Manage Projects Better With A Project Charter

Jim Hart

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Whether you are developing a project plan for a client, performing an internal project or hiring an outside consultant to manage a project for you, it makes good sense to have a project charter in place. A project charter defines the project, the scope of the project and resources available to support the project as well as granting certain authority to the project manager to have access to resources pursuant to completing the project (budget, personnel, facilities, etc).

A project charter is basically a written instrument that clarifies the project and the nature of the relationship between principal requiring services and the project manager. An authorized representative of the principal who is NOT the project manager should sign and authorize the charter before any work is performed. Why? The simplest reason is to avoid misunderstandings between the parties and potential for conflict.

If you are performing consulting or project management services for a client, it is in your best interests to have a formal charter to help protect against errors, omissions and a variety of other issues including budgetary constraints. It makes sense to have a written document that specifically defines the work product output expected and the time frame and methodology for deliverables.

If you are planning on hiring a project manager, a charter helps protect your interests if the project manager over steps the boundaries of the charter without your consent, giving you a level of control over the project without having to micro manage the details. A charter should be developed with the help of legal counsel and provide checks and balances along the spectrum of the project.

The key is to be aware that charters exist and should be designed to protect every one's interest that is involved in a project, even if you are an employee who will be acting as a project manager. Obviously, the size and scope of the project will dictate the need for and the level of detail of a charter. For example, purchasing an accounting software package for a single computer user is one type of project. Whereas implementing that same software across different computer platforms within different departments at different locations on an Intranet is another. The first would probably not require a charter but the second one is definitely a candidate for a charter.

Many people are not aware of project charters and could avoid a lot of problems by having one in place. And, as with most business documents, make sure you have a lawyer review the project charter before acceptance.

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