Customer-oriented project management


Adding a genuine customer focus to the

dominant project-product focus



By Alan Stretton, PhD (Hon)

Sydney, Australia


This article is partly prompted by a recent contribution in this journal by Fette 2023, which starts by pointing to an increased focus in business at large in putting the customer first. He goes on to discuss the emergence of Customer Experience (CX) professionals in this context, and describes a number of CX tools which they use to help maximise customer involvement and satisfaction.

The primary concern of Fette’s article is with the relevance of this new focus to project management. He demonstrates that it is highly relevant in helping “put the customer at the forefront of the design and delivery of the project”. He points out that, in addition to managing delivery of the product of the project, “there’s another aspect of project management that can’t be overlooked: the customer experience”.

This article takes a broader look at some pros and cons – mainly pros – of adding a genuine customer-oriented focus to project management’s currently dominant project-product focus. We start with briefly discussing two sets of calls for strong customer-oriented focus in business at large.


Fette 2023: Increased focus on putting the customer first in business at large

Fette’s recent article in this journal is entitled “Putting the customer first: Managing projects from the outside in”. He introduces the evolution of the new focus in business at large on the business’ customer as follows.

In recent years, a new focus has evolved in business, Customer Experience. …..

He goes on to describe this new focus in a little more detail.

This newfound focus has evolved into a profession and the key component in developing corporate and product strategy. …. Like all professions, Customer Experience professionals have a set of tools and techniques. These tools and techniques provide ways to understand customer behaviour and design solutions with the customer in mind. Businesses are managing the strategy and product development from the “the outside in”. Putting customers first is how they operate.

It was interesting for me to find out about this newfound focus, and the existence of Customer Experience professionals. It was also rather surprising that this is occurring in the context of business at large. I say this because I often associate the latter with such familiar sayings as, “the customer is the business” – and “if you don’t have a customer, you don’t have a business”. If Fette’s comments above had been made only in the context of project management, I would not have been nearly as surprised – as will emerge in following discussions.

However, there is nothing new about calling for a stronger focus on the customer in business – and industry – at large, as now briefly discussed.

Levitt 1960: “Marketing myopia”

In 1960 Theodore Levitt authored an article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “Marketing myopia”, which became rather influential over the next decade or so. Levitt gave many examples where defining an industry in terms of the product it produced, rather than in terms of the needs of customers in the broader marketplace, resulted in severe declines in those industries. Towards the end of his analyses of many different industries over long time frames, Levitt 1960 effectively summarises a key finding thus:

The view that industry is a customer-satisfying process, not a goods-producing process is vital for all businessmen to understand. An industry begins with a customer and his needs, not with a patent, a raw material, or a selling skill. Given the customer’s needs, the industry develops backwards, first concerning itself with the physical delivery of customer satisfactions. Then it moves back further to creating the things by which these satisfactions re in part achieved.

In the context of individual organisations, Levitt summarised the position as follows.


To read entire paper, click here

How to cite this work: Stretton, A. (2024).  Customer-oriented project management: Adding a genuine customer focus to the dominant project-product focus, PM World Journal, Vol. XIII, Issue II, February. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/pmwj138-Feb2024-Stretton-customer-oriented-project-management.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/.