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Project Charter

What Do You Mean – Charter Your work?


Working today is especially challenging. Work groups are geographically dispersed. They work on different schedules and time zones. It’s not easy to keep work in motion.  A project charter is a great tool to get everyone synchronously rowing the boat in the same direction while working asynchronously.

Concretize your problem and objectives


The primary purpose of a project charter is to authorize project managers to start work and use organizational resources to get the work done.  Project charters are a key tool used in formal project management methods as identified by the Project Management Institute in their Body of Knowledge (PMBok) as well as Lean Six Sigma and Design for Six Sigma continuous improvement work. Projects without formal project charters tend to drift and become aimless. A project charter helps bring everyone together and concretize the problem you intend to solve and the objectives. This article explains the ease of chartering work and how to leverage the charter to sow the good seeds of success. We’ll even show you some good examples to inspire you to get started. 

A Bird’s Eye View

Most of our work in business is project related. We have some problem we are trying to solve, a decision to make, some objectives and some expected deliverables.  Project charters provider a bird’s eye view of the work by describing the framework for what problem we are trying to solve, the objectives or goals, the scope and high-level deliverables.  Adding a few additional details for the project leader, team members, high level benefits of the work, and expected duration really round the out the document as a valuable project management tool. I recommend creating a project charter for anything outside of your set of standard daily work.

Give it a name

Naming your project will provide a frame of reference for discussion with the stakeholders, and for scheduling work sessions with team members. Think of a succinct statement that describes the project. Use verbs that provide direction of improvement, nouns that describe benefits. “Reduce customer order wait time” is an example of a simple name for a project.

Write a Good Problem Statement and Objective(s)

How many times have you been invited to a meeting only to get there or worse sit through it for an hour and not understand the purpose? Write problem statements and objectives to define the purpose of the project which defines the problem you are trying to solve and what you intend to do about it. Add those to the one-page Charter.  Use the SMART acronym to write them.  Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timebound.  A problem well defined, is a problem half solved…Charles Kettering.

Define the Deliverables

Project deliverables are the specific measurable end results that you aim to produce. There are no sets of deliverables that everyone uses. Deliverables vary by industry and individual project. Project deliverables can be concrete objects like a building or software application. They can be reports or documents. They can be intangible like an employee training program. Deliverables can also be internal or external – it just depends on who is the customer of the deliverable.

Prevent Scope Creep with Scope Statements

After months of hard work to meet business objectives, and presenting the deliverables…hey can you do a few more things?  Heard that before?  It is demotivating. I like to spend this time celebrating success instead of adding on work. Writing “in scope” and “out of scope” statements help clarify the boundaries of your work and prevent scope creep.  Finish the work that is in scope first. If a request for additional scope is made, either treat that new scope as a separate opportunity with its own Project Charter or add that additional scope to the continuous process improvement parking lot. 

Define the duration with Start and End Dates

At a minimum, include the expected or actual start date of the project and the estimated completion date.  Estimated completion dates should align with when the deliverables will be complete. 

Who is on the Team?

For the charter, I like to include just the core team members. That handful of folks that are core to the team and the leadership sponsor.  Denote who the leader(s) are, the subject matter experts and sponsors. If there are more than 5-7 folks here, your team might be too large.

Get Approval & Go

Use the team to craft the charter and then review it with the sponsor. Make adjustments if required. This will ensure everyone is aligned on what the problem is, what we intend to do about it, and when the situation will be better.  The problem is now “half-solved”


Project charters are a formal way to gain management support for work. The Charter authorizes a leader and team on a clear path aligned with organizational expectations. They set clear expectations for project outcomes. They define the scope of the work and prevent scope creep.  They can be created in a short amount of time and simplified to one page. They concretize the approach. Probably one of the most value-add tools in a project management toolbox.  When the great work is complete, the project charter serves as evidence of “how it all started” – leaving behind a legacy of success.

Want to learn more about redesigning processes?  Stay tuned for future publications from Rob Whaley

• Charter your Work

• SMART Problem Statements & Objectives

• Make the Invisible – Visible: Mapping Processes

• Innovate using Ideal State Mapping

• Getting the Big R on Paper – Using RASIC diagrams to get work done

• Value Stream Mapping – Demystified and Simplified

• Processes Need a Constant Gardner – How to Maintain and Monitor   Processes

• Earning the Right to Innovate – Finish the DMA to get on your way to Solutioning

• If Nothing Changes, Nothing Changes – Using change management to grease the skids for change



Rob Whaley

Rob Whaley is an Operational Excellence Master at General Motors with over 25 years of process improvement experience. He is a certified Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt and Design for Six Sigma Master Black Belt. Rob helps organizations map their way to successful innovation using his unique yet simple approaches to practical problem-solving.