While defining Project Management and Operations management as two separate ways that ultimately lead to the same destination may be an appropriate metaphor, a rational concern about the differences between the two tracks will arise.
Project Management and Operations management are excruciatingly interweaved and interconnected. However, the level of interface and intersection between them depends highly on the way things are perceived and varies based on how the things are characterized.
According to Moore, while projects in a wider sense primarily emphasize on deliverables; operations on the other hand are largely concerned with the procedures of mass-producing deliverables. In a study conducted by Kwak and Anbari which investigated research on Project Management from the standpoint of its connections to other management disciplines; it was found that when academics and practitioners evaluate the amount of interaction between the two areas, the degree of association between Project Management research and operations research is placed second among the top fields/disciplines affiliated with Project Management.
The Project Management Institute delineates Project Management as the application of varied tools, knowledge, skills, and strategies to project operations so as to achieve the requirements of the concerned project. A project in this context is described as an activity performed for a shorter duration in order to develop a unique, that is, a one-of-a-kind outcome (product or service).
Contrarily, operations, from a generic wide perspective, are viewed as a series of connected activities that generate a service or a product. Operations Management, as per Heizer and Render, is defined as a series of actions that transmutes inputs into desired outputs so as to yield value in the form of the so-generated goods and services. Operations Management disciplines apply to both the provision of services, such as schools or hospitals (in the teaching and health industry) and the production of commodities, such as factories.
Here, we will try to elaborate upon the similarities and differences between Project Management and Operations Management.
Project vs Operations:
Both projects and operations are carried out by people.
Both projects and operations need to be planned, carried out, and monitored.
Both projects and operations have resource constraints in form of time, money, people, etc.
Projects and Operations are distinguished primarily on the basis of each of their characteristics. Therefore, in order to understand the difference between Project and Operations, it is of utmost importance to study the characteristics of each.
According to Frisanco and Anglberger, the prime characteristics of a project are as follows:
Short and Fixed Duration: Projects have a relatively short duration, with a clearly defined start and end date.
Elaborate and Fixed Budgeting: Generally, a precisely defined and fixed budget is prepared for the entire duration of the project. This generally consists of certain pre-defined items.
Short-Term Staffing: In the case of a project, people are assigned to the project on a temporary basis, in light of the short and fixed duration of the project.
On the other hand, the prime characteristics of operations are as follows:
Long Duration with no Fixed dates: Operations have a long-term, possibly indefinite, and continuous work with possibly no pre-defined start and end date,
Cyclical Budgeting: In the case of operations, a long-term budget with expenses only partially specified or approximated is made. Operations work on a cyclical budget and cost management.
Long Term Staffing: In the case of operations, people are generally permanently allocated for a long period.
In light of the aforementioned characteristics of each project vs operations, the difference between Project and Operations can be summarized in terms of duration, details in budgeting as well as in terms of staffing.
Project Management vs Operations Management
There are many a time when the responsibilities owed to Project Management overlap with those owed to operations management, which is why there have been extensive studies on the inter-relatedness of both these fields of management.
Following are a few instances, highlighted by Bolick, where the similarities between Operations Management and Project Management are brought out.
Alteration of an Operation: First, when it is necessary to significantly alter a component of company operations, the change is frequently managed as a project. Once the project has delivered the change, operations will continue their emphasis on maintaining, running and supporting the project's goods or services.
Closeout of Project: Second, in the closeout phase of a project, it is required the Project Managers and Operations Managers to cooperate on a very regular basis. This is done in order to begin the process of shifting charge and accountability for any continuing maintenance and operations related to the project deliverable.
Several times, the tasks of Project Management coincide with those of Operations Management, which has led to substantial research has been conducted on the inter-relatedness of both of these domains of management. This makes it extremely important to clearly understand and delineate the difference between Project Management and operations management:
Primary Focus: One of the most important differences between Project Management and operations management is that while Project Management primarily emphasizes management and control of the project; operations management on the other hand has its main focus on the management and monitoring of operations.
Nature of Activities: While Project Management requires the conduct of tasks such as Project Management, work streamlining, and cost management, Operation management requires handling the operations such as the production of goods and services.
Duration: Project Management is temporary in nature, hence shorter-lived when compared to Operations Management. This is because while managing operations is an ongoing process, Project Management comes to halt as soon as the project goals are achieved.
