Project Management vs Operations Management: The Key Differences Explained

Project management and operations management are both key roles in a company. While they share many of the same skills, their responsibilities differ considerably.

Understanding these differences is key to ensuring your company and its teams operate smoothly and within their respective scopes. In this article, we compare project management and operations management and look at the different tools they use.

EDITOR’s CHOICE

Monday – Affordable, Easy to Use, and Powerful

  • 10+ Project Views
  • Generous Free Plan
  • Powerful Workflow Automation

Project Management vs Operations Management: Overview

While project and operations management share some common ground, such as organizational planning, resource allocation, and performance measurement, they differ in many important ways.

Project management involves bringing change through specific, time-bound projects that create new products, services, or features while working with a mix of internal and external stakeholders.

Operations management is about improving efficiency through ongoing innovation and refinement of new and existing processes with close collaboration with internal, often senior stakeholders.

Project Management Operations Management
Responsibilities Plan, execute, and close individual projects. Ensure efficiency and effectiveness in day-to-day operations.
Scope • Specific, time-bound objectives with a start and end date.
• The project ends when the objective is achieved.
• Ongoing objectives related to processes and workflows.
• Once an objective is reached, new ones are adopted.
Output New or improved products, services, and features. New or improved workflows, tools, and processes.
Stakeholders A mix of internal and external stakeholders. Primarily internal, senior roles, such as department heads.

What is Project Management?

Project managers are responsible for planning, executing, and bringing to close individual projects. Each project a PM works on has a specific objective.

This is usually to create something new—like a product, service, or set of features. In this way, projects drive companies, enabling them to better serve their existing customers and appeal to new ones.

To achieve their objectives, PMs allocate company resources, including employees, and continuously monitor their team’s progress to ensure projects stay on schedule and within budget.

There’s a wide variety of project management methodologies available to PMs to help them achieve their goals and a number of project management tools to help make their lives easier.

What Does a Project Manager Do?

A project manager’s day-to-day tasks can be broken down into three main categories: planning, executing, and analyzing. Or, to think about it another way: before, during, and after a project.

Planning a Project

To successfully plan for a new project, a PM must:

Define the ProjectBreak Tasks DownIdentify Risks

This includes defining its scope, objectives, and deliverables. For example, who’s involved and for how long, what are they trying to accomplish, and what’s the output (such as a new product or feature)?

Break tasks down into manageable subtasks, then schedule timelines (to see project dependencies), allocate resources (i.e. time and personnel), set milestones, and prepare documentation and resources.

Pro tip: The best way to do this is with good task management software.

Identify project risks – to the timeline, budget, or quality. By watching for potential constraints and bottlenecks, a good PM can foresee where problems may arise and plan accordingly.

Read More:

Executing a Project

Once the project starts, the PM is responsible for ensuring it stays on track and within budget. This means:

CollaboratingLiaisingMaintaining Detailed RecordsQuality Assurance

Coordinating closely with team members ensures they have the necessary resources. This can include providing additional guidance, assisting with the flow of information, and managing disputes, plus regularly assessing progress, discussing challenges, and guiding decision-making through regular and ad-hoc meetings.

Pro tip: Here, online collaboration software is a powerful tool in a PM’s toolbox.

During a project, it’s the project manager’s responsibility to liaise with senior managers and sometimes customers, ensuring expectations are aligned and well managed.

This includes a project’s progress, including budget tracking, timeline, and changes in scope. This documentation is crucial for transparency and analyzing success after completion.

It also helps in making decisions as the project progresses, such as where to allocate additional resources.

The PM needs to ensure the overall quality of the project’s output by identifying issues as they arise and quickly devising and enacting solutions.

Analyzing a Project

After a project ends, the PM must make final reports for other stakeholders, including senior management. For example, what went well and what can be improved for next time?

Did the project meet its initial deadline and budget? Why or why not? These lessons are then carried over to future projects.

Related: 

What is Operations Management?

Operations managers are responsible for ensuring a company’s processes are efficient and effective. Like PMs, they achieve their goals by strategically allocating company resources.

But unlike PMs, whose attention is generally limited to individual projects, operations managers take a holistic view of a company’s or department’s operations.

They oversee the “big picture” of day-to-day processes, identifying opportunities to reduce costs, increase efficiency, and improve quality with innovation, creativity, and problem-solving skills.

To accomplish their objectives, OMs use specific tools and solutions, such as resource management software, to track the various moving parts of a company.

This includes from its human resources to its suppliers, equipment, materials, and more.

What Does an Operations Manager Do?

An operational manager’s responsibilities span three key areas: process management, resource management, and people management.

Process Management

Process Management

On a daily basis, OMs analyze performance data and review the existing processes involved in production or service delivery, aiming to identify inefficiencies and bottlenecks.

They then make recommendations on how to adjust workflows to improve these. Quality control checks play an important role in process management.

They highlight where problems may lie and ensure adjustments to workflows don’t negatively impact the product or service. This involves:

  • Spot checks
  • Reviewing customer feedback
  • Speaking with stakeholders
Resource Management

Resource Management

Resource management encompasses several key activities:

  • Inventory and supply chain management. Ensuring inventory levels are maintained by ordering supplies, managing inventory systems, and coordinating with suppliers.
  • Budget management. Overseeing the project or company budget often falls to an OM. They monitor expenses and find ways to reduce costs without compromising on quality.

The latter might involve negotiating with suppliers, finding new ways to use resources, and controlling operational expenditures (OpEx).

People Management

People Management

The human element is a crucial, often forgotten part of the OM’s role. Production processes are performed by workers, so the ability to manage these individuals is key.

An OM may be responsible for staff management and scheduling, which involves creating schedules, assigning tasks, and ensuring employees are both productive and satisfied in their roles.

Compliance with industry regulations and maintaining a safe workplace also fall under this and involve regular safety inspections, compliance audits, and updating policies and procedures.

Project and Operations Management: Shared Skills, Separate Scopes

EDITOR’s CHOICE

Monday – Affordable, Easy to Use, and Powerful

  • 10+ Project Views
  • Generous Free Plan
  • Powerful Workflow Automation

As may be clear from their individual tasks and responsibilities, PMs and OMs share some key skills. They must be:

  1. Strong leaders and excellent communicators.
  2. Masters at time, resource, and risk management
  3. Innovative, with outstanding critical-thinking abilities

PMs and OMs differ the most in their:

  • Objectives (new products vs new workflows),
  • Timelines (time-bound, single projects or continuous, iterative improvement),
  • Position within the company (OMs typically sit above PMs)
  • Involvement with stakeholders (internal and external stakeholders vs primarily internal, senior roles).

Both rely on a variety of tools to achieve their goals, including solid resource and project management software.

FAQs

Which is higher: operations manager or project manager?

What is an example of operations vs project?

Can a project manager be an operations manager?

Related Reading

Christian Rigg
Business Management Expert

Christian holds a BSc in Psychology with an emphasis on organizational management and is the current Head of Operations for Eleven Media, where he oversees day-to-day business operations, manages a team of project and account managers, and otherwise greases the sticky wheels of company-wide collaboration. Prior to this, he managed operations for a hotel chain in the South of France while completing a Masters in History. When not geeking out over automations and data analysis, he can usually be found cycling and hiking around the French Riviera.