You are likely reading this article because you are part of MPUG community, and you’re aware of a tool called Microsoft Project (MSP).
Do you know why MSP was first called Microsoft “Project” or why, for that matter, Project and Portfolio Management (PPM) tools contain the word “Project”? And, why there are no standalone “Operational” scheduling tools?
To be honest, I don’t have a clear or definite answer to these questions. I have found; however, that scheduling for a project is much more difficult than scheduling for an operation.
I have written this article to discuss projects and operations. We’ll explore differences and similarities between these business terms. I hope you’ll gain a better understanding of projects and operations from reading it.
A Brief History of Projects and Operations
Projects and operations have been happening since the beginning of mankind. In fact, a case could be made for such pre-dating mankind and going back to the Neanderthal age.
In fact, early projects and operations were tools of survival for humans and Neanderthals. In very early days, hunting or building home were projects. Such activities can still be considered projects in today’s day and age. On the other hand, cooking food or making clothing would fall into the operations category.
Although projects and operations are as old as human history, a clear distinction between these two terms came about only after World War II.
Before that time period in history, all business work was treated as operational work. However, during the war, projects become more complex and sophisticated. Governments and private industries initiated and invested heavily in new weapon development endeavors, which were required to be successfully completed in record times. Although a grim prospect to consider, the development of war weapons gave rise to the recognition of project management as a science distinct from operations management.
What are Projects?
As per the PMBOK Guide, a project is a temporary endeavor to create a unique product, service, or result. Notice the definition contains two keywords: “temporary” and “unique.”
Temporary implies that the endeavor is time bound. It has a definite start and finish date. Unique means that the endeavor is undertaken to produce or result in something that has not been done before.
Temporary does not mean that the result of a project is insignificant or has a low utility. It also does not mean that a project has a short timeframe. It just means that the endeavor has a definite start and finish date.
Projects cannot go on and on and result in something distinct. We can think of a project as an agent of change. Here are a few examples of projects from the business world:
- Constructing a building
- Developing a software
- Designing a new machine
- Landscaping a garden
We undertake projects in our personal lives, too. Here are a few examples:
- Organizing a wedding or celebration
- Organizing a holiday trip
What are Operations?
The simplest definition of an operation is that it’s not a project. In short, operations are not temporary and they do not yield unique results. They are ongoing without a defined end date. Operations are repetitive and they maintain a certain status-quo.
Here are a few examples of operations from the business world:
- Running a bus service
- Supplying electricity to homes
- Manufacturing ingots
- Periodic maintenance of a garden
Here are some operations that we perform on a daily basis personally:
- Getting ready for work
- Cooking meals
Differences Between Projects and Operations
Some differences to consider between projects and operations are as follows:
|Create unique results||Create non-unique results|
|Create new knowledge||Use existing and pre-defined knowledge|
|Have a defined start and finish date||Ongoing and repetitive|
|Are agents of change||Maintain status quo|
|Are inherently risky since there is no existing knowledge.||Are relatively less risky|
You can check also this video for a quick overview of the difference between the two terms.
Similarities Between Operations and Projects
There are many similarities between operations and projects:
- Both are performed to achieve business objectives.
- Both are planned, executed, and monitored/controlled.
- Both are constrained by time, cost, and resources.
- Both are performed by individuals.
I have noticed that most people who are curious about the distinction between projects and operations are so because they are preparing for a project management exam. Perhaps this article has satiated your curiosity. Understanding the differences is extremely important and especially if you are applying for the PMP exam or any other PMI exam.
As part of the exam application process, you will likely be asked to list the details of the projects that you have done. I have seen many aspirants provide instead a description of operations they have performed on their application. This leads to a PMI audit and ultimately the rejection of their application.
Did you read this article because you are preparing the PMP exam, or do you want to get into project management? Is your job mostly project-oriented or is it operational? Between projects and operations, which one do you think is more important for running a business?
I would love to hear from you below.