During Initiation you answer four key questions and the Charter is the formal document that records this:
·         why are we doing this project;
·         what at a high level is the project about;
·         who is leading the project?
·         how is the project aligned to the organization

NOTE: you may have estimates of how much and when it finishes, but put these into the Appendix to emphasize they are initial estimates that have not yet been properly analyzed

The documents developed at initiation may seem insignificant due to the lack of detail but these documents are critical.  They set the stage for planning and help identify key points that will be continually referenced back to throughout the life of the project.  Always ensure that these early documents involve the appropriate stakeholders to get strong buy in and accurate information that covers all angles of the project.  In the initiation stage the most significant document that is developed is the Charter.

At a minimum, a Charter should include the following headings:
A.  Names:
·         Project Name – give it something catchy, memorable, simple, fun, etc;
·         Sponsor – owns the project;
·         Project Manager – manages the project.

B. High Level Description:
·         Why are we doing the project;
·         What are we doing;
·         How is it aligned with the organization.

C.  Influencers: Risks, Assumptions, Constraints and Dependencies:
·         Document primary ones that are strong influencers;
·         May start to also document risks.

D.  Sign-off:
·         Sponsor at a minimum, may include PM and other senior stakeholders.

  1. Supporting Detail:
·         Depending on amount of information available, complexity of project, and stage the project is in (e.g. org chart, budget, milestones, etc.)

The Charter is a one time document, you want to have a stake in the sand from which you can now kick off the project and refer back to.

It is critical that strategic aspects are addressed in the Charter, don’t worry about the details, they will come out in the scope statement and the development of the WBS.  Once the charter is signed, then you begin the scope statement and it can have multiple sign offs and multiple versions as you get more details.  The Charter will not be perfect but it at least will get you moving down the road.   

TOOOOO often, we take too long to develop the charter and try to add too many details into it.  An analogy is that the Charter is a stake in sand.  Then the preliminary scope statement is driven into dirt.  Then Scope Statement is driven into Clay.  Then Project Plan with initial WBS is driven into compacted clay.  Then the baseline project plan is driven into wet concrete, etc.   As you move further along the project lifecycle, that is when the details come out and the changes should become less.

To develop a project charter, guidelines include:
1)    Ensure a Sponsor is identified and confirm their understanding of the project.
2)    Ensure the Sponsor and PM have clear roles and responsibilities.
3)    Allocate required SME (Subject Matter Experts) to the project and gain their commitment.
4)    Document the charter utilizing the standard headings from the organization’s template (or leverage a best practice template).
5)    Plan a Kick off meeting to launch aspects of the Charter or the entire charter itself to formally kick off the project.