5 common mistakes in Project Charters

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Vishy Chandra

Any Six Sigma practitioner worth his salt would tell you the importance of this living document -- the Project Charter. A project charter serves as a must document for all kinds of projects – not just Six Sigma. With a document as critical as this, mistakes must be reduced to a minimum.

Being non-statistical in nature, one may expect that updating this document may not need you to lose a lot of sleep. Think otherwise then!

Here are 5 classic project charter mistakes:

Mistake #1: Poorly drafted problem statement

Don't let any of these common errors trip you up!

This is a cardinal sin. The problem statement is the heart of the project charter; some people refer to it as the Business Case. Whatever the case may be, a poorly drafted problem statement or business case is not going to take you – or your project - anywhere.

A good problem statement should always have the below elements:

  • The time period for which you collected initial data
  • The problematic metric you have identified
  • The target and the actual performance basis the data
  • The financial loss due to the gap in performance

Missing out any of these 4 could result in presenting the top management with an unclear picture.

Mistake #2: Getting too mired in statistics

Ah yes, Six Sigma is a statistical practice and you may feel you’ve been given free hand to run amok with your bucket of statistical tools. But honey --- keep it simple!

More than statistics, a project charter is expected to show reality! Now, you may argue and say that statistics shows reality too. And you’d be right. But why spend time with tools and subjects like inferential statistics when it is not needed and when others in your business likely won’t understand what you’re talking about.

Mistake #3: Not presenting the risks and the scope of the project

In a Six Sigma project, you find that you can use the different tools in any order, as long as it makes logical sense and the information coming from the tools makes business sense as well.

That being said, two tools/ concepts that I’d recommend using before you start updating the project charter are:

Risk Assessment Matrix


The Risk Assessment Matrix helps you understand the possible risks in doing the project. The SIPOC (Suppliers Input Process Output Customers), will help you understand the high level requirements of the customer and of course, also help you scope the project.

Mistake #4: Lack of a clear goal

A lot of practitioners don’t wish to commit to a goal this early. Their refrain is "how can we commit a goal so early in the project when we haven’t had a look at the data?". Understandable. However, when you are absolutely clueless, why can’t you sit with the team and your Champion to find out what can the goal of the project be?!? You being clueless doesn’t mean five others are, isn’t it?

Mistake #5: Not enough detail in the roles and responsibilities section

The heart of the project is the problem statement so giving roles and responsibilities a miss is understandable but not right. Remember, this document is an official one and not your rough project storyboard. Management needs to see the resources that have been invested in the project.

I have in my experience seen Work Break Down Structures (WBS) made and included in the Project Charter. The more the detail, the better! But if you can’t get your hands around a WBS, mentioning the key participants and their roles and responsibilities is a bare minimum.

When you look at a project charter, you may think it is simple. It actually is, but then there is so much statistics to follow that we may skip paying full attention to this charter. That’s when our charters go in for a lot of revisions. If you are into a habit of document control, then you would just keep counting the version revisions due to these 5 mistakes!

Of course, now that you know, you can avoid them!