Operations management vs project management? Should you care about the difference?

Yes, you should.

Project management and operations management are two often competing terms. While both harken back to planning your business operations, they’re not synonyms. Thus, the task of managing projects warrants extensive planning.

All project activities exist to honor customer demands. Addressing problems is another way of creating value that you can sell. Yet, standardized practices point to the need for strong leadership. Hence, the project manager should hold the reins and pave the path forward.

Therefore, project management professionals look for new ways to optimize the team’s performance. To do so, they work together and strive to innovate manufacturing operations. Hence, depending on the company, a project manager’s role can mean many things.

The Term “Project”

The Project Management Institute frames a set of activities with a single goal as a project. To function as such, the project needs clear starting and ending points. Also, a single person or a group of people can be at the helm of the endeavor.

Project managers oversee the various project teams, often asking them to report progress. This quality control is the key to reaching the optimal end date and wrapping things up.

The project team does its best with the limited resources available for that task. That way, they resolve the operations management vs. project management dilemma.

The Ongoing Processes and Interactions

The key stakeholders have much to gain (or lose) from the current operational policies. This umbrella term refers to risk management or a focus on team building.

Either way, the goal is to produce a deliverable product. Hence, the team should decide on the operations management vs. project management issue quickly.

Therefore, project management is the framework that fits the duration of the project. In comparison, the term “management” refers to an ever-lasting activity. Hence, business management is not all about supplying services. Instead, it often boils down to securing the know-how and other technical skills.

Project Managers and Common Reference Points

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Project managers oversee a slew of tasks to achieve business objectives. Regarding the operations management vs. project management question, they:

  • Envision and schedule new projects
  • Ensure proper input from all team members
  • Direct the pace of the workflow
  • Provide a feasible roadmap
  • Stay within the project budget
  • Evaluate progress and pass on the results

A detailed project management plan can improve existing processes. Also, it summarizes the baseline of the action plan and highlights the pending updates. So, it’s about monitoring each step of the way.

As for the reports, progress measurement focuses on the distance toward full completion. On the other hand, performance measurement is a more detailed take on ongoing tasks. With that method, stakeholders can gauge the efficacy of the management team.

What “Operations Management” Refers To

Operations management is mostly about accounting operations. It evaluates the team’s progress and all resource spending. At the same time, it compares the current pace with the overall project requirements.  

This is an ongoing process across various departments. While all tasks should achieve success, the team must not breach budget constraints. To cover all fronts, the manufacturing industries use three main types of operations management:

  • Mass production recurring operations;
  • Batch production system; and
  • Non-repetitive tasks

Operations Managers and Their Daily Tasks

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The operations manager oversees all production operations. Their task includes ensuring proper team communication and smooth project work. Therefore, they have a big say in the operations management vs. project management methods.

Other important aspects within their job descriptions include:

  • Designing all types of products and services
  • Ensuring an unhindered supply chain
  • Resolving various logistics challenges
  • Planning out a streak of activities
  • Assessing the capacity of a specific project
  • Providing quality control
  • Identifying project blockers
  • Focus on resource management
  • Complete multiple ongoing maintenance tasks
  • Provide feedback for boosting performances

Key Differences and Required Skill Sets

Necessary Level of Training

A bachelor’s degree is often a necessity for a position in project management. As for the operations managers, most of them earned Master’s Degrees in Business Administration. However, certificates and relevant working experiences are other common requirements.

Thus, both positions are demanding, and companies often look for battle-tested applicants for the job. Yet, the competition is tough in both the qualitative and quantitative sense.

This means that most job hunters will possess those levels of education. As a result, they can resolve any operations management vs. project management issues.

Preferable Set of Skills

Though not universal values, several skills span across most management positions:

  • Advanced communication skills
  • Proper leadership capabalities
  • Knowing how to manage pressing deadlines
  • Resolving unrelated issues at once
  • Providing creative solutions without alerting the higher-ups
  • A slew of practical skills and know-how

The Job Growth Aspect

Factors like the chosen industry branch and past successes affect a manager’s salary. So, even a similar position in another city might net you quite a different sum in the end.

Currently, the annual average stands between $53,475-$130,517 for project managers, according to Indeed at least. Hence, the national average sits around the $83,543 per year mark. As for operations managers, their salaries belong within the $41,917-$115,048 yearly range. Therefore, the national average reads an annual sum of $69,444.

Overseeing the Project Budget

The operation manager paces out the sending across all departments. This task encompasses the working conditions, monthly salaries, etc.

However, project managers limit this assignment to one project at a time. In that way, they focus on a successful outcome. To keep a fresh perspective, they note any revenue generated along the way.

Duration

Project management is a task that’s dependent on the said project length. So, it begins and ends together with the project in question. Within that time frame, project managers work on developing a good workflow and clearing milestones.

Operations management is a more complicated process. It isn’t confined to a single project but is an always ongoing endeavor instead. As such, it produces recurring outcomes like new lines of products.

Goals

Project management always has a clear goal as a final output. Since a single project can only create the projected revenue, the managers can funnel the work. In that way, they inch closer to various business objectives.

In comparison, operations management is more about ensuring the house remains in order. It’s about maintaining the fundamentals of the system in place. That means there’s no palpable “product” acting as an output due to operations management.

Needed Manpower

Project management comprises teams that govern resource spending and streamline the workflow. Hence, they are often ad hoc and disband after reaching certain goals.

An operations management team ensures the company keeps on making new products and supplies. Therefore, they also work on deriving optimal future maneuvers and brand imaging.

Conclusion on Operations Management vs. Project Management

Companies constantly work on their basic values and the need to remain competitive in an evolving market. Thus, they set new goals and try to preserve what’s been built thus far. To manage such diverging goals, they need proper operations and project management.

As a result, the goals of both teams can meet at certain points, but their final aim remains miles apart. Still, extensive business knowledge is necessary for taking up any such position. Some roles fit a wider field of a company’s portfolio, while others focus on daily challenges.

Regardless, having a business degree is the first condition for landing a job in project management. However, you can focus on developing certain skills to stand tall above the competition. This might mean having years of hands-on experience within various enterprises in the past.

If you liked this article talking about operations management vs project management, you should check out this one about project management for non-project managers.

I also wrote about similar topics like project management OKRs, gold plating in project management, monitoring in project management, forward pass in project management, and scheduling techniques in project management.

I like project management a lot so I also wrote about project management lead time, fast-tracking in project management, and contingency planning in project management.

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I'm the manager behind the Upcut Studio team. I've been involved in content marketing for quite a few years helping startups grow.