From Customer Needs to Project Requirements


Helping customers/users clarify and confirm

their basic business or equivalent needs,

before specifying the project/ product requirements

to best help satisfy these needs



By Alan Stretton, PhD (Hon)

Sydney, Australia


In the last issue of this journal, I discussed re-affirming the importance of users in all project contexts (Stretton 2022j). After pointing out that users appear to be still largely neglected in bodies of knowledge of project management, I recommended that the latter should include at least some guidelines about capturing the basic needs of users – by which I mean their business (or equivalent) needs – before attempting to define the requirements of projects that would best help satisfy these needs.

I also noted that there are already some relevant materials in the literature to draw on – albeit rather sparse ones – mainly relating to the needs of customer organisation users of project-related services. These include contributions by Frame 1994, and articles on EPC (Engineering, Procurement, Construction) organisations providing Front End Loading (FEL) services, mainly in the major/mega project fields (e.g. in Prieto 2015).

I have discussed both of the above in various articles in this journal. Additionally, I have discussed Civil & Civic’s work in this field, with its Client Needs Determination (CND) services (e.g. in Stretton 2013e, 2016c, 2019c). Civil & Civic set down quite extensive guidelines for undertaking CND in its own internal documents, for example in Civil & Civic 1980, and in a 1987 supplement, which together included 34 pages on CND.

In this article I will attempt to draw together, and expand on, some of these materials on capturing the needs of customer organisations, and hopefully provide an embryo framework which could help others in further developing more generalised guidelines.

I also noted in Stretton 2022j that the importance of customers’ needs has been seriously addressed in some service industries such as IT, in which Business Analysts have become prominent – as have Agile techniques. However, as Frame 1994:103 has pointed out, customer needs in their total context goes beyond mere technical issues.

What is being suggested in Step 1 [Understand the present system in its total context] goes beyond conventional systems analysis advice. Understanding the technical dimensions of the current system is of course vital ….. However, needs analysts must go beyond purely technical investigations of problems. They should strive to understand the present system in its total context.

This article is specifically concerned with users needs in their broadest contexts.


The importance of doing a good job of identifying needs and specifying requirements cannot be overstated. To appreciate this, we must recognize that need definitions start off a series of events that ultimately results in the production of a deliverable designed to satisfy the needs. It is needs that get the project ball rolling. Requirements [for projects, etc], in turn, are developed from an understanding of needs.                                   (Frame 1994:99)

Customers’ basic needs directly relate to their business (or equivalent) contexts

We start by observing that customers’ needs are rarely, if ever, for a project per se. Their needs are invariably focused on their broader business needs (or their equivalent in other contexts, such as educational, healthcare, infrastructure, etc.).

It is vitally important that these broader basic business needs are accurately determined. The validity and utility of all subsequent activities, and ultimate real satisfaction of the customer needs, depend on it.

From a project management perspective, when these subsequent activities include projects – as they normally do – failure to satisfy the customers’ needs will quite typically (and often quite reasonably) be interpreted as a project failure. In such circumstances, project management should have a particularly strong vested interest in ensuring, or verifying, that the customers broader business needs have been accurately determined.

One approach to doing this is for project management to be actively involved in helping customers/users clarify and confirm their basic business or equivalent needs. This has been done in the past in certain contexts, and would appear to be also applicable in a wider range of contexts. This is the primary area of interest of this article.


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How to cite this work: Stretton, A. (2022). From Customer Needs to Project Requirements: Helping customers/users clarify and confirm their basic business or equivalent needs, before specifying the project/ product requirements to best help satisfy these needs, featured paper, PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue XI, November. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/pmwj123-Nov2022-Stretton-from-customer-needs-to-project-requirements.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/.