Responsibilities: Project Managers are in charge of overseeing the start and end of projects, as well as monitoring various stages of development. Operations Managers are in charge of providing services or products to clients in a more effective manner.
Change in focus: The Project Manager's focus shifts based on the needs of the project, and the targeted outcomes are likewise distinct. Since each project is unique in its being with its separate set of goals and requirements, it naturally requires the Project Manager to alter its approach and focus accordingly. On the other hand, the basic aim of an Operations Manager does not vary; it is to conduct corporate operations effectively and productively.
Mode of organizational transformation: Project Management affects organizational transformation by introducing new goods and meeting client requests by tailoring new products or services to the consumer requirement. On the other hand, operations management on account of continually enhancing the process delivers the same product but with new upgrades and features owing to regularly improvised processes.
Operations Manager vs Project Manager
It is widely debated that there is an overlap between Project Managers and Operations Managers.
Let’s see the aforementioned four areas are as follows:
1. Budget planning
There is a vast difference in budgeting responsibilities between the Operations Manager and the Project Manager. While the responsibility handled by the Operational Manager is elaborate and detailed in this regard since they are primarily in charge of the departmental budget along with the expenses associated with managing a given department. Being in charge of this type of budget entails a variety of tasks, such as assessing the department's outflows in form of expenses and payments.
Operations managers are in charge of personnel pay and benefits, maintenance of office premises, and other services availed in order to ensure the effectiveness of the department. This also involves cases like where the employees are billed out to other departments which pay for the services supplied within.
On the other hand, a Project Manager, in terms of budgeting, is solely accountable for the budget for the project that they have been working on for the concerned period of time. The project budget primarily includes costs such as labor, expenses for procurement of raw materials, and operational expenses.
Aside from expenditures, the project budget might include income, if any money can be earned while the project is operating. In this situation, it is usually accounted for as a project benefit.
2. Schedule planning
Since both the Operations Manager and Project Manager are required to undertake schedule planning, there is an overlap in this regard. However, like in the rest of the three areas, here also, the manner in which this function is undertaken differs significantly. In terms of Schedule planning, while an operations manager is in charge of overseeing day-to-day management, a Project Manager is primarily in charge of the project timeline.
It is the operations manager's role to design, manage, and implement employee schedules, as well as to monitor them to ensure that deadlines are met.
The responsibility of the Project Manager is limited to ensuring that the project adheres to the predetermined timeline and is completed without any delay. Schedule planning in this aspect requires and consists of laying out the delivery dates, planning mileposts, and then monitoring/tracking progress against prediction, generally using realistic Project Management tools to ensure that all activities stay on the planned and envisioned trajectory.
3. Staff management
The Project Manager has far less involvement in personnel management than the operations manager. Operations managers are accountable for the overall growth and performance of the company's staff.
They are often in charge of department recruiting, onboarding new employees, allocating workers to projects (which necessitates understanding their skill profiles and development requirements), and coordinating their operations.
If necessary, they might assist the HR department by accepting or refusing vacation leave or holiday requests, as well as dealing with illness absence and other HR obligations. They are also responsible for overseeing the performance of everything that isn't related to projects – all of the business-as-usual and day-to-day tasks that assist the department in continuing its functioning. Furthermore, operations managers should promote and facilitate good communication between employees and the management team.
Quite distinctively, the Project Manager is not involved in the staffing responsibilities and instead oversees the performance of the project team on specific initiatives.
In other circumstances, they may lack the power to do anything about bad performance other than report it to the team member's management. It will then be up to that team member's operations manager to deal with the performance issue.
4. Skills development
One of the important tasks Operations Managers are designated to manage is employees’ skill development. Hence, even in this aspect, the responsibility of Project Managers is limited when compared to the responsibility of Operations Managers.
Operations Managers typically plan skill development activities for workers, such as training, mentoring, and coaching, and approve time off for employees to study for professional credentials or other ways connected to the job role. They also set up annual objectives for employees at the start of the year, and they then work towards their growth plan throughout the year.
Quite distinctively, Project Managers are only responsible for giving training if someone needs further assistance in order to execute their project activities efficiently.
Hence, we can conclude that while Project Management and Operations management are complementary, operations managers and Project Managers have quite distinct sets of duties. The operations manager relieves the Project Manager of several significant operations-related managerial responsibilities which assists the Project Managers to focus entirely on the successful completion of the project.
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