2.2 Projects vs. Operational Work

It’s easy to confuse projects with business operations because they share many similarities.

Operations are the ongoing efforts an organization must undertake to sustain its core business.

Just like projects, operational items have deadlines, are performed by people, and have some constraints on time and money.

They are usually planned, controlled, and to some extent result in a unique product, service or result. But operational items are not projects.

So what are the characteristics of an operational item that exclude it from being a project? The first is that operations are ongoing and repetitive.

Unlike a project whose goal is reached and then the project ends, an operational item continues to be performed in order to sustain the business.

Also, its goal is usually not strategic in nature but rather part of the organization's core business or part of its day-to-day functions.

Lastly, though the objective may be theoretically unique, such as no payroll check being exactly like any other payroll check, taken as a whole it’s been done by the organization before and can be accomplished as part of the organization’s core business processes.

All this differentiation between projects and operations does not mean that we can't approach and manage operational objectives as projects.

In fact, there can be many benefits by doing this, and many organizations adopt this approach called management by projects through which some operational efforts are approached and treated as if they were projects.

This ensures that appropriate formalization, planning, budgeting, risk analysis, and communication are applied to these efforts that might otherwise go unmanaged.

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