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At first glance, it’s easy to look at project management as second- fiddle to operations management. Project Managers focus on the efficiency of a single project. An Operations Manager focuses on the efficiency of the entire organization.

Further muddling the issue is how many business schools teach project management. In most schools, its only a small part of a larger operations management course. PM is its own entity,  and just as valuable as OM. A truly great organization must learn how to leverage them both.

What Sets Them Apart

PM isn’t a smaller-scale version of OM. It simply strives for a competitive advantage in a different way than OM does. PM is singularly focused, taking a look at a specific project. PM has a short-term vision. PM focuses on completing a single task for an organization, and moves on to the next project upon successful delivery. OM, on the other hand, has to take a broad view of the organization. It focuses on long-term issues, like competitive sustainability and organizational efficiency.

Here are their key differences in several of the most important organizational areas:

  • Budget. OM has to take things like staff and overhead into account. PM only needs to budget for costs related to just their project.
  • Staff. OM handles the more administrative duties, like hiring, onboarding, and conflict resolution. PM is more worried about day-to-day staffing issues: on the job performance and the delegation of duties.
  • Scope. OM deals on the organizational level, while PM deals on a business unit level.

Finally, PM is more specific than OM. Individual projects will vary a great deal based on the staff, deadline, and the involved clients and vendors. PM may have to complete unique tasks specific to their situation. OM, on the other hand, focuses entirely on the organization, and doesn’t need to be as flexible. Their tasks are repetitive over the life of the organization.

How They’re the Same

Project Management & Operations Management Are The Same

We need to keep in mind that PM and OM, as equals, work together to build competitive advantages for their organization. This means that, while there are many differences, there are also some key similarities between OM and PM. The most important of which is that they’re all working toward the same goal of improving their organization.

They’re also operating under the same organizational culture. This means that their systems, management styles, visions, and habits are the same. They look at the processes with different scopes in mind, but have the same end goal. Because both functions have the same goal and culture, they’re actually able to work together quite well. The key is finding a way for them to work together hand-in-hand, rather than as superior and subordinate.

Tying It All Together

A truly successful organization must skillfully marry OM and PM. Most companies utilize resources equally among OM and PM, which makes them very dependent on one another.

The truth is that OM is extremely complimentary to PM. A Project Manager is extremely skilled at hitting deadlines. Their focus is on completing goals within cost, scope, and fit. They need to spend their time on delivering success, engulfed in the day-to-day of their project. A successful Operations Manager takes the administrative burden away from them. They’re able to take care of higher-level tasks to free up the Project Manager to do what they do best.

An organization achieves a true competitive edge when they realize that PM isn’t subordinate to OM. Rather, they’re a piece of the same puzzle. And that is, after all, every manager’s goal.