Project vs. Operations Management: A Guide for Growing SMBs

By: Shubham Gupta on May 24, 2023
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As a small business owner or leader, it's essential to clearly understand the different functions that keep an organization running smoothly. Two of the most critical functions are project management and operations management. While both are important, they require unique skills and have distinct responsibilities. 

Understanding the differences between project and operations management can help you optimize your resources, minimize waste, and make better-informed decisions. This blog uses insights from Gartner research [1], as well as some valuable advice from a certified Project Management Professional (PMP)—Marcos Ortiz [2], to shed light on the key differences between project management and operations management, why they matter, and a lot more!

What is project management?

Simply put, project management is the planning, organizing, and overseeing tasks to complete a specific goal. It involves setting objectives, allocating resources, and monitoring progress to ensure successful project completion.

Dashboard view in project management software

Dashboard view in project management software (Source)

Examples of projects in businesses:

  • Building a new ecommerce website

  • Implementing a new software system

  • Developing a new product or service

  • Expanding a new product or service

What are the major components of project management?

By effectively addressing the major components of project management, you can smoothly guide a project to completion and ensure its success. Here's a simple explanation of all the major components:

  • Goals: Clearly defined objectives that outline what the project aims to achieve.

  • Scope: The boundaries of the project, which specify what is included and what is not.

  • Resources: Everything needed to complete the project, including people, materials, equipment, and money.

  • Timeline: A schedule that outlines when tasks should be completed and milestones reached.

  • Budget: An estimate of the total cost of the project, including labor, materials, and other expenses.

  • Communication: Ensuring everyone involved in the project is informed and updated on progress, changes, and any issues.

  • Risk management: Identifying potential issues or obstacles impacting the project and ensuring strategic planning to address them.

  • Quality management: Ensuring the project's deliverables meet the required standards and expectations.

What is operations management?

Operations management organizes and controls business processes to efficiently produce goods or services. It involves planning, directing, and coordinating resources (staff, materials, and equipment) to maximize productivity and quality while minimizing costs.

Examples of business operations:

  • Manufacturing products

  • Keeping customer service operations running

  • Monitoring inventory levels

  • Resource allocation

  • Controlling costs

What are the major components of operations management?

Emphasizing operations management components ensures efficient processes, optimal resource use, and timely product delivery, leading to cost reduction, customer satisfaction, and overall business success. Here are some of the major components of operations management:

  • Inventory management: Keeping track of raw materials, work-in-progress, and finished goods to ensure adequate supply and minimize costs.

  • Supply chain management: Coordinating and managing the network of suppliers, manufacturers, and distributors involved in producing and delivering goods and services.

  • Capacity planning: Determining the amount of production resources, such as labor, equipment, and space, required to meet customer demand.

  • Maintenance and reliability: Keeping equipment and systems in good working order and minimizing downtime by performing regular maintenance and repairs.

  • Cost and budget control: Monitoring and managing expenses to ensure daily operations are financially viable and within budget constraints.

Operations management as a subset of project management

Operations management can be seen as a subset of project management, as it focuses on specific aspects like scheduling, quality control, and resource optimization within the context of a project. Projects may involve setting up new operations or improving existing ones, making operations management a crucial component.

"Project management may define the 'what' and 'when' of a venture, but operations management elucidates the 'how' and 'who'."

Marcos Ortiz

Project manager at Claro RD

Where project management provides the overall structure and direction, operations management ensures that the day-to-day activities are carried out effectively to meet project goals. By working together, they enable you to deliver value and achieve desired outcomes.

Project management vs. operations management: Key differences

Project management and operations management are two distinct fields within the business world, but they are interrelated and often overlap. However, there are some key differences between the two:


Project management

Operations management


Achieve specific goals within a given timeframe

Ensure efficient, ongoing processes and output


Temporary, with defined start and end dates

Continuous, with no specific end date


Unique, one-time tasks and activities

Repetitive, routine tasks and processes


Adapts to changes and uncertainties

Aims for stability and standardization

Team structure

Cross-functional and dynamic

Functional and hierarchical


Project-specific (e.g., scope, schedule, budget)

Process-specific (e.g., productivity, quality, cost)

Risk and uncertainty

Higher due to unique tasks and constraints

Lower, as processes are established and tested

Performance metrics

Project completion, scope, budget, time

Efficiency, productivity, quality, cost control

Quick ways to differentiate between project management and operations management

Differentiating between project management and operations management enables you to effectively allocate resources, streamline processes, and ensure the timely completion of unique projects while maintaining ongoing, routine operations, fostering overall business growth and success.

Here are some tips and strategies you must emphasize:

1. Define specific roles and responsibilities

Clearly outline the roles and responsibilities of your project team and operations management teams. This will eliminate confusion, enhance collaboration, and ensure that each team focuses on their respective tasks. Assign dedicated managers to oversee each function (operations manager to handle the operational task and project manager to handle project-related tasks) and hold them accountable for their team's performance.

2. Align objectives for seamless collaboration

Establish clear objectives for both project and operations management teams, ensuring they work in tandem to achieve overall business goals. Regularly review these objectives and make adjustments as needed to maintain alignment between the two functions, fostering collaboration and driving success.

Marcos observed that project and operations management differ in their goals—the former seeks unique outcomes, while the latter ensures steady-state operations. He says:

“For seamless collaboration, alignment of objectives is crucial. In a $1M project I oversaw, clear communication of project-specific objectives reduced operational disruptions by 30%, fostering productive cooperation between both teams.”

3. Embrace data-driven decision-making

Leverage data and analytics to make informed decisions, optimize resource allocation, and measure performance. Use data insights to identify bottlenecks, improve processes, and evaluate the effectiveness of your project and operations management strategies.

4. Prioritize tasks and delegate effectively

Determine the priority of tasks and projects based on their impact on business goals. Delegate tasks to the appropriate departments, ensuring that the right team members are working on the most important tasks. This will streamline workflow, prevent overloading, and ensure timely completion of projects and operational tasks.

5. Implement an agile project management system

Adopt an agile project management approach, allowing for flexibility and adaptability in the face of changing circumstances. This will enable your project management team to respond quickly to changes, prioritize tasks effectively, and maintain a customer-centric focus, ultimately improving your business's agility and competitiveness.

"Agile frameworks enhance adaptability to change, differentiating project tasks from daily operations. They foster flexibility, communication, and continuous improvement, thereby boosting efficiency and success across projects and operations."

Marcos Ortiz

Ensure clarity between the two for better business outcomes

As we've explored, project management focuses on achieving specific goals within a defined time frame, whereas operations management ensures the smooth, day-to-day functioning of the business. Each comes with its unique challenges and opportunities, and embracing these differences can lead to valuable insights and improvements within your organization.

Dive deeper into the distinct roles of project and operations management. By doing so, you'll be better equipped to harness the strengths of both domains, leading to improved decision-making, optimized resource allocation, and, ultimately, enhanced business performance. So, embrace the journey and watch your business soar to new heights.