Classifying program/project customers/clients



By Alan Stretton, PhD (Hon)

Sydney, Australia


There is a substantial amount of material on stakeholders in the program/project literature, but surprisingly little about customers. When customers are mentioned, more often than not they are listed as just another set of stakeholders. This contrasts sharply with my own experience in providing professional program/project services to external customers, where the customer is king, and distinctions between customers and stakeholders are normally very clear. This comparative neglect of customers in the literature may derive, at least in part, from a paucity of material on professional program/project services, and perhaps also from a marked preoccupation in the non-major program literature with organizational change programs, where the providing organization itself is also the customer. This paper aims to draw more attention to the importance of the customers in the broader program/project context, by attempting to classify them in a way that covers most program/project application areas.

Discussion of terminologies leads to the following definitions/descriptors:

  • Client organisation: The organisation which purchases the program/project, and is the broad end-user of its outputs.
  • Internal customers: Those people or groups within the client organisation that are directly involved in furthering the program/project
  • Stakeholders: Those people or groups who are not clients/customers, but who have an interest in, and/or whose interests may be affected by, the program/project.

The following classification of client organisations was then developed.

    1. The client organisation is a unit within the providing organisation
    2. The client organisation is the providing organisation itself
    3. The client organisation/s is/are external to the providing organisation, and may be:

3.1 A single uniquely identified external client organization, or
3.2 Multiple external client organizations, some of whom may be difficult to identify

Internal customers within client organisations are often not easy to identify, let alone classify, but they typically include sponsors, the key contact, end users, others progressing the program/ project, and decision influencers.

I would welcome feedback from interested readers about the adequacy and utility of this classification of customers/clients in their particular areas of interest or practice.


There is surprisingly little written about customers in the program/project literature. Perhaps the most notable exception to this is Frame 1994 in his book The New Project Management, in which he devotes a whole chapter to Satisfying Customers. Unlike much of the literature, Frame does not talk about stakeholders per se. His use of the word customers evidently includes people and groups whom other authors would describe as stakeholders.

On the other hand, two documents in the program management literature which are probably the most widely circulated (and presumably used) in their respective domains – the UK’s Managing Successful Programmes (OGC 2007), and North America’s The Standard for Program Management (PMI 2006a) – have a good deal to say about stakeholders, but very little about customers.


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Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally published in PM World Today in July 2009.  It is republished here with the author’s permission.

How to cite this article: Stretton, A. (2023, 2009). Classifying program/project customers/clients, second edition, originally published in the July 2009 edition of PM World Today, republished in the PM World Journal, Vol. XII, Issue III, March 2023. Available online at https://pmworldjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/pmwj127-Mar2023-Stretton-classifying-program-project-customers-clients-2nd-ed.pdf

About the Author

Alan Stretton, PhD     

Faculty Corps, University of Management
and Technology, Arlington, VA (USA)
Life Fellow, AIPM (Australia)


Alan Stretton is one of the pioneers of modern project management.  He is currently a member of the Faculty Corps for the University of Management & Technology (UMT), USA.  In 2006 he retired from a position as Adjunct Professor of Project Management in the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), Australia, which he joined in 1988 to develop and deliver a Master of Project Management program.   Prior to joining UTS, Mr. Stretton worked in the building and construction industries in Australia, New Zealand and the USA for some 38 years, which included the project management of construction, R&D, introduction of information and control systems, internal management education programs and organizational change projects.  He has degrees in Civil Engineering (BE, Tasmania) and Mathematics (MA, Oxford), and an honorary PhD in strategy, programme and project management (ESC, Lille, France).  Alan was Chairman of the Standards (PMBOK) Committee of the Project Management Institute (PMI®) from late 1989 to early 1992.  He held a similar position with the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM), and was elected a Life Fellow of AIPM in 1996.  He was a member of the Core Working Group in the development of the Australian National Competency Standards for Project Management.  He has published 250+ professional articles and papers.  Alan can be contacted at alanailene@bigpond.com.au.

To see more works by Alan Stretton, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/alan-stretton/.