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How To Write A Change Charter


How To Write A Change Charter

Knowing how to write a change charter is key to your success for any change initiative! In business, we all hit a point where we need to undertake a change initiative. Often it’s because the marketplace is changing and the company needs to respond, or the culture needs to change, or it could be there are new customer demands, a company transformation, new processes or technology is changing. When this happens, a charter is needed. A charter kicks off or starts the initiative. It maps out the specifics the change. The change charter is the only document that reflects your true baseline on why the project is being started. Since the charter demonstrates what changed during the initiative, it helps tell the project story, even if people left the project. Often, people forget all the changes that occurred and wonder why a project didn’t hit its intended outcomes. At the end of your project, the charter shows that you achieved (or didn’t achieve) compared to what you started out to do. A key element of the Lessons Learned at the end of the project is the charter.  If it was never created, you are missing valuable information to evaluate the lessons you’ve learned and how to help you, the team, and other projects on what works and what doesn’t work. In summary, every project needs a charter. We often wonder why the majority of projects do not hit their objectives.  If the objectives are in people’s minds and not formalized, it’s unlikely the project will be a complete success. This article will touch upon the top 10 key elements on how to write a change charter.

10 Key Items All Charters Need

A lot of activities are happening at once. A great charter helps your activity rise to the top of everything else going on, while ensuring the team understands expectations. Successful initiatives have these 10 parts in their change charters:

  1. Sponsor (ideally one)
  2. Vision (ideally short and simple, like Covid-19’s “Stop the Spread. Save Lives”)
  3. Change Manager and Project Manager named
  4. Problem Description
  5. Benefits
  6. Resources Expected
  7. Stakeholders
  8. Sign Off (showing alignment between Sponsor, Project Manager, Change Manager and Stakeholders)
  9. Risks (with Mitigation and Contingency if known) & Opportunities
  10. Success Metrics (Adoption Rate of 75%, Milestone and Deliverables, Start and End Dates, etc.)

The Sponsor

This is where, in my opinion, most projects go wrong. A sponsor is much more than a name on a charter that shows who owns the funding. See my post on COVID-19 Leadership where I point out in detail what a great sponsor does. They can make or break a project. How do you know if someone is up for the task? Prosci has an easy 10 question tool to assess  sponsorship. How do you know if the sponsor is a risk to the project?  Prosci also has this scoring tool. If the final score is “red” you know your risks and can put mitigation or contingency plans in place. Replacing a sponsor might be needed, and while your intuition may tell you this from the start, the tool helps start the crucial conversation.

Do you have more than one sponsor? It’s great to have many executives championing and support your initiative. Ideally, you want one person to be the named decision maker. It makes things easier when a quick decision is needed. The other champions can be part of your change champion team.


The vision gives the guidance to direct the work.  In the COVID-19 example, “Stop the Spread. Save Lives” is an easy to understand, simple vision to guide the project. I named a project “3 Minutes or Less” to ensure the team understood that my primary objective was to get a 45-minute process down to 3 minutes.  To keep my team aligned, I would take the project vision and put it in all of my communications.

Change Manager and Project Manager

Both the Change Manager and the Project Manager have a part writing the Charter.  Sadly, this is not often the case.  When this happens, the charter needs to be updated to include their feedback (while still keeping the original for baseline reference).

The Change Manager ensures people adopt the new change and expected adoption needs to be included.  If adoption is not part of the charter, why do we expect 100% adoption?  Often we wonder why people don’t adopt a change.  If there is no plan from the start, how can we expect people to accept it?

The Project Manager ensures the project meets the scope, budget and time of the project.  On their teams they have experts from all areas to ensure the project has the right resources.  The Change Manager may be the member of the project team or a consultant to ensure the project is setup for success from a people’s adoption perspective.

Problem Description

The problem description describes the challenges that are seen today, at the start of the project. It will need to answer the “Why?”.  Understanding why the activity is being started helps everyone understand the urgency, which increases adoption. The change manager will make sure the problem includes why people want the change.  The project manager makes sure that the business drivers are included (marketplace changes, cost savings, corporate objectives, ect.)

The problem needs to include metrics, not just vague details. For example, if the cost savings are going to save the company money, include how much money. Check out this guide by Smartsheet article or Google “cost benefit analysis”


The benefits describe what the change will be in a positive light.  It will provide a vision of the future. The benefits will help everyone who reads the charter what to expect.  For example, “Stop the Spread” is the problem description and “Save Lives” is the benefit.

Resources Expected

Resources include people, budget and if capital is involved, a breakdown of capital and expense (see your finance advisor on why it’s helpful to identify expected capital and expense if this is new to you).  While all the resources may not be known yet, it is very helpful to call out a range of what is needed. If everyone knows what is needed, then resources can be prioritized for your purposes.


Stakeholders are all the people impacted by the activity. It helps to think of all groups and people.  From a change management perspective, influencers may not be obvious, and yet, they can influence adoption.  For example, if a trusted IT support person, that everyone is going to on a regular basis for other things, has a negative view of your project, you may not hit your desired adoption rate.

Stakeholder identification can be more of an art than a science.  Thinking out of the box and using popular tools like Design Thinking can help clarify the Problem Statement and Stakeholders.

Risks & Opportunities

Risks and Opportunities exists in all projects. Risks are the things that can go wrong with an activity and opportunities are the added benefits of things going right. The key to reducing risks and increasing opportunities is to identify them early.

Many folks don’t think about opportunities, so I’ll give an example.  I had a Sales CRM project that estimated the sales of indirect customers like Target and Walmart. The project charter was to develop a better tool for Supply and Finance to understand product sales and something call diversion (when a product was resold by the customer to other customers). An opportunity was that by developing this tool, indirect sales numbers would be available monthly vs. quarterly. At the time, the Sales department was paid their annual bonus in April, a month after everyone else, because indirect sales were calculated quarterly. The opportunity of this project was to increase engagement by moving up the Sales bonus from April to March. As you can imagine, this opportunity was a huge benefit that impacted the lives of hundreds of people.

Risk mitigation’s are the things that can be done to reduce the risk by improving the odds it won’t happen.  For example, if starting an international project with Brazilian team members and no English speaking team members from key departments identified, a risk mitigation would be to have each team gain alignment on getting English speaking team members and how they will communicate with their Brazilian counterparts. In addition they will want to ensure these counterparts are aligned at the right level of the organization to make decisions (and are not a junior middle-man that speaks English).  This reduces the chance that the risk will happen by transferring or sharing the risk.

Contingencies are if something does go wrong, and there are no ways to avoid the risk, how can it be reduced. For that same Brazilian project, it was known that it was highly likely our U.S. product would not clear customs.  Knowing that we couldn’t change the risk probability, the contingency plan was what to do when our product did not clear customs and get to its end destination.

Success Metrics

What will success look like? It is helpful to know what success looks like in a quantifiable way. When success is expressed in a measurable way, it’s clear to everyone when a project is a success. The change charter can include the Return on Investment (ROI), which is a popular charter metric because of it’s simplicity. Often adoption is assumed in the ROI, so it helps to include Adoption Metrics as well.

Conclusion of How To Write A Change Charter

Charters are key to the success of your project, your brand and your stress level! Knowing how to write a change charter doesn’t need to be hard. Plan early by creating a charter, aligning it with others, getting feedback and updating as needed. As we’ve seen, the charter has 10 key elements that overcome many of the hurdles that cause 70% of projects from being successful. A well thought out charter will set you up for a successful change initiative.



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