, and derail launch dates and end dates. But when you master project management, you won't have to worry about this because you'll have a project charter, right?
6. Provides continuity even if there are personnel changes
People come and go. Some change teams, and some change roles. This disruption could cause issues for your team and their quest to hit your organizational goals. But there's something that can keep the train chugging along even if there's a new coal-shoveller or conductor. That's right, you guessed it, it's a project charter. It’s the ultimate roadmap that keeps you on track for the entire project lifecycle (even as team members change).
10 Critical elements of a project charter template
Typically, all project charters will include the reasons that the project exists, the benefits of the project for the client or company, and an overview of the project budget.
While the nitty-gritty details may vary from one company to the next, here are ten critical components that we recommend you include in your project charter:
1. Project description
Up top, you drop the basic details about the project—the title and an explanation of its purpose. In other words, what is this all about, and why should anyone give two hoots?
2. Project organization
Next up, you should lay out the information about the people behind the plan. You'll have a project sponsor and project manager at the very least. But you can also list project team members and other stakeholders and mention their roles and responsibilities here.
3. Goal statement
Your project needs clear objectives, or your team will be running around in circles, looking busy instead of being effective. Want to accelerate progress faster than your teenage interns leave the office on a Friday? Set specific, measurable project goals that align with your corporate strategic goals.
4. Business need
When you need to ignite support for the idea, there's no better way than to point out how a new project will solve some problem in your business.
A business need (aka business case) helps you connect the project with the organization's strategic goals and sell the idea to stakeholders. For example, you could say that this project will help increase user engagement on your mobile app.
5. Project scope
In the scope, you clarify the limits for the project deliverables. Remember what we said about that little creep popping up to ruin everyone's fun? Set the boundaries here, and everyone will know what's covered—and what's not.
6. Assumptions & Constraints
Clear expectations from the outset will help you succeed. When issues arise, it’s usually because of unclear assumptions. Consider any key assumptions, and detail them in your project charter. Also, think about potential project constraints, such as issues with the budget, time, or resources.
We hate to be a fun sponge, but it's crucial to think about what could go wrong in the project. You don't want to point out risks that could ruin your chances of getting approval for the project.
But if you're too optimistic, you could push forward with blind spots. Here's a happy twist: when you're more honest about expectations and potential risks, you'll foster more trust in your mission!
8. Project budget
Ah, money. You didn't think you could plan any project without talking about Dolla Dolla bills, did you? Before you can get the go-ahead, you'll need to let the company know what the project will cost. Break it down, and show how it's worth the expense.
9. Project timescale
Things can happen along the way that might cause delays. For example, if your project manager gets his fingers stuck in the paper shredder trying to save what he thought was the only copy of the charter.
Nevertheless, you should set a high-level timeline with project milestones. This project schedule will give your teams something to work with from the start, and you can adjust as you progress (once your manager has their fingers back again).
10. Define acceptance criteria
Also known as success criteria, this final step in the project charter is all about how you will determine if the project has been a hit or miss. Typically, you can use the triple constraint elements—time, cost, and scope—to make the call.
Of course, the key performance indicators (KPIs) will vary from one project to another. Maybe losing fingers is one of those game-changer metrics? You decide.
3 Project charter template examples
You're probably chomping at the bit to make your own project charter. But what does it actually look like? Here are a few examples of a project charter that include many of the key elements mentioned above:
Project charter template example #1: Volta River Authority
This project charter ticks the main boxes. In addition to the objectives and high-level description, it has a field to specifically explain how this project aligns with the corporate objective—never forget the big picture! Other fields include the benefits, assumptions, constraints, project risks, and deadlines.
Source: Template Archive
Project charter template example #2: UCLA
Unlike the example above, the UCLA project charter emphasizes the deliverables. This approach ensures a very detailed scope, so you can set boundaries that protect against anyone who tries to tack on extras (if they dare).
Source: Template Archive
Project charter template example #3: Thomas Carlos Consulting
The third example of a project charter focuses a lot on the people involved. The first page of the document includes fields for a steering committee, project sponsor, and project manager, as well as notes to explain the duties of the working group.
Source: Template Archive
How to create a project charter template with Cascade
Will another document help you achieve more? Or is this just another sheet for the growing stack of dead tree slices in your drawer? Another boring presentation that everyone will forget before Friday night’s office drinks?
It doesn't have to be that way—there's a better way. You can ditch the manual templates and manage everything through Cascade.
Wait, what’s Cascade again?
Cascade is a strategy execution platform that takes organizational project management to a new level.
Our solution means that teams can:
- Align their projects with the company’s strategic plans and objectives
- Collaborate across departments and business units
- See project status in real-time with just a click of a button
- Automatically generate standardized reports on progress
- Stay on top of deadlines to avoid project delays
Here’s how you can manage your projects within Cascade:
Tasks. Create and assign daily activities linked to projects.
Milestones. Break your projects down into major milestones for easier management and reporting. With clear targets, everyone can focus on what matters.
Duration/Dates. Every activity, goal, and project needs a deadline. When you assign responsibilities and set the target dates, it motivates people to do their part to keep the vision on track.
Notes/extra detail. Your success will depend on how much information you share. You can bring context to every conversation and day-to-day execution for the whole team, so they can always focus on what’s important.
Risks/Issues. Help your people approach each deadline with certainty. Cascade makes it possible to manage open risks through a range of features, such as risk scores and heatmaps. Prepare for the potential pitfalls, and you’ll be less likely to fall into them.
Project dependencies. Cascade brings your strategy to life with meaningful visualizations and highly customizable views. With Cascade Maps, people can see who is working on what, so they can cross-collaborate and improve team alignment.
Take your project management to a new level
The sole purpose of project management is to shepherd your people to successfully complete the key actions in the project.
The success of any project depends on the foundation you set out in the beginning. This is where the project charter plays a key part.
However, this is just the beginning. You and your team have to complete the project and deliver on the promise.
That’s why it’s so important to select the right tools for the job.
Do you want to embrace an evolved approach to project management that improves team alignment and execution?