Classifying project management customers


Representing their interests/needs

in relevant project processes



By Alan Stretton, PhD (Hon)

Sydney, Australia


In the last edition of this journal, I discussed the important topic of adding a genuine customer-oriented focus to project management’s currently dominant project-product focus (Stretton 2024b). That article discussed the role of customers in the project context in rather a generalised mode, in keeping with the main thrust of its arguments.

This article will look at some ways of classifying project management customers, particularly in relation to how their interests and/or needs can be properly recognised and incorporated into relevant project processes.

We will start with a basic four-type classification of types of customers – two internal and two external, to the providing organisation – which will backstop other proposed classifications. We then turn to Shenhar & Dvir 2007, whose Table 10-1 proposes “some characteristics of projects for various customers” – the latter comprising three different types of external customers, and over a dozen characteristic attributes for each type. We will then adapt and extend the Shenhar & Dvir Table 10-1 beyond its three external customer groups, to include the previously identified two types of internal customers, and propose corresponding characteristic attributes.

Finally, I will draw on the above to identify and discuss three broad customer groups which require very different processes for determining and incorporating their needs and interests into relevant projects.

I conclude this introduction with a quotation from Shenhar & Dvir 2007:189, which reinforces the importance of project managers recognising and understanding the customers and their individual circumstances, and managing their projects accordingly.

Different customers and markets behave and think differently. Thus, knowledge of the customer is one of the most important issues any project manager must face. Project teams must know how their customers think, what their major problems are, and how they make decisions, finance the project, and communicate. Project teams should also know how their customer organizations function and know the people who represent their customers.

The relevance of these observations to project performance appears to be self-evident. We will begin by looking at a basic classification of project management customers.


Many years ago, in Stretton 2009c, I proposed a classification of the customers/clients of program/project activities. This was reproduced quite recently, unchanged, as a Second Edition in this journal (Stretton 2023e).

For the purposes of this article, I have modified some of the descriptors in this earlier classification, to those summarised in Figure 1 below.


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How to cite this work: Stretton, A. (2024).  Classifying project management customers: Representing their interests/needs in relevant project processes, PM World Journal, Vol. XIII, Issue III, March. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/pmwj139-Mar2024-Stretton-Classifying-project-management-customers.pdf

About the Author

Alan Stretton, PhD     

Life Fellow, AIPM (Australia)
Sydney, Australia


Alan Stretton is one of the pioneers of modern project management.  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.  Alan 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/.