What is a Project Mandate?
Smartpedia: The project mandate is the basis and authorisation for project implementation. It is issued by the management after project initiation and before project planning.
Project mandate – the basis for a project
The project mandate is the formal basis for carrying out a project. In most companies, it is issued after project initiation and before project planning. The project order corresponds to an authorisation for project implementation, which, depending on the organisation, is given by the management – the management, the department head or also the Project Management Office.
Reasons to use project mandates
Practical project management practice shows that no project should be started without a project order, because this is the only way to document
- the importance or priority of the project,
- the project context or the framework conditions such as client, initial situation and project objective,
- possible classifications according to project type, project risks, complexity, degree of innovation or benefit,
- the responsibilities, i.e. project managers and possible sub-project managers,
- the project organisation and the project owner,
- the participants and the period of participation,
- the contents and scopes,
- the project period from the start of the project to the end of the project,
- the project budget, possibly even delimited according to project phases,
- as well as the actual project release.
If a project starts without a project mandate, this quickly leads to so-called submarine projects in organisations, which access scarce capacities, cause friction losses and possibly impair the performance of the entire company.
In addition to these points, a project mandate – also known as a project charter, project agreement or a project order – can also contain information on the scope or the elements that are “out of scope”, as well as on further documents such as initial project plans, a risk matrix, a target diagram, etc. Possible interfaces and dependencies to other projects can also be described.
Questions for the creation of project mandates
There are a number of questions that help when writing project mandates¹:
- What is to be achieved by the project and what is not? (project goals and anti-goals)
- Who is behind the project and wants to see it realised? (project client)
- Who is pursuing which interests and goals? (stakeholders)
- What are the benefits of the project, where are the opportunities and what are the risks?
- What are the framework conditions, which are unchangeable, which can be changed if necessary?
- Who is involved, to what extent and with what competences? (project team)
- What are the time frames (start, end), what are the dependencies on other projects or the availability of resources?
- What determines the success or failure of the project?
Asking about similar projects in the past can also help in creating a project mandate.
The documentation of project mandates
Unless it is a part of the contract between the client and the contractor, a project mandate does not have to be recorded in writing. Especially in smaller organisations, where projects tend to require little effort, where only one or two people are needed for implementation, and where projects are repetitive rather than one-off, the assignment is often verbal.
In organisations that carry out complicated or complex projects, for which revision security, IT compliance and traceability are important, the project order contains too much information that cannot be conveyed verbally in a few sentences. In such cases, the project order is an internal document that contains the project definition and orders project execution. Project approval is accompanied by the release of financial resources, employees are allocated for the duration of the project, and project work can begin.
Project mandate and business case
What is the relationship between a business case and a project mandate? A business case assesses the benefits, costs and risks of a project and evaluates the impact of a company’s project investment. It thus provides the basis for approving or rejecting a project. In a positive case, it can be the basis for the project mandate, but since not every project justifies the effort required to create a business case, it does not have to be the basis.
In the real project context, there is another difference between a project mandate and a business case: the business case is not only a one-time, but also a continuous justification of a project. It is always a snapshot, i.e. it assesses a situation and various options for action at a certain point in time. Since parameters can change quickly, the business case can also be adapted in the course of a project. In theory, it would of course also be possible to adapt the project mandate, but such an adaptation rarely takes place in project management practice.
Tips for creating project mandates
There are some tips that are useful when creating project mandates. Here is a selection:
- Research the history of the project. For example, ask why the project is happening now, what will happen if the current situation does not change, and what has already been tried to solve the existing problem?
- Use simple and clear language. Technical terms are often understood in different ways, so it may make sense to avoid using them.
- Document success criteria so that the parties involved know how the success of the project is measured.
- Put the project brief up for discussion. Ideally, it should be reviewed and commented on by all parties involved – especially key stakeholders. It is advisable to allow enough time here, as any omission, any misunderstanding will be comparatively more expensive in the course of the cooperation than if you intervene early on.
And last but not least, use checklists or templates.
Do you want to download the project mandate template free of charge?
Use the template to record the following contents:
- project goal and parameters
- information on project type, priority, project scope, project risks, project duration and project budget
- project manager and project resources
- milestones with expected results and project release
Impulse to discuss:
The project mandate is the life insurance for the project manager and the project team.
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 A meaningful project mandate is based on the common understanding of the parties involved. This understanding needs to be worked out in the course of clarifying the mandate – ideally with very individual questions.
Here you can find a German language video about clarifying the project mandate.
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