Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Is it a book or a load of laundry?

I sometimes hear my clients use the terms "project" and "operations" interchangeably. I was thinking about this as I was reading a book, recently. Even if I read only one page a day from a book, I call that progress. If I do one load of laundry a day I don't see that as progress--I see it as keeping up. What's the difference? Easy. The book has an end. At some point I will get to the last page. Laundry just keeps coming.

A project has a beginning and an end. Operations keep going. Getting everyone in accounts payable to switch from using software package A to B is a project. Processing the A/P is operations. This can start to get fuzzy when you look at a big production line that is cranking out the ABC model this month and then switches over to producing the DEF model next month.

Being able to make the distinction between a project and operations is helpful because each domain has its own skill sets, areas of study, credentials, and vast bodies of knowledge. There is some cross-over, but ideally you'd like to put your Operations Research major running the production line or handling logistics and not your newly-minted PMP (and visa versa). If you're truly fortunate, you have some individuals that are equally comfortable and capable in both arenas. These folks are ideal in situations where you need to kick off an initiative as a formal project, and then transition that into daily operations down the road.

So if you're ever wondering what type of work you're doing, ask yourself if it feels more like reading a book or doing laundry.

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