Putting the Customer First


Managing Projects from the Outside In



By James A. Fette, PMP

North Texas, USA


While managing projects, project managers use a number of tools and techniques to deliver projects on time, on budget and within the scope defined for success. As a project evolves, multiple stakeholders will influence the project, and time and budget constraints could influence the outcome and success of the effort. One key stakeholder may fall to the wayside as projects evolve, the customer. This could be an external customer, for a new product, service or technology, or an internal customer who will be impacted by the project.

In recent years, a new focus has evolved in business, Customer Experience. Once upon a time, customers and businesses had limited interactions. A customer might hear about a business from a friend, stop by a brick-and-mortar shop, make a purchase, and move on with their life. But in the digital age, customers are bombarded constantly with data and have to make choices about which businesses to patronize in-person and online. They’ll base those decisions on the customer experience with certain brands, social media and web reviews. The opinions and reviews customers have are readily available and these can have a significant impact on the perception of your product and service.

This newfound focus has evolved into a profession and a key component in developing corporate and product strategy. The field of Customer Experience has led to new organizations and C-Suite roles such as Chief Customer Officer or Chief Experience Officer. Like all professions, Customer Experience professionals have a set of tools and techniques. These tools and techniques provide ways to understand customer behavior, and design solutions with the customer in mind. Businesses are managing the strategy and product development from “the outside in”. Putting customers first in how they operate.

Project Managers have the opportunity to do the same thing. Manage projects from “the outside in” and put their customers or end users first in the design and development of their projects. This paper will cover a number of tools and techniques Project Managers can use to deliver projects which will exceed the expectations of the customers, whether internal or external and deliver unique and innovative solutions which put the customer at the center of the design. It will also discuss the field of Customer Experience and the new era of the Experience Economy which has greatly impacted customers’ expectations.

What is Customer Experience?

At a minimum, Customer Experience (CX) can be defined as all the interactions customers have with your company at all stages of the customer journey—even if it doesn’t result in a purchase. It focuses on the relationship between a business and its customers.

Good customer experience involves building a relationship by understanding what people want, need and value. It goes beyond the act of using the product or service itself: The full experience includes pre-purchase connections with the brand (via marketing or awareness), the process of researching and making the purchase (either in-store or online) and post-purchase interactions (regarding service, repairs, additions and more). The goal is to create smooth and efficient connections between the brand and the customer.


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Editor’s note: 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 presented at the 15th UT Dallas PM Symposium in May 2023.  It is republished here with the permission of the author and conference organizers.

How to cite this paper: Fette, J. A. (2023). Putting the Customer First:  Managing Projects from the Outside In; presented at the 15th University of Texas at Dallas Project Management Symposium in Richardson, TX, USA in May 2023; republished in the PM World Journal, Vol. XII, Issue XII, December. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/12/pmwj136-Dec2023-Fette-managing-projects-from-the-outside-in-.pdf

About the Author

Jim Fette

North Texas, USA


James Fette, PMP is an experienced Customer Insights, Strategy and Planning and Program Management executive with over 25 years of experience and a proven track record of success in building empowered, global, teams, leading organizational change and defining and executing corporate strategy. A driver of improvement vs. change, a recognized leader in improving the customer and employee experience, building disciplined program management offices and managing a portfolio of strategic initiatives. In addition to my corporate career, I enjoy sharing my insights at events, conferences and workshops as a professional speaker and coach. I have presented twice before at the UT Dallas PM Symposium on the following: