Project Charter Tips-How to Write A Concise Project Charter

What is a Project CharterA concise Project Charter will provide direction and a framework for your project. But writing a Charter can be viewed as a tedious obligation that is difficult and time consuming, with uncertainty about what should be included.

That’s why this article gives guidance on how to write a concise Project Charter that includes the 8 essential elements and at the same time is inviting for your team and stakeholders to pick up and read.

A thoughtful Project Charter is concise and focused. The saying – “Sorry for writing such a long letter, I would have made it shorter if I had more time,” is variously attributed to a number of authors including Blaise Pascal and Mark Twain. But the sentiment is timeless. Clarity and brevity are the hallmarks of great writing. And this applies equally to your Project Charter.

So how long (or short) should a Project Charter be? Aim for no more than two typed pages, and a single page is even better. Surprised? It is tempting to assume that the longer a document the more expertise it must contain and the more authority and clout it must have. Beware. Lengthy documents can often be a hiding place for fuzzy thinking, poor writing and repetition, and can fail to hit the high points which get lost in a morass of detail. You may need an extended Project Charter for a complex, large-scale project, but in my experience a Project Charter of no more than two pages neatly fits the bill for 80% of projects. Looking at it from another angle, using the 80/20 principle, a concise Charter will meet the requirements for 80% of projects and you will expend only 20% of the effort that you would on a longer and unnecessarily complex document.

Let’s take a closer look at how this can be achieved. The Project Charter contains 8 essential elements.

  1. Project Authorization
  2. Goals and Scope
  3. Deliverables
  4. Business Case
  5. Project Manager’s Authority
  6. Time frame
  7. Budget Summary
  8. Project Sponsor

As a guide, use no more than 100 words to describe each element. At an average of 15-20 words per sentence – that’s about 5-7 sentences per element. But feel free to use lists as well to describe elements – for instance, high level deliverables or project milestones. And some elements, such as the Project Authorization, can be covered in only one or two sentences.

If you find you need a longer Project Charter for a complex, larger scale project, then think seriously about how you can chunk it down. This makes it clearer and more accessible to your audience. Ricardo Semler in his ground-breaking book “Maverick” explains how he required all company memos, minutes, letters, reports and even market surveys to be limited to one page. Longer memos were often ambiguous and could be interpreted in different ways, so requiring their team to be concise, clarified both their thinking and their message. It took practice, but was well worth the effort.

But, if you feel you absolutely need a multi-page Project Charter, think about providing one cover page that forms a succinct Executive Summary of your Charter. Your audience will love you for it and 80% of those who read it will be satisfied with the 20% of content it contains and will not have to delve any further into your Charter. Another example of the 80/20 principle at work!

In an age when we are continually bombarded with written material from a wide range of sources, concision is king. By investing in the discipline of writing a concise Project Charter, you will clarify your thinking; send a clear, unambiguous message to your audience; and save time and effort. These benefits are important for both the writer of the Charter and all the stakeholders who need to read and understand it.

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