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Terms of Reference


There will be many views on the exact definition of a Terms of Reference document. Some are given below:

‘A document specifying the scope and details of the activity to which it refers and any conditions relating to the appointment of a person(s) to undertake the activity (usually used in relation to the supply of professional services).’


‘A guiding statement that defines the scope and limits of an investigation’.

There are many others which may depend slightly on the industry use.

The example provided here might be the Terms of Reference between the Project Board and the Project Manager for what is expected from the project.

Basically it is a document which describes the purpose and structure of a project.
It is also known as a ‘TOR’ or sometimes a Project Charter.

It will be created at the front end of a project at the Initiation phase.
It is critical to a project as it defines all of its key aspects.


These could include:

In effect it is a basic road map for the project.
It gives the project management team a clear indication of what the project must produce.
The project must then produce the deliverables according to the constraints of the Terms of Reference.

Once the Terms of Reference is approved it should be signed off by all interested parties.
It is likely that the Terms of Reference will contain a lot of the information that exists separately in the Project Notebook.
The exact nature of the Terms of Reference document will be agreed between the Project Manager and the Project Board.

Under PRINCE2® the Terms of Reference is created immediately after the approval of a project Business Case.

It will be presented to the Project Board for approval by the Project Manager.

[see Starting up a Project (SU) - part 5 - Preparing a Project Brief (SU4)]

The Acceptance Criteria will form part of the ‘terms of reference’ and are given in the Product Description in file ‘Acceptance criteria.doc’ in the product package.

Under PRINCE2 2009 [see ‘The Complete Project Management plus PRINCE2’] the project mandate should provide the terms of reference for the project and should contain sufficient information to identify at least the prospective Executive of the Project Board.
[see Starting up a project - Context]

PRINCE2® is a Registered Trade Mark of the Office of Government Commerce in the United Kingdom and other countries.