How many charters are there on a project?

Is there one charter on a project or more? Is there one management plan or more? What are the process groups and how are they different from project phases. Many questions related to the PMBOK® Guide.

Now – how many charters are there on a project?

This is a trick question.

The reason for this question is triggered from another online discussion.

The question: Per the PMBOK(r) Guide [1], how many documents called charter on a given project?

The initial discussion

The initial discussion was on the process groups and if the process groups are project phases. Some think the process groups are phases but those with more experience say they are not. The PMBOK clearly say the process groups repeat. This next image illustrates this point.

Repeating Process Groups on the Project Life Cycle

Great – so the process groups repeat in every phase. Unfortunately, some practitioners accept and say this statement because it is mentioned in the PMBOK but do they really understand what that means and how to apply in on real – multi-phased project?

The new question

How many charters are there on a project? 

Here are some of the answers; direct quotations but without reference to the individuals:

  • “Regardless of what the PMBOK says, there is a single charter for a project.”
  • “… there is only one charter per project.”
  • “… charter is only one that is created to kickstart a project.”
  • “Really a tricky question but very insightful answers. Even my answer is just one project charter for a project.”

Project Charter

I agree that there can be only ONE project charter. However, remember, this is a trick question and I am not asking how many project charters – I am asking how many charters.

Then, what is the trick? What do I mean?

  • Hint 1: what is the purpose of the charter?
  • Hint 2: we are talking about a project and not a phase
  • Hint 3: a project, normally consist of many phases

Stop reading and think about it. When you make up your mind – go on and read further.

  • The PMBOK 5th edition mentions that the charter is the document that authorize the project.
  • PMBOK 4th edition – same sections – it says the charter is the document that authorize a project or a phase.
  • Older editions are the same way.

Is this a contradiction between the 5th edition and prior editions? Is it an error in the 5th? Is it an error in earlier editions and is now fixed in the 5th? Or, is the definition changed? Many questions with no clear answer.

If there is no error, then how can we understand the following:

The initiating process group consists of only two processes (1) develop project charter and (2) identify stakeholder. Therefore, if this process group repeat in every phase, does not that mean the whole process group repeat, including all of its processes? Or, are we saying that only one process repeat in every phase (identify stakeholder) and another does not repeat (charter)?

Where is the logic?

What is the answer?

Unfortunately, PMI does not have a group of experts that can clarify points like this. Even on some PMI owned sites some “expert” think that the process groups are project phases.

Once again and back to the question. Most of the responses in the online discussions are focusing on PROJECT charter and I am talking about the PURPOSE of the charter. The purpose is to authorize work (a phase or a project). This means – accepting the older PMBOK – and based on experience and our humble opinion.

Also note that one of the input to the charter is “an agreement”; then if an organization has an idea to develop a new project and management approve the idea. Approval of the idea should lead to management issuing a charter, NO? In this case, there is no contract or agreement. Further, this charter is to authorize the concept phase or feasibility phase of the project; NOT the whole project.

Further, down the road (down the project life span) management decides to authorize a new phase; how do they do that? They issue an authorization document (I call it Stage Authorization Document) but is not that authorization document the same thing as the charter? Again – this would be a stage / phase charter and not a project charter. Once the organization decides on the project, they can issue a Project Charter, or what we call Project Authorization Document.Project and Phases' Charters

Closing Comments

Finally, many practitioners always refer to the words of the PMBOK without understanding them. Here it is clear – the PMBOK says the process groups repeat – people say the same thing. However, when we start to ask questions related to applying the PMBOK they get lost. Sorry for the repetition.

Here is another set of questions for you?

  • How many management plans on a project (I am not talking about the subsidiaries plan in the guide)
  • How many times do you perform risk assessment and I am not talking about monitoring and controlling?Enough for today?


[1] The official name is A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge® or PMBOK® Guide. Using “PMBOK” in this article is just to save repeating.