Operations Hate Projects

lech: Very nicely put: “Most people do not resist change. They resist the uncertainty associated with change.”  
wallybock: @lech Or they resist having change done TO them.

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Operations

… are about the status quo. In general, it’s a false assumption (see process improvement), but in an individual’s mind that’s exactly how it works. “I am in claims handling, I manage claims from 9 to 5, 5 days a week.” “I am in customer support, I do…” “I am in logistics, I do…”

Regularly, repeatedly.

 “My specialization requires focus on key activities.” Efficiency is the word of the day.

  • Repeatable (standardization)
  • Not temporary
  • Process

Projects

… are about change. Are [often] about imposed change. Are about dealing with the uncertain in [often|mostly] hostile environments. About managing risk, and stakeholders as if change itself was likely to be changed on the way. About fixing what’s “fix-able” — agreements, charters, initiation documents etc.

“Models are here to protect us. But experience shows, you must have your eyes wide open anyway.” Effectiveness is the word of the day.

  • Unique
  • Temporary
  • Product

Different worlds

Operations and projects are different worlds. Efficiency is about doing things right, effectiveness is about doing the right things (via Peter F. Drucker). But what’s more important, for efficiency to be efficient standardization is key (“I must do my job regularly well”), whereas effectiveness puts pressure on the end result (“I must deliver a result no matter what”).

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What happens if you put these two together? If you’ve tried projects in mixed operations-project environments, then you probably know it too well. Projects are a blow to the organization. Let’s face it — operational employees do not like projects. They do not like to be “resourced” as it interferes with their “operating” (not to mention that multitasking is evil). Line manager – project manager conflicts are thus inevitable, and so are escalations, weak sponsors and “passing the buck.”

Can it ever work out?

@zpepe reminded me that environments are not always like that.

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When we are a subcontractor working together with IT project representatives of an organization (IT departments are oft-times more project-oriented), when we are working with startups (startups are projects) or relatively small organizations. (Anything else comes to your mind?)

* * *

Is it possible to make projects fit seamlessly into “operational environments?” Or perhaps the dichotomy (operations vs. projects) does more harm than good and we should remove the word “project” from out dictionaries altogether and think “process” — no matter what.

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One thought on “Operations Hate Projects

  1. great post and Interesting observation. Indeed those are two different worlds. You described it very well.Some more examples where operations vs. Projects might be not so antagonic:Institutions where doing project is core business e.g. Research labs, NASA, ESA, consulting companies, graphic design studios.They have some operations but as a minor activity (accounting, crm, hr…), only to support their main business.

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