It’s always exciting to roll up your sleeves and start a new project. There’s so much potential for what can be learned along the way, the project’s impact on the organization, and what challenges can be overcome when the team works as one unit.

But what about before the team dives in? First, the key project details need to be established. Then, the project has to be approved. While gathering the right information can feel tedious and even like a waste of time, doing so is a must. To set the project up for success from the very start, you need a project charter.

What is a project charter?

A project charter is a comprehensive, detailed, formal, and short document that outlines your project from start to finish. This document will include details like the objectives, the project scope, how the project will be carried out, who the key stakeholders are, and who is responsible for which action item. A project charter is sometimes referred to as a project definition report or project statement.

As a crucial step in project management, the charter will authorize the project, serve as a baseline and single source of truth throughout the project, give everyone involved a shared understanding of the same information, and be considered as a contract that holds participants responsible for their portion of the work. Even though it’s a short document, the project charter may provide links to relevant sources and more detailed documentation.

Having a project charter is a necessary step in planning a project and will set the project up for success from the very beginning. 

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Differences between project charters and project timelines

When outlining a project charter, you should understand how it differs from a project timeline. The difference comes down to the details. On one hand, a project charter is a high-level document that should only be a few pages (at most!) and that includes details like the vision, scope, and responsibilities. On the other hand, a project timeline is a much more detailed document that describes when objectives will be completed. 

A project timeline is a detailed schedule that highlights all of the tasks involved, a deadline for each, the milestones the team should hit along the way, and when the entire project can be considered complete.

A project charter will come first, and the timeline will come later.

Benefits of a project charter

When done correctly, a project charter can lead to many benefits. For instance, the project charter:

  • Helps the team determine the value of the project before things get underway.
  • Clarifies the budget and ensures proper funding is available.
  • Provides a clear understanding to the team involved by including guidelines, criteria, and milestones.
  • Inspires confidence that the project is worthwhile and thoroughly planned out before it kicks off.
  • Establishes key stakeholders early on, clarifying who should be involved and when.
  • Provides the project manager with the necessary authority over the project.
  • Acts as your North Star and points the team in the right direction if things start to fall through the cracks.

How to create a project charter 

Creating a project charter can be easy if you follow the right steps. Let Fellow walk you through it with these seven steps for drafting a project charter!

1Decide on a project name

First and foremost, your project needs a name. This name should be as specific and straightforward as possible.

Some examples of project names that are short but give enough details are:

  • Employee Health Membership Reimbursement Plan
  • Content Audit to Improve Traffic and Time on Site
  • Landing Page Design for Product X
  • Smart Growth Hiring Strategy for 2022

2Include who will be on the project

Once the team has agreed on a name, include those who will work on the project and oversee the project. It’s okay not to know every single team member who will be involved just yet, but roles like a project manager, a project sponsor, and key stakeholders, as well as an idea of who the project team may consist of will be good to detail here. Once all these team members are listed, give a brief explanation of some of the to-dos or tasks for which they’ll be responsible.

3Use a template 

To ensure nothing falls through the cracks and no detail goes missed, use our Team Charter Meeting Template. This template can be used to discuss a set agreement designed by the team to keep everyone focused on its purpose and the results.

This template will answer critical questions like:

  • Who is the team leader?
  • What does success look like for the team?
  • What does each team member need to achieve their goal?
  • When and how often will check-ins occur?
  • How are we working to support the rest of the organization?

4Define the project’s goals and objectives

Next, make sure to define the goals and objectives of the project. The charter should explain why the project was proposed in the first place, the pain points it will help alleviate, and the impact it’ll have on the organization once it’s complete. 

For the goals and objectives, list details surrounding what the team wants to accomplish with the project and how the project aligns with larger organizational goals. For this step to succeed, teams should use a meeting tool like Fellow, which can keep track of goals and objectives in one place for anyone to reference throughout the project.

5Create a project roll-out plan 

Then, it’s time for a project roll-out plan. This plan will detail information like when the project will officially kick-off, deadlines and milestones along the way, and when the project should be considered complete. This plan keeps the project team accountable and entirely in the know of their expectations. The plan also helps stakeholders feel in the know about the project’s progress and if it’s still on schedule.

6Outline any potential blockers or problems 

What could go wrong? Ask yourself this as you write the project charter. Define problems, challenges, roadblocks, and potential blockers that could slow down the deadlines and milestones. Identifying potential issues can prepare your team for unforeseen challenges that may not have otherwise been expected. Being prepared for these possible challenges can also reduce the amount of problem-solving meetings the team has to hold.

7Create a project budget 

Finally, you have to make sure you have the funding for the project, so create a project budget. This cost estimate should also include who has the authority to spend the budget. The charter should always explain how much the project will cost and from where the money will come. The budget portion can also include resources that may be needed for the project’s success.

Project charter examples

Below are two examples of how a short and concise project charter may look.

Example 1

Project Name: Employee Health Membership Reimbursement Plan

Project Manager: Jane Doe

Project Purpose: Allow current employees to expense gym or health membership plans to promote mental health and wellbeing.

Project Objectives: Launch a project initiative with clear guidelines and directions for how employees can get reimbursed for their gym or health membership plans.

Project Scope

  • Clear one-pager to distribute amongst employees with instructions.
  • Presentation slides during upcoming all-hands going over information.
  • Meeting time slot for employees to join if they have questions.
  • Video walk-through of how to expense gym memberships.

Project Budget: $X,XXX

Project Stakeholders: John Smith and Liz Connors

Example 2

Project Name: Landing Page Design for Product X

Project Manager: John Smith

Project Purpose: Build a landing page for Product X that answers customers’ questions.

Project Objectives: Design team to create a landing page for Product X with real photos, FAQs, a clear call-to-action, and enticing copy.

Project Scope

  • Copywriters create clear, concise content for the landing page.
  • Designers develop four mockups of the landing page with varying copy and color schemes.
  • Engineers write code for the landing page.
  • The landing page is presented to stakeholders before launching for feedback and potential approval.

Project Due Date: September 1, 2022

Project Budget: $X,XXX

Project Stakeholders: Jane Doe and Melissa Fisher

Let’s get this project started

A detailed project charter is the foundation your project will stand on. Having these details in place, clear objectives, relevant stakeholders, and an understanding of what’s to come along the way helps make this foundation as strong as possible. Once the charter is approved, the team can move forward with other steps that get the project off the ground.