A group of concerned stakeholders at a project meeting.A few of my first jobs were in the customer service industry. As well as gaining a lifelong respect for people who answer the phone all day I also learned that the customer has to always come first.

This fine when you are speaking to someone on the phone who is holding a product you sold them but it doesn’t relate all that well to the project world, does it? After all, there is no customer at all in this sort of work, is there?

Well, it might seem as though there is customer but that doesn’t make it true, so let’s have a think about who our customers are and how being clear on this point can help the project.

The End-Users

It is probably because I once worked for a while in call center with a massive headset on all day long that I think of the end users so easily. I would guess that project managers with little or no business experience of this sort probably find it difficult to visualize the needs and wants of these people. If that is the case with you then I would suggest spending time in the business area and trying to see things from their point of view. Another good idea here is to get a few staff from there moved into your project team on a secondment basis. In either case, the ideal solution is to be in a position in which it is easy to picture the end-users as your customers. If you do this early enough in the project then it will help you gain a clear focus on what you want to do and why you are doing it.

The Stakeholders

Perhaps the stakeholders are easier to picture than the customers on your projects. After all, these are the people you see in meetings and who push you for answers all of the time. Of course, in some cases you might have a friendly relationship with the stakeholders which blurs the lines between the customer (them) and the service provider (you). However, it is important that you always bear in mind that you each have roles to play in getting the piece of work delivered effectively. If you are clear on the type of relationship you have with the stakeholders then it should make your dealings with them a lot easier.

Your Boss

What about your boss? This person might be the project sponsor or might just be the person who runs your project team. It doesn’t really matter, as all that matters is that you repay the trust they put in by giving you the piece of work to handle in the first place. Even if they don’t get very involved in the day to day details of the project you shouldn’t forget about the importance of delivering what they want from you. You should also bear in mind that your boss is the person who is going to give you future projects, so you will make to make it clear that you are a person to trust. By viewing them as your customer it might be easier for you to look after the project well and deliver everything which is expected of you.

Your Team

As the leader of a project you probably have a team to lead as well. This is an important part of your role and one you should spend some time thinking about. In what way could we class your team members as your customers? Well, they are dependent upon you for help, guidance and support along the way. The traditional way of looking at this relationship is to view the project manager as being the boss and the team members being there to control them and maybe even to sometimes discipline them when they stray off track. However, it can also pay to think of them as your customers from time to time. Ok, so in what way are they your customers? Well, you could consider for a moment how you have been entrusted with the task of looking after them and helping them develop their careers. Perhaps you could look on this as being like a role in which you are asked to mentor and coach a person rather than run a project. If you look at it in this way than it will probably seem like a bigger and more important part of the job than you think of it as being right now.