Project Charter, Project Plan, and WBS Contrast

03 Dec 2021
Project charter, project plan, and WBS contrast

Project charter, project plan, and WBS – what is their contrast? And, which one of them is the most necessary for your project? 

I’m gonna tell you straight away – all of them. You just need to know when and how to use each one of them.

Sounds like too much work? Actually, if you know how to write them, you will shorten your struggles with projects documentation later. 

Why to bother anyway? 

In case you have wondered why to even make any kind of a plan, or why to distinguish several kinds of plans, here is your answer.

More than 60% of all projects of low maturity experienced scope creep. That means that some things didn’t go with the plan. In other words, the plan was not good enough.

Yet, scope creeps often lead to doing more work than you were supposed to do in the plan. More work means more money, which means a higher cost. Delays, that happen in more than 50% of the projects, have a countable cost. 

However, with good planning, project charter, plan, and WBS you can minimize the chances for changes in the project. It gives you an overview of possible overspending and turnaround so you can identify and solve them. 

data about project planning
Source: PMI Report
importance of good project management planning

What is a project charter? 

Let’s start from the beginning. The first thing you will need is a project charter. A project charter is a brief document that you should write before the project starts. The project charter defines the goals and scope of the project on a high level so it should be done before the project starts.

The project charter is the first document you want to show your writing skills in. It doesn’t include technical information and written project requirements. Instead, it gives a clear summary of what you should do after it. One of the things to differentiates a project charter from other plans is that it confers authority to the project manager.

How to create a project charter? 

Since it’s the first thing about the project, the project charter is the first thing you should know how to write. In other words, it’s a bridge between project and project manager, and you have to build it first.  😛 

You might notice that some projects don’t bother with the project charter. That’s their business, but still, for the longer projects, it will be easier to follow up if you have both. Have in mind that the formal authorization defines how the organization will create the project. 

There are a few steps to take while writing a project charter. 

  1. Analyze project goals and objectives. Make sure you set the clear project mission and vision, together with higher goals. 
  2. Set the roles and responsibilities in the project. List all the essential roles such as stakeholders, project team members, and customers. 
  3. Make the guide for the project management plan. Write the milestones, dependencies, and due dates. 
  4. Analyze potential challenges and their solutions. You cannot plan unsuccess, but you can prepare for it to minimize it. Analyze potential risks and find their solutions in advance. In other words, surprise challenges before they surprise you.
how to make a project charter

What is the project plan?

Now guess what is a project plan! – It is a document that contains the plan of the project. It stands for a set of activities that must be done, the estimation of duration, and dependencies between the tasks.

A lot of people use the terms project plan and project management plan. However, we can differentiate between a project plan and a project management plan. 

Even though the term project plan is commonly used, it is not defined in PMBOK. It is more of an unofficial expression for a plan for any kind of project or shorted term of the project management plan. 

Project management plan

On the other hand, a project management plan is what you want to have for project management projects. It is an official term for the plan, recognized by Project Management Institute. It is important for small projects and the breaking point of big projects. 

Now, the project management plan should tell you how to manage risk, how to and when communicating with stakeholders. The project manager, who writes it, should suggest a strategy for handling the project. Whether to use agile methodology or waterfall principle and how to implement them in the progress. 

Some project managers use existing templates of the project management plans. Depending on your organization, it is possible to have one template of the PM plan and just adjust it for each project. 

How to make a project management plan? 

A project management plan should outline all limits of the project. Here is where you should create entire projects goals, objectives, analyze crucial features, and potential tasks for them. Eventually, you need to define what a successful outcome should have. 

To make it all happen, there are a few parts to help you with a successful plan: 

  • Timeline chart for key milestones 
  • Communication channel and plan how will the team members communicate with each other 
  • WBS chart or work breakdown structure to manage complex projects with multiple disciplines needed 
  • The right project management tool 
how to make a project plan

In other words, create your project management plan like a central document for organizing, prioritizing, and assigning activities throughout the project. 

Project charter and project plan differences 

These two seem very hard to distinguish. So let’s make some concrete differences. 

Project charter 

– written by the sponsor 
– written before the project starts 
– its goal is to authorize the project 
– made for stakeholders and project manager

Project management plan 

– written by the project manager 
– written right after the project starts 
– its goal is to guide i implementation of the project
– made for everyone within the project team
project charter vs project plan

What is WBS? 

WBS or breakdown structure is a method in agile project management to divide the project into smaller tasks. This way of visual decomposition in project management is useful in all projects, but especially in complex projects with multi-discipline teams involved.

By dividing projects into smaller chunks of work, tasks become controllable elements and they are done faster. Visual and hierarchical organization of projects parts helps to track dependencies. 

The goal of a WBS is to make a large project more manageable. It is also easier to understand the workflow and track assignees of different tasks.

WBS meaning

Since you cant create a detailed project plan without estimated resources and dependencies, WBS is created before the project management plan. Moreover, developer-friendly tools have synchronized WBS and project scope. That means that if something is missing out from WBS, it won’t be listed in the project plan either and eventually won’t be delivered. 

How to make WBS? 

Before diving deep into the decomposing of the project, you should start WBS with high-level information. To begin with, work break down structure, focus on these things: 

  1. Define and describe the project goal
  2. Count all the important stages of the project
  3. Make and list the deliverables 
  4. Break down the deliverables into smaller tasks
  5. Assign each task to one assignee
WBS chart

There are some tools that have WBS included in their features. One of them is JadeALM. It synchronizes information from your project document editor to your WBS. In other words, it makes an almost complete WBS chart instead of you! 

Try WBS for your project 

Project charter and project plan differences 

These three seem very hard to distinguish. So let’s make some concrete differences. 

Project charter 

– written by the sponsor 
– written before the project starts 
– its goal is to authorize the project 
– made for stakeholders and project manager

Project management plan 

– written by the project manager 
– written right after the project starts 
– its goal is to guide i implementation of the project
– made for everyone within the project team


created by all team members 
– partly written before the project starts 
– develop during the project 
– its goal is to help project management plan 
– made for everyone within the project 

Project charter, project plan, and WBS contrast

To wrap up 

When all of these terms have the same purpose – to plan the project – it is easy to get confused. However, we explained that to avoid scope creep each of them plays a big role. Also, the first thing you do for your project is project charter. After it, you make WBS which should help you find the dependencies and analyze deliverables.

Good WBS should help to make a good project plan. After making the plan, WBS continues to provide its advantage. You can divide work into work packages and then into activities.


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