Successful Project Charters: “Well begun is half done.”

“Well begun is half done” is a quote attributed to many great thinkers from Aristotle to Mary Poppins. And there is truth to it. Starting your project off with the right project charter, as part of overall project management, will greatly improve the overall chances of success for your entire project.

What is a Project Charter?

The project charter is the document that captures the key objectives of the initiative established by the project sponsor and project leader. It guides the trajectory of any project, including a process improvement initiative. Further, it should be thought of as a living document that can evolve throughout the project with the approval and agreement of the sponsor, lead, and team. It lives, grows, and changes because few things are rarely set in stone, and, quite frankly, stuff happens. Most importantly, it should be referenced at each benchmark, check-in or DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) gateway review throughout the project.

Project Charter: Sponsor as Owner, Lead as LSS Expert

No matter his or her Lean Six Sigma (LSS) certification — green or black belt — the project lead should begin the improvement project on a foundation of collaboration with the project’s sponsor in creating the charter. Remember, this is the sponsor’s project. They are ultimately responsible for its success or failure. The project lead is the LSS expert who will lead the team through the data-driven DMAIC methodology based on what is stated in the charter.

Project team with project timeline overlay
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Project Charter: Six Essential Components

The charter should be accurate and thorough while being easy-to-understand and absorb by anyone, particularly busy c-suite executives. If they can’t “get it” in an elevator ride between the fifth and fifteenth floors, it’s probably too complicated or long.

Creating a collaborative charter requires that the sponsor and project lead work through and agree on six essential project components:

Project Charter-Current State

Current State:

What’s the problem? The charter should include a brief description of three or fewer sentences about the pain that is currently being felt. Focus on causal facts.

For example:
“Over the past six months, quality has decreased by 18% to 300 defects per 10,000 pieces on production lines two and three.”

Project Charter-Future State

Future State and Benefits:

Describe what an improved process should look like and what potential benefits the change to the future state could deliver. Again, resist trying to solve the problem. Don’t guess about how you’re going to solve the problem; just paint a picture of what a better world could look like.

For example: “Reducing defects to less than 50 per 10,000 units on lines two and three will improve revenue by ~$800,000 annually. Additionally, customer complaints will drop by 80%.”

This approach provides clear, concise, and measurable change metrics. Today, that value might be 300. After the project is completed, a new value of, say, 45, would give proof that the goal was achieved, and the project was successful.

Process Output Metric:

Create an operational definition for each process characteristic you aim to improve and will be accountable to change. Often, it’s represented with the variable Y.

For example:
“Y = # of defects per 10,000 units on line 2 and 3”  

This approach provides clear, concise, and measurable change metrics. Today, that value might be 300.  After the project is completed, a new value of, say, 45, would give proof that the goal was achieved, and the project was successful.

Project Charter-Scope


Define the boundaries within the team and who has responsibility and authority to enact change? And, what is the team to stay away from changing?

For example: 
“In-Scope: Production lines 2 and 3. Out Of Scope: Lines 1, 4, 5.”
“In-Scope: Changes to schedules and duties. Out Of Scope: Changes to benefits and wages.”

Project Charter-Timeline


You want a basic, don’t-hold-my-feet-to-the-fire timeline of when the work will be done in a DMAIC project. It’s acceptable to list each phase with tentative completion dates.

For example:
DEFINE:  01/15/21
MEASURE:  02/14/21
ANALYZE:  03/17/21
IMPROVE:  05/23/21
CONTROL:  07/04/21

Dates will most likely shift somewhat. The key is to educate the sponsor and key stakeholders on what’s causing the change and how it will impact project timelines.

Project Charter -Team

The Team:

Create a list of the critical roles on the project team. If anyone picks up the charter, they should understand who’s participating, their duties, and responsibilities. I like to list out the role, name, and title for each team member.

For example:
Sponsor: Jose Bautista, VP of Operations
Project Lead: Michele Abel, LSS Black Belt
Team: Amy Li (Line Manager), Joe Monfriday (shift supervisor), Jody Novak (line operator), Kristen Walsh (line operator), Will Sante (Manager of Quality), Khush Kardashian (Engineering)
Subject Matter Experts:  Micky Torruiso (Manager of Maintenance)

business team
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Project Charter: Creating an Engaging Document

Take the time upfront to create a robust charter that is clear enough for anyone to understand in a 3-minute read. Use it frequently. Make sure everyone has a copy. Refer to it often to keep the team, sponsor, and stakeholders aligned on progress towards the goal. 

Download our free charter samples:

Choose from either PowerPoint or Excel template.

Download Powerpoint Template

  Download Excel Template

Want to encourage folks to read it and engage?  Early in the project, launch a quick quiz at the beginning of meetings to test everyone’s charter knowledge. Offer a small, fun prize to those who can answer correctly. 

For example:
“What is our project output Y?” “What is the estimated financial benefit of this project?”

Your charter is a living document and should evolve over time. And, since we believe that the “living” charter (first begun) is critical to overall project success (is half done), it’s an investment into your sponsor-leader relationship and the smooth management of the project that’s worth it.

Project Charter: When to Seek Outside Support

If your projects feel cumbersome, slow, and are yielding disappointing results, we can help. From Lean Six Sigma Green Belt training to PMO consulting to virtual project management, our team has the experience and expertise to build confidence, dispel confusion, and get everyone moving quickly towards project goals.

David Keen
David Keen
Senior SMS Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, Enterprise Agility

David Keen has been a practicing LSS Black Belt since 2009, leading manufacturing and transactional improvements in several industries — steelmaking, water treatment and glassmaking. Successes of note include...

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