Project Charter

Writing a project charter

The project charter is a crucial document in project management. It lays out the project's purpose, objectives, stakeholders, risks, resources, and dependencies during the project planning stage.

Here, you’ll learn what’s included in the project charter and how to write one for your latest project.

Table of Contents

What is a project charter?

A project charter is a short, straightforward document that serves as the foundation for a project. The project charter functions as both the project’s internal marketing tool and reference guide.

Everything that stakeholders need to know about why a project needs to happen should be contained within the project charter. This document:

A charter should contain all the details decision-makers need to know. With potentially many other projects on the company to-do list, senior stakeholders need you to show them why yours has the potential to succeed, and so be deserving of the resources you’re requesting access to.

Difference between project charters and project plans.

There are some similarities between a project charter and a project plan, but the most obvious difference is the order in which they’re created.

How to write a project charter.

You shouldn’t expect to be able to begin a project unless you’ve completed the project charter. It’s what senior decision makers will use to sign off on a project.

First, project managers should hold a high-level discussion with their team and use this opportunity to gather information and insights from them. Since they’re the people who are being entrusted with executing the project, their expertise will be invaluable at this stage.

With that information, you’ll be able to determine the scope of the project and what the work will, and equally importantly, won’t, set out to achieve.

In your project charter, set out the key personnel tasked with completing the project. Include team members, stakeholders and any relevant teams who will be jumping on-board at relevant points.

Once teams have a good idea about the overall direction of the project, including stakeholder expectations, they can get started.

When writing the project charter, be sure to include each of the project charter elements listed below. After you complete your draft, share it with your larger team for feedback and approval.

What’s included in a project charter?

Project charters in project management should briefly outline the project’s objectives, plans, and stakeholders without delving into a sea of details. Consider adding charts and lists to help you summarize the essentials.

Usually, a project charter includes the following elements:

Business case.

This does a deep dive into a project and clearly lays out its why, what and how. Why is your team proposing this project? What is the expected return on investment? How will it help move the business forward, boost growth, or relieve pain points?

Learn how to write a business case.

Scope and deliverables.

Your project charter should define the specific deliverables your team plans to provide. Setting and communicating clear boundaries can keep team members from straying from the predetermined project scope.

Learn more about scope management.


In your project charter, you need to decide on a limited number of primary objectives, which outline what you hope to achieve with this work. Remember to keep these goals SMART. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

Learn more about setting SMART objectives.

Resources needed.

Identify the resources your team will need to be successful, including personnel, funds, time, materials, equipment, and any contributions you may need to procure from a third party.

Learn more about resource management.

Milestone plan and timeline.

Create a project timeline that includes milestones for each achievement. Many project managers use work management software to keep track of deadlines and accountabilities.

Learn more about project time management.

Cost estimate.

How much will the project cost? You may need to adjust your estimate as the project proceeds, but creating an initial budget helps get stakeholders, executive sponsors, and team members all on the same page.

Learn more about cost management.

Risks and issues.

Think about what could go wrong and the consequences of it. Focusing on the negative may sound counterproductive, but taking the time to identify potential pitfalls can prepare your team for unforeseen challenges down the line.

Learn more about risk management.


When one piece of a project can’t start until a previous step has reached a certain stage, that’s known as a dependency. It’s important to outline the optimal sequence of tasks, including all dependencies, within the project plan.

This helps you identify the necessary resources and highlight potential scheduling issues, especially when the scope of your project requires certain tasks to be completed in order.

Learn more about project constraints.

Ebook: 3 Ways to Improve Resource Management in Your Organization
Datasheet: Agile Marketing Cheat Sheet

Benefits of a project charter.

Creating a project charter means giving stakeholders across your business a fuller understanding to why it’s being undertaken. As the clearest line of communication throughout, there are several benefits to having a project charter in place before you execute your project.

Manage your project with confidence.

Writing a project charter requires a bit of time and attention up front, but the investment will be well worth the effort. Your project charter will serve as a guiding document that keeps the team aligned to a common vision and boosts stakeholder confidence in your project.

Take a product tour of Adobe Workfront today and start managing your projects the right way.

Frequently asked questions.

What is the definition of a project charter?

A project charter is a short document used in project planning to outline the key aims and benefits of a project. It’s an at-a-glance guide to why a project is taking place.

It’s used both as a marketing tool, useful to get buy-in from stakeholders, and a reference point to keep the project on track. If your project has strayed from the objectives in its charter, then it may have lost direction.

What’s the difference between a project charter and project scope?

Unlike a project charter, project scope includes granular detail about a project’s requirements for success. This could include budgets, deliverables and work breakdown structures (WBS).

A project charter is mainly focused on the need-to-know aims and benefits of the project. However, both project charter and project scope statements can be used as a reference point to keep a project on track and ensure it doesn’t stray from its original plan.

Can you update a project charter during a project?

It is uncommon to update a project charter during a project. This is because project charters are signed off before the execution phase of the project lifecycle.

Changing the charter halfway through a project could change the overall project’s objectives, which could make a lot of work already completed redundant.