Project Practitioners > Five Fundamentals to Avoid Project Failure: Part 1 - Project Charter

Five Fundamentals to Avoid Project Failure: Part 1 - Project Charter

By Jerry Perone

In my last blog, I initiated a discussion about the fundamentals of project management that are most important for managing projects.  To start off this week's discussion, here they are:

1) Project Charter
2) WBS
3) Critical Path
4) Control and Governance
5) Risk management

It's important to also recognize and highlight that these are NOT the only fundamentals of project management.  There are in fact numerous fundamentals.  However, I want to look at some of the fundamentals in more detail, examine their importance in overall project management.  In each of the following blogs, I will discuss one of these fundamentals in more detail, beginning this week with the Project Charter.

Knowing how to develop a project charter is a critical skill.  From a high-level, the project charter defines the project.  This important step of project planning is frequently either overlooked, forgotten about, or project managers do not realize the importance of this fundamental step.  Some project managers have never actually created a project charter.  When it is overlooked, it sets the project up for failure, immediately!

Have you ever needed driving directions to get to someone's house and not looked them up on the computer or had a GPS available?  Just think about the time that a small mistake adds to your project.  Not taking the five minutes to grab directions could increase the entire project time by more than double or even triple.  Or worse, the project could fail, and then you could be forced to turn around and go home – total project failure.

This idea is no different for projects! It sounds almost too simple.  Write a high-level project definition to know where you're going.  Without it, your project may fail.  And remember, your project charter is not your project plan.

So, how do you write a charter? Here are important steps that should be taken to develop a project charter:

1. Create a list of stakeholders, important people who will receive information about the project.

2. Create a log to track revisions, who made them, and when they were made.

3. Write a brief executive summary made up of the following elements:

  • Business case
  • Business need
  • Strategic importance
  • Benefits
  • Measures of success
  • Resource estimate

4.  Define the project by writing the following:

  • Mission
  • Objectives
  • Scope
  • Assumptions
  • Constraints
  • Major risks

5. Create a project organization consisting of the following:

  • Human resource requirements
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Organizational breakdown structure (high-level org chart)

It is important when developing project charters that project managers keep in mind that these are high-level descriptions and explanations.  It should not take a large amount of time, energy, and effort.  Once completed, the project charter should reveal basic information about the project that will help the project manager and the team develop a project plan.

Remember, I'm calling this a fundamental of project management because developing a charter is not simply about doing it – you must do it well!  It takes skill, practice, and patience to develop thorough, accurate, and well thought out project charters.  The more frequently this fundamental is practiced, the better your charters will become and the greater chance of project success you will have.

Next week – WBS!

Thanks for stopping by,

Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

I just ran into your take on a Project Charter. You say it should not take a lot of time, energy, and effort, yet you mention 5 steps which make it a major effort and provide the whole plan. The class I took said a PC could even be as small as a memo yet where I work and your article above make a PC describe every part of the project which takes it past just a high-level. It seems to me that the PC should be the brainstorm and the Bus. Case (benefits or needs). Once okayed, then the other forms should delve into specifics. What is actually correct: the 5 steps or high-level?


I can see where you are coming from and I would say the amount of time effort for the Charter needs to reflect the size and risk profile of the Project. That is, small project = small Charter, big and risky project = large Charter.

The other headings I would put in a Charter are "approach" (i.e. very high level overview on how the body of work will be actioned) and "resource effort" (i.e. amount of internal and external resources, human and $'s, that are estimated). Of course, this estimate would be refined during the Planning stages such as WBS development and the like.


Do you need to do Project Charter for all Project? If not what would be definition of Major, Medium and small Projects? IS it measured and defined based on 'Time, Cost, Quality" or risks involved?

do you have to do project charter when you're as you are the contractor for the project.

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