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Jim Owens PMP: Who Writes the Project Charter?

Jim OwensPMP

Jim OwensPMP

I was so pleased when I read the “Develop Project Charter” section of Project  Integration Management in PMBOK Fourth Edition. They have finally caught up with what really happens in real projects (maybe they have been reading JIMBOK 🙂

In JIMBOK, Integration Management I wrote:

“The charter should be written by the project manager (or at least a PM), as the PM is the person in the organisation with the necessary skills to create the charter”.

And this is what I have been teaching project managers for years. But you wouldn’t believe the struggles I’ve had to get some PM’s to accept it.

They argued that only a sponsor could draw up a charter, but my response was that many sponsors don’t have the necessary skills or training required to write a charter, yet it’s well within a project manager’s capabilities.

Then they argued that as it was the charter that named and authorized the project manager, the project manager could not be involved in it’s writing. Who says they can’t?

Well these arguments are pretty well settled, when you read PMBOK Fourth Edition.

Page 73

“It is recommended that the project manager participate in the development of the project charter”

And Page 74

“Projects are authorized by someone external to the project such as a sponsor, PMO, or portfolio steering committee. The project initiator or sponsor …will either create the project charter or delegate that duty to the project manager. “

So I think that’s pretty clear.

The other reason of course why you, as project manager, should write (or being heavily involved in the writing of) the charter, is that the charter will have a big influence on your project, and so it makes a lot of sense having some level of control or influence of your own, in these earliest stages.

Small is beautiful

And I’ll finish with a reminder that the charter is a very high-level document with very few pages (often one or two pages). Why? Because in these earliest stages nobody knows much detail (and what they do know will change – often).  Besides, the more you have in writing at the stage, the more people will argue over it, so it will delay the project authorization and you can’t bill the arguing time to the project. Why not?

Because the project isn’t authorized, so there’s no budget of cost account!

Never mind the quality, feel the width.

Some consultancy firms that I’ve dealt with have a 200+ page tome of standard “boilerplate” that they call a charter, and they sell this to unsuspecting organisations (with changes to the relevant fields, of course). This looks impressive when printed with a glossy, full-color binding, but it costs more per pound than precious metal, and is as worthless as lead.

Many projects fail in the early stages, so follow this simple advice and give your project a fighting chance.

Jim Owens PMP

keywords:  who created the project charter, who writes project charter


12 comments to Jim Owens PMP: Who Writes the Project Charter?

  • Jim,

    I totally agree with what you say. The 3rd edition PMBOK was quite unclear about this particular topic that it has prompted many questions from my PMP students. I always told them that we have to distinguish between the letter of the law (i.e. PMBOK Guide) and the spirit of the law.

    In my view, even under PMBOK Guide 3 it was always the PM’s responsibility to write the charter. Even though it didn’t specifically say so. And now we finally have the confirmation that you and I were right.

    I wrote a blog post about this topic some time back as well. It can be found here:

    Until Next Time,
    Cornelius Fichtner, PMP

  • Mike Newell

    It was really nice to see that someone agrees with me. I have been teaching this in classrooms for 20 years and the students are always surprised when I say the Project Charter only needs the project manager’s name, the project name and an account for charges.

    More projects get into trouble because the project charter is too long and because there is no approved charge people hide time in other projects.

    It should be simple and if you need anything more do it after the project charter is approved and you have a valid account.

  • Nicely written. My doubt is if Project Manager is the person who is going to write the project charter then why its written that Senior management is responsible for the project charter

  • Leslie, PMP aspirant

    Jim, I like this article since it shows a real life approach for the creation of the Project Charter. I would uderline that this statement is one of the most important: “And I’ll finish with a reminder that the charter is a very high-level document with very few pages (often one or two pages). Why? Because in these earliest stages nobody knows much detail (and what they do know will change – often).”

  • umar farooq

    Dear Jim

    my question is who is responsible for the correctness of project charter if it is written by project manager ?

  • ASwan

    I do not think the question is who should write the charter. Obviously it should be the project manager who must write it, distribute it and obtain sign off. The question must rather be who is responsible for the content?
    I think you understand where I am going with this…….


  • Rama

    Can a project charter be prepared by a project coordinator ?

  • Jim et al,
    I absolutely DISAGREE with you!! IF you agree that for a contractor, the contract serves as their project charter, (which is what the PMBOK Guide indicates) then what you are advocating is the same as having the general contractor write the contract for the owner. See the absurdity of what you are advocating?

    One of the major reasons projects fail is not because of poor project management, but because of poor project SPONSORSHIP. (Turner, Isenbeck, Friedman et al)

    There is no one who can or SHOULD know what they need or want more than the project sponsor and if he/she cannot or will not take the time to put that on paper, then I really would not want to be the project manager on their projects.

    Bottom line- what you are advocating is, IMPO, one of the root cause reasons for project failures (reference Yourdon’s “Death March Project Management”) and if you really want to help the practice of project management evolve, it means organizations (such as PMI) should be focusing on developing better project SPONSORSHIP.

    To see a fully integrated model which helps to accomplish this, AACE has published their Total Cost Management (TCMF) methodology, based on the successful approach developed and used in the oil and gas sector since the 1950’s, which fully integrates asset and program management (those who sponsor projects) with the project manager. Worth noting is that AACE, unlike PMI makes this tested and proven approach available at no cost, to members and non-members alike.

    Dr. PDG, Jakarta, Indonesia

  • Begging your pardon from yet another side of yet another ocean. I have to agree with DrPDG.
    The one who *owns* the document should write the document. So the Owner of the project should won the Charter and therefore write it
    That doesn’t mean you can’t have one or more ghost writers. So the project manager will usually participate, as will the risk manager, and the requirements manager, and the test manager, and a user perhaps. After all, the sponsor may know what (s)he needs or wants, but it may be appear very soon that it is not viable.

    In the end all relevant parties need to sign off on the document and thereby committing themselves to its content.
    Backing out means a no-go.

    Not having ‘the necessary skills or training required to write a charter’ IMHO disqualifies one as sponsor. As this also is a major source of project failure.
    As chance happens I am currently reading Yourdon’s book. Should have done so years ago.
    Also it should be mandatory reading for any project manager, aspiring or not.

    One should be able to illustrate the charter to one’s mother, without causing her to yawn.
    Come to think of it, why not have hér write it. Good chance it will improve matters. Seriously.

  • Joe

    The project charter indicates the authority level of the project manager. Now if you’re just a project coordinator or expediter how can you write charter for which you do not even have control of.
    If there’s no PMO then the sponsor should write with the assistance of the PM who’s in better position to write. As such this’s only few pages and that shouldn’t be a problem with skills. If the sponsor needs skills to write charter then (s)he is not fit for being a sponsor because (s)he will be active in the project till completion.

  • Arshad

    I am still consfused. who will write the proget charter.?
    my concerns,
    -Project sponser know that he need or what the product looks like.
    -PM is responsiable to achive(Execute pro) the GOAL (which is describe by higher management)
    -P-Charter is high level document. therefore it cannot be produced by PM. (How Come i write a charter and assign my self (Signed as PM) as project manager.
    -It is early document which does not need any technical experties, constraint, etc. therefore PM
    is not required to write a P-Charter.
    -Project selection and Business-need, is not PM responsibility.
    If PM has to do all the things then what is the need of sponsor????