Having worked with both startups and big companies for more than 25 years, I've seen executives get so enamored of their "disruptive" future visions, they neglect the short-term plans that get things going. I've also seen leaders so focused on implementation they lose sight of their purpose and strategy.

Real success occurs when you combine the big picture with concrete action. A midsize manufacturing company I recently worked with, for example, wanted to create a business strategy. The challenge was that their leaders had so many projects going, people barely had time to meet together to formulate their plan. The executive team eventually met and listed their top priority opportunities for the year. We then looked at them with a new strategic lens -- instead of outlining "plans," they defined project "charters" for each. By doing so, they were able to step back and see their portfolio of opportunities with a new lens which helped them reprioritize their focus and give funding to the projects with the greatest upside.

A project charter is very short document, ideally one-page, that lists your overall objectives and the success factors for achieving them. It's essentially a cheat sheet that keeps you and your team focused on what matters most over time.

When creating your project charter, consider these categories and questions:

  1. What is your overall goal? (What is the major problem or opportunity that you will address?) 
  2. What is the scope? (What will you do versus explicitly not do as part of the project?) 
  3. Who's involved? (What people or groups must be involved, and what role do they play?) 
  4. What is the business case? (What are the financial or other benefits that the project will bring to the organization, customers, or other stakeholders?)
  5. What are the success measures? (What quantifiable metrics will you use to assess success?)
  6. What resources are required? (What funding, time, materials, or other resources are needed?) 
  7. What's the timeline? (What are the major phases or milestones?)
  8. What are the risks? (What obstacles might prevent success?)
  9. What are the success factors? (What must be done or put in place to ensure success?)

You can easily modify the questions to fit your needs by adding or replacing some of the questions listed above.

A project charter is a strategic tool for communicating what you're doing and how, without getting lost in the weeds. The best leaders engage their teams in building the charter from scratch because they know that people support what they help create.