In my interactions with project managers, sometimes I ask: "How many of you know or have seen a project charter"? Some of the responses are noted below.
- What's that? Never heard of it.
- Is there any value in that documentation? Why so much documentation?
- We have project charters, but we never use it. It's only for compliance need.
While interacting, I found that above 90% of project managers have never seen a project charter! In fact, in one instance, around 5 to 7 people in leadership and management roles said they have never used a charter. And one C-level executive stepped-in to show a template of project charter in a laptop - it's seen for the first time by others and the executive said it's only there to show the prospective customers.
Before we get into these questions, let's understand what it is. The Project Management Institute (PMI®), defines project charter as:
"A document issued by the project initiator or sponsor that formally authorizes the existence of a project and provides the project manager with the authority to apply organizational resources to project activities."
Breaking it down, you can say:
- It's issued by the project initiator or sponsor. The initiator the program manager or portfolio manager because a project can be part of a program or portfolio. The initiator can also be an authorized person because a project can exist independently. It also can be issued by the sponsor(s), who is (are) primarily providing resources for the project.
- It formally authorizes the existence of the project. In other words, without a charter, the project has no proper existence at all in the organization.
- It authorizes the project manager to apply organizational resources to the project and its activities. In other words, you can formally ask other managers in your organization to have resources for your project.
A project charter also:
- Links the project to the strategic objectives of the organization.
- Creates a formal record for the project in the organization.
- Shows that the organization is committed to this project.
Now, these are formal project management aspects of the charter. But we all live in the real world where politics, blame-game and finger-pointing arise. The real world will have, many times, deviations when compared with formal project management. In the real world, the project charter has value for the following reasons:
1. It defines the project objectives and related success criteria.
How many times it happened that when a project or phase is complete, many stakeholders are saying it's not a successful project or can only be considered to be a "success" based on these "conditions"? I believe many of you would have heard or faced these situations. Project charter clearly shows the measurable project objectives and associated success criteria. These are approved by your key stakeholders, including the initiator or sponsor. Hence, the earlier questions mentioned, are less likely arise.
2. It defines the project exit criteria, i.e., when to close or terminate a project or phase.
Projects have to be terminated if they are not going to meet the project objectives or not in alignment with the business goals of the organization. Project charter helps in this regard.
3. Informs clearly who is the project manager and who is/are the project sponsor(s).
The project manager derives his or her authority, responsibilities from the project charter. It is clearly documented there.
The Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification, hence, puts strong emphasis on this project document. It flows across many processes across various knowledge areas/process groups of a project during the life cycle.
To understand where it flows, you can refer the below videos.
Part 1: Flow of Project Charter (2m 45s)
Part 2: Flow of Project Charter (3m 26s)
As you can see, the project charter flows across nearly 30% of the processes (total 49 project management processes) across the process groups - including the processes in Initiating Process Group, i.e., Identify Stakeholders process and Closing Process Group, i.e., Close Project or Phase process.
The title of the article says - project charter is the birth certificate of the project. Why? Because, without a project charter, a project is an orphan project, i.e., without a father or a mother. It is just floating around in the organization as it is an orphan one. Nobody really cares about it formally.
On the other hand, when you have a project charter, it becomes the birth certificate of the project. Because with the project charter, a formal record is created for the project in the organization. The organization and key stakeholders recognize the formal existence of the project.
It's possible that a project can be executed without a project charter at all...In the beginning, I said - 90% of the project managers have not seen a project charter. In these cases, blame games or finger pointing starts when the project is about to be closed. On the other hand, with the project charter a project is officially authorized, success criteria are clearly defined (and approved by the key stakeholders) and it also makes your life as a project manager somewhat easier.
- PMP Live Lessons - Guaranteed Pass or Your Money Back, by Satya Narayan Dash
- Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide, 6th Edition, by Project Management Institute (PMI)