What everyone needs to know about project management

Sample Chapter - Customer

The following is a sample chapter from the book Simple Project Management. Note the questions that give specific guidance in identifying your customers. For a demonstration of the power of this chapter, see the Third Test in Why this book?

Customer - Satisfy the customer

The purpose of the project is to provide something of value to the customer. The definition of what you intend to provide is the scope statement. But is that an accurate description of what the customer expects?

Begin by making sure you know who the customer is that you wish to satisfy. Or rather who the customers are. Most projects have several customers. Make a list.

  1. Who initiated the project?
  2. Who will pay for it?
  3. Who will be your main day-to-day contact and partner in decision making?
  4. Who will ultimately use the results you produce?

Each of these people is a customer. Each has a say in whether the project will be allowed to continue. Each has expectations of what the project will produce and of how the work will be done. As you work with these customers, find out what their expectations are and test them against your scope and your strategy. Sometimes it is useful to ask: Is it possible to satisfy the letter of the scope and still have an unsatisfied customer?

Frequently you will find that different customers have conflicting expectations. If they do, resolve them, or at least bring them out into the open. Be clear about which ones will be satisfied and which ones will not.

Each customer brings a different set of strengths to the project. Identify their strengths, then organize the project to apply their strengths and compensate for weaknesses and blind spots.

    On one project the shop supervisor was given responsibility for designing a new computer system. Not having experience in system design and being most concerned about the limitations of the prior system, the supervisor organized the new system around the most complicated transactions. When implementation time approached the customer discovered the new system would be cumbersome for the 90% of the transactions that were simple. The project manager could have compensated for the customer's lack of experience by conducting a review in which the design would have been tested against a more realistic sample of transactions. Or perhaps the technical lead could have observed more of the use of the old system and then been knowledgeable enough to reinterpret the requirements into something more practical.

    On another project, a serious problem with the data was discovered. The customers were given manual procedures to examine and correct each record one at a time. One of the customers was an experienced systems analyst who could have easily fixed the programs and corrected the data for all of the customers. This approach was not taken because the manager did not recognize the customers' strengths or open a door for them to be applied.


  1. Identify your customers. Ask:
    • Who initiated the project?
    • Who will pay for it?
    • Who will be your main day-to-day contact and partner in decision making?
    • Who will ultimately use the results you produce?
  2. Learn customer expectations. Reconcile any conflicts.
  3. Put customer strengths to use.
  4. Compensate for customer weaknesses.