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In every organization, there are ultimately only two aspects of work – they are the on-going operations and projects. A project can be given so many different definitions. Over time different definitions have been given to the word, each one defining the term in its best way possible. Both aspects are as important to contribute to the success of the business! The differences between operations and projects should be understood in order to set the budget, daily schedules and assure that the manager of the project or operations has a crystal clear understanding of what is needed for a successful result.

Creating a unique product or service can be done with a project. Temporary here isn’t referring to a make shift endeavor or an endeavor that spans a short duration, here it means having a beginning and an end. As stated in the previous sentence temporary doesn’t mean short in any way, it could be a 10 year project or more or even less, the key words here are “beginning and end”. It only comes to end when the objective has been met. A project is said to have a definitive start and end. It works in line with the objective that has been set; once the objective has been achieved the project comes to an end. They have definitive beginnings and definitive endings and work on a fixed budget. They are created to achieve specific objectives within a said period of time. Few of the many reasons why an organization may initiate a project to meet a business need, reach a certain objective or meet a certain demand. The only way businesses can achieve any of the goals they have set is by expending resources of the organization over time for extra cost. The budget that has been set must last the entire project and because projects explore new and unique areas, extra budget overhead is often needed for circumstances that may just pop up. Although it is temporary it can help achieve the organizational goals when they are aligned with the organization’s strategy.

Moving on to the closely related but distinct term operation, the meaning of the term has to be addressed. Operation can also be defined in a lot of ways using a variety of terms. For permanent and repetitive result, operations are the best. As can be seen from the definition above, operational activities can span long periods. They are also integral aspects of an organization’s running. Operation has over the years been defined as a number of things by a number of people with each definition hitting home for the individuals. Operations are permanent and their major goal is to make profit for the organization. They are used to run regular business models, achieve and maintain the business. They do not produce anything new but they are necessary to sustain the system and keep it running well enough (integral parts of a business). Any production process can be an example of an operation. Resources are assigned to do the same tasks according to the operating procedures and policies. The activities in an operation may include manufacturing products or providing various services. In order to achieve the results needed, managers and employees are assigned to do the same task again and again. Operations management is responsible for watching over, directing and controlling business. Operations evolve to support the day-to-day business and are necessary to achieve strategic and tactical goals of the business.

Projects and operations have a good number of differences as well as similarities. The differences are very easy to identify and outline from the various definitions given so far. Projects generally test unknown waters and they involve taking a lot of risks; operations deal with activities, techniques, plans, expenditure that have been dealt with in the past – there are usually a host of procedures most projects work with that means the projects are systematically executed. The risks associated with operations are relatively less. This is because of the repetitive nature and definitive results that are obtained from operations.  Projects are usually focused on objectives and operations are focused on metrics meaning the standards of measurement by which efficiency, performance, progress, or quality of the plan or product can be assessed – the end product of projects is to ensure that certain objectives are met while that of operations is to meet key performance indicator targets. Projects are more concerned with performance than efficiency, operations as we all must have guessed does the opposite. It is more concerned with efficiency that performance. Projects are temporary; they only go on for a short period of time while operations go on for long periods – they can be said to run permanently. Projects are unique, operations are not exactly unique, as has been severally stated in the paragraphs preceding this, operations are repetitive and the results are usually the same in other words, operations are monotonous. They are quite basic with repetitive output. An operations manager must take into cognizance many factors when producing a product. They must make a decision to balance the cost and quality of their product or service. It involves making a variety of critical decisions that affect the performance of an organization in the short and long run. Operation managers have to make considerations of different aspects related to layouts, location, and process management when designing operation systems. More importantly, they must consider the four dimensions of operation processes that affect organizational performance and/or service line. The four V’s (volume, variety, variation, and visibility) have a great impact on key performance indicators namely; quality, speed, flexibility, dependability and cost.

Projects work with a fixed output; operations have to make profit in order to keep the business afloat. When it comes to project management a reasonable amount of skill is often required; skills like effective leadership, team management, diplomacy and negotiating skills, personal organization, risk management, and effective communication skills, data processing skills, adaptability, stress tolerance, operations management requires minimal to almost no skill in any way depending on the nature of the operation that is being undertaken example conflict management skills; for addressing day to day issues that may come up, good decision making skills, budget development skills and process management skills and so on. Noteworthy in all of this, is that although projects and operations do not require the same skill levels, there are a lot of skills that will serve both purposes that means the purpose of projects and that of operations.

They have been listed above distinctively under each category, but for the purpose of emphasis and clarity, they will be listed again and they are; team work, data processing skills, budget development, organization, leadership, business negotiation, and the ability to delegate duties appropriately to achieve maximum effectiveness and accuracy.

Project management and operation management have a number of differences and as stated earlier, they have similarities too. Both of them have scopes and objectives, their scope and objectives differ in various ways – the objectives of project when met will automatically lead to the end of the project. They both have teams involved in the execution of the tasks. Keeping the project teams engaged and motivated can be easier since the engagement will be limited to the period for which they will be working. Both are planned, executed and controlled; they are both subject to constrain such as schedules and resources.

The following citations below are example of projects and operations: A plumber maybe doing a support work to fix a leak. Each day he fixes leaks in 20 locations. Each leak may require a different solution but it does not change the fact that it is support work. Let us assume during the leak fix, he realizes the whole tubing is weak and damaged at a lot of locations. He then informs the owner of the house that a “redesign the bathroom” project should be undertaken to get a permanent fix.

Another example of a project: Building a facility is an example of a project; let us consider a car manufacturing construction here. It is a valid example because here you construct a car manufacturing facility and hand it over to the client and signed off. A thing to note here is the short term duration of the project.

However, once the facility starts working and the car manufacturing process starts, this will be an example of operation, because here the facility is producing a repetitive output that is cars and the process is ongoing and long term.

Project management and operation management are management skills that are extremely vital to any organization and business model in the corporate world. At times they may even run simultaneously. Usually, the undertaking of operations will give rise to projects, and operation and project management skills will come in very handy here.