Operations and project management

The similarities between the two are striking.

My good friend Wikipedia suggests that operational planning is the process of linking strategic goals and objectives to tactical goals and objectives. It describes milestones, conditions for success, and explains how, or what portion of, a strategic plan will be put into operation during a given operational period - in the case of commercial application, a fiscal year or another given budgetary term.

When thinking of project management - it is commonly known as the discipline of planning, organising, motivating, and controlling resources to achieve specific goals.

Then there are all the different knowledge areas:

Project integration management

This area co-ordinates and applies the work of all of the processes so they integrate and all flow in a co-ordinated and smooth manner.

It works as follows:

* Develop project charter
* Develop project management plan
* Direct and manage project execution
* Monitor and control project work
* Perform integrated change control
* Close project or phase

If a company is using project management techniques to operationalise the business, it can include the following:

In an IT context, the company can run its system implementation as a project. Why not include the maintenance/SLA work afterwards to have a total picture of work done for a specific client?

In a mining context, productivity is always a focal point and investment is normally directed toward expanding production capacity. Why not capture daily diaries in an electronic format, which feeds into the project management system? If operations are integrated, why not share costs, research and development across the board?

Project scope management

Project scope management is vital because it ensures the project includes all the work that is required to complete the project successfully. Any additional work that was not included in the original scope statement can be seen as scope creep.

Operations: sometimes excited employees who can easily take set daily operational work to the next level - better known as cowboys - need to be reined in. The scope of day-to-day activities can be managed by running operational projects and controlling the work on the project management system.

Project time management

This is concerned with the resources, activities, duration and scheduling so the project manager can control the timely completion of the project.

When thinking about operations, the list normally includes:

1. Forecasting
2. Capacity planning
3. Scheduling
4. Where is the company now?
5. Where does it want to be?
6. How does it get there?
7. How does it measure its progress?

Schedules can be set up for repetitive types of work to budget and ensure work is delivered on time. Using a scheduling tool is so much easier than using old-fashioned spreadsheets. Not only will resources be notified of tasks assigned to them, they will have a platform to potentially see what other people are working on. They will also be informed enough to plan their daily activities.

When looking a bit wider - a resource manager in a banking environment should be able to know exactly who is doing what when. The same goes for pretty much any other type of environment.

Project cost management

Project cost management consists of estimating, budgeting, and controlling costs to ensure the work can be completed within the approved project budget.

The above can be said for operations as well. If all operational work in a project management system is scheduled, each resource should have a rate associated to its skill. This, together with any fixed cost that needs to be incurred on any type of operational project, should roll up to the company budget for the financial year.

Project quality management

This knowledge area covers the planning of quality, and the performing of both quality assurance and quality control. When writing a piece of software, it will go through all the different types of software testing to ensure the right quality is met.

Normal operational quality management can pose questions like:

1. Are your equipment maintenance policies correct?
2. Is your quality control done at the right time during the production process?
3. In your restaurant, are all foods cooked at the correct temperature and according to health standards?
4. Do you regularly conduct air quality assessments on your mining operations?
5. Was your product produced correctly?

From an operational perspective, the questions can go a bit further:

1. Are processes performing effectively?
2. What criteria should be met?
3. Are the criteria being met?
4. Are resources being cross-skilled?
5. Does the quality management system aim to bind the work and material resources of the company in the most effective way to achieve its objectives?

Project human resource management

The project manager must be a good leader and be able to motivate and influence the team to be successful. In addition, this knowledge area focuses on the team management tools as well as the interpersonal skills. The project manager must develop a resource plan, acquire the team and then develop and manage this unit.

Project scope management is vital because it ensures the project includes all the work that is required to complete the project successfully.

Again, operational management works quite the same. If there is a job opening, the company will develop the job description for the type of resource it needs. It must then acquire the skill in the market. Once a suitable candidate has been appointed, the company must ensure his/her skills are developed and managed by the team lead/manager.

A project management system that can show the workload/demand on resources, as well as the actuals worked, will put the power back in management's hands.

Project communications management

This knowledge area focuses on keeping the stakeholders appropriately informed throughout the life cycle of a project. It includes the processes that ensure timely and appropriate generation, gathering, circulation, storage, recovery, and the ultimate disposition of project information.

Again, the similarities are striking.

During normal operations, the company needs to also give feedback to staff, executive management, the board of directors, and most importantly, clients. It needs to ensure it has the right management information at hand to provide all types of feedback and not base it on thumb-sucked stats. Daily stand-up team meetings are great for ensuring communication flows and are a good platform for discussing and resolving difficulties. This can be built up to include management to align regularly (even just for 15 minutes per day).

Project risk management

Project risk management is the identification, assessment, and ranking of risks, followed by the methods resources applied to decrease, monitor, and control the probability and/or impact of events that might occur.

The term 'operational risk management' is defined as a continual cyclic process, which includes risk assessment, risk decision-making, and implementation of risk controls, which results in acceptance, mitigation, or avoidance of risk.

In my mind, there is no real difference between project and operational risk management. So why not use the same system that is used for project risk identification and run it for the business?

Project procurement management

This PMBOK knowledge area is used to obtain goods, services or scope from outside the organisation. It might or might not be handled on the basis of formal procurement activities.

When operating a manufacturing plant, the company surely needs to first plan what must be procured, conducted and administered, and lastly, close the procurement loop. This might sound like a repetitive process that does not require tracking, but how else does the company ensure everything is happening? How can it improve on its procurement if it does not know how long it takes from beginning to end?

Bringing it all together

When considering all of the information mentioned, is there any reason why people's lives cannot be scheduled as a project? Why can all work happening on a manufacturing plant not be scheduled as small iterative projects, rolling up to achieve the strategic goals set out for the company?

The search continues for technologies and processes that raise productivity, while at the same time ensure costs and risks are managed. So, what I am saying is: why not use project management tools and techniques to do just that?

Anita Potgieter
chief operating officer at FOXit.

Anita Potgieter is the chief operating officer at FOXit, and is responsible for all operational and functional areas in the business. She has an extensive background in successful enterprise project management implementations and processes within numerous high-profile companies, across a range of sectors, including retail, manufacturing as well as ICT and telecommunications. Potgieter acquired at BCom Degree in Informatics at the University of Pretoria in 2003. She has added numerous IT certificates to her name and developed an impressive skills matrix. This matrix covers a number of operating systems, software packages, development technologies and server technologies.

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