4 Practical Project Charter Templates You Can Download for Free

Learn about the qualities of a great project charter and download our free sample templates to use in your own projects.

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As a project manager, nothing beats the exhilaration of starting a new project and sitting down to draft the project charter—clean slate, fresh start, new people, and a big, juicy problem to solve (warts and all). You waltz into the kickoff meeting like…

At the same time, you know that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. The early stages of project planning are critical to delivering successful outcomes later on.

The project charter ensures alignment across key stakeholders, creates accountability for project roles and responsibilities to mitigate future risks, and defines what success looks like in execution.

In this article, you’ll learn about the qualities of a great project charter. We’ve also included sample project charter templates that you can download for free and use in your own projects.

Let’s dive in!

What is a project charter?

A project charter is an initiation document traditionally used on waterfall projects. I’d argue that it also serves a purpose on agile projects, even though they call for minimizing the amount of project documentation. The fact is, a project charter isn’t something you should skip!

So what makes a project charter important?

The charter defines the project purpose and goals, the planned scope of work, and any responsibilities (i.e., who’s doing what). It’s a sponsor-level document that holds key stakeholders accountable for project outcomes.

Unlike a project management plan, which details things like risk, schedule, communications, etc., the project charter explains what the project is about and why you’re doing it in the first place.

What makes a project charter great?

A project charter is an excellent way to kick off a project. You can use the document to codify project decisions and get your stakeholders to agree on what’s in scope.

A well-written project charter can also help you during project execution, as you can consult it to resolve disagreements regarding roles and responsibilities. On many occasions, I’ve pointed to a charter to save a project from scope creep.

The secret to a useful project charter is to write it so that it captures the high-level project outcomes without getting bogged down in unnecessary details that may slow the kickoff or create alignment problems later on. It’s also crucial that you don’t need to revise it once it’s signed. The last thing you want to do is slow your execution down by having to revisit prior documentation and get stakeholders to come to a consensus again.

How can you achieve this? A project rarely looks the same in the middle or at the end as it did when you started out. Your knowledge evolves, and you adapt your management style to reflect the changing circumstances of the project.

That’s exactly the point. Even though the way you manage a project may evolve throughout the project life-cycle, what you are managing shouldn’t change dramatically. The goal of the project charter is to capture the what and the why, not the how.

Elements of a great project charter

Here are a few things you should include in your project charter, particularly if you are managing a waterfall project:

  • Purpose – What you’re trying to accomplish and why. What are the business drivers?
  • Background – What is the context for this project? Are there related efforts that have predated this one relevant to mention? Is this project part of a larger program or portfolio?
  • Scope – The high-level activities you intend to complete as part of the project. It’s also a good idea to clarify what is not in scope if known.
  • Roles and responsibilities – What roles are performing which activities (pro tip: don’t put names in the charter body, as those can change in execution. Rather, describe responsibilities in terms of project roles. If your sponsor insists, include names in an appendix.)
  • Success criteria – How will you know if the project is successful and how will you monitor performance
  • Signatures – Formal sign-off is one way to get the parties involved to commit to who’s doing what. Having a signed document is also useful if disagreements arise during project execution.

While not required, you could also consider a few additional optional sections:

  • Milestones – High-level schedule (without dates!) that identifies and sequences project phases
  • Budget – You can include this section if your sponsors insist, but be wary that the budget can change throughout the project. The project purpose section should articulate the value proposition for the project, independent of the costs.
  • Risks, assumptions, and constraints – Depending on their nature, these items may be better suited to track in a project management plan or separate documentation, such as a risk management plan or risk register.

Sample project charter templates

To help you get started, we’ve included a set of free downloadable project charter templates below:

#1. Project chart template (waterfall projects)

➡️ Make a copy in Google Docs

➡️ Download to your computer from File > Download

#2. Project chart template, with optional sections (waterfall projects)

➡️ Make a copy in Google Docs

➡️ Download to your computer from File > Download

#3. Project charter template (agile projects)

➡️ Make a copy in Google Docs

➡️ Download to your computer from File > Download

#4. Project charter template, Google sheets format (waterfall projects)

➡️ Make a copy in Google Sheets

➡️ Download to your computer from File > Download