Project Management

How customer-centric project management processes evolved

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As this month's theme is project management at the cutting edge, I thought I would share with you this extract from my new book, Customer-Centric Project Management, which gives a new take on the traditional approaches to stakeholder management and post-project reviews.

Putting customers – and by that we mean internal colleagues or third party partners who take a service from another department – at the heart of how we work is a worthy aim. Companies spend a lot of time on focus groups and surveying end customers – consumers who buy products – but not a lot of time looking at how departments within the company serve each other. There might be an annual staff satisfaction survey which is the opportunity to air views on how different teams work together, but this type of conversation is rarely routine. Once you realize that as a team, you have internal customers too, making yourself easy to do business with is the next logical step. Customer centricity is a mindset; a way of working. It is, however, very hard to measure attitudes and behaviours in any unequivocal way.

Exceed was designed to provide an unequivocal way to answer the key question that keeps senior executives in PMOs and other delivery teams awake at night: how good is my organization? To answer that, you need clarity of customer perception, a focus on customer engagement and the deliverables that matter to project customers.

We use a process called Exceed to measure customer satisfaction with the project management process. It was developed to establish the basis of real agreement about the value being provided to stakeholders, and to develop closer engagement with customers using language that everyone could relate to. Here’s how it all began.

A global financial services company successfully implemented a customer-centric approach in its IT department. The IT service delivery function was already highly efficient, having demonstrated continual successes through a number of initiatives. Rationalization, in-sourcing and outsourcing had delivered operational savings of over £1m for three consecutive years. A further project to implement a technical support centre with a 50–strong team in India within nine months of board approval reduced annual spend by a further £1.8m. This project was completed without disruption to service, on time and to budget and proved the ability of IT to successfully deliver complex technical and sensitive projects in a very short timescale.

Shortly after this latest success, the CIO found himself in a frustrating position. The head of the company’s retail division had rung him to complain that the software updates his team desperately needed had not been implemented as promised.

The CIO’s department had a record of regular cost reduction and project delivery. That very week, the retail division had benefited from a further £250,000 cost reduction, delivered directly to this manager’s bottom line as a result of a telecoms contract renegotiation carried out by IT. However, without the software updates, retail branches could not satisfy their customers. The financial results may have been good, but they did nothing to improve customer service or the perception of IT within the retail division.

There are a number of morals to this story. Delivery organizations – and project teams are delivery organizations – need to clearly understand how to fully satisfy all of their customers’ needs at all times and in every situation. There also needs to be an agreed and credible process which proves the quality of the level of service being provided. In this case the IT team was doing a good job. Or were they? Who thought so? In fact, what really defines success for an organization, project or service and how do we measure and quantify it? After all, customers and stakeholders come in all shapes and sizes. They are not only demanding – their requirements are diverse and not always feasible or realistic.

Customer-centric thinking cuts through the confusion by answering a number of key questions:

  • How professional is my operation?
  • How good are we at delivering services or projects?
  • What does good look like for us?

These are the questions that need answering if you are going to truly be customer-centric. Exceed is the process we use to get there.

The Exceed process in his department began with a simple vision: ‘Every customer of IT service delivery will continually rate the services we provide as Good, Very Good or Excellent’. While you might think that this vision could never be achieved, the team achieved rapid results from the first few weeks and they fully achieved this vision in less than six months.

There wasn’t anything special about this particular CIO or his organization. It was just about putting the customer front and centre and working in a customer-centric way.

And that’s how we started to work with project teams and sponsors in a customer-centric way.

This is an edited extract from Customer-Centric Project Managementby Elizabeth Harrin and Phil Peplow (Gower, 2012).

Posted on: September 26, 2012 04:23 PM | Permalink

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