Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Projects, project management and careers – 1: projects and operations

Posted in career development, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on July 24, 2012

This is my first installment on project management as a career path, and I begin it by putting projects and project management into context, and more specifically into the context of a business’ ongoing processes and its operations.

As a first take on what projects and operations are as a matter of distinguishing between them:

• Projects are generally thought of as having a one-off character, and tasks assigned for completion as projects are so assigned because they have novel features that rise to importance in defining them, that would not be seen as consistently recurring.
• Operations and operational processes are recurring, and are generally best developed and executed upon as tasks according to standardized processes and approaches, so as to achieve uniform, predictable standards of results.
• An example project as drawn from information technology and communications might be the selection, in-house usage prototyping and vetting of a new social media channel for reaching out to and connecting with the marketplace.
• A corresponding set of operational processes would in this case come from the ongoing follow-through for that, once the new social media channel was vetted and signed off upon. Here, operational follow through would include defining and performance of tasks such as ongoing hands-on support, management and performance review for this new system in place. These and related processes would all be assigned to specific staff members who would carry out specific relevant tasks for this as part of their basic job descriptions. And they would carry out those operational tasks in ways that would integrate that activity into the business’ overall operational flow, and in accordance with overall business priorities, and in accordance with its ongoing strategic planning.

But the simple seeming dichotomy I have set up there can seem to break down a bit when you look at this in more functional detail. Projects are in fact generally one-off and with unique qualities for the overall results obtained – in my above example that social media channel would, at least within the scope of this planned effort, be selected, tested for effectiveness and value and passed on for approval for ongoing use once. But project management and project execution per se should always be carried out according to standardized, best practices approaches. In that regard, on a process level working on a project is just as standardized and best practices-based as are operations.

One rich source of information on projects and best practices for developing, executing and managing project assignments can be found at the Project Management Institute, and they provide both training materials and courses and professional certification and of several types for project managers. Even a brief perusal of their offerings shows how detailed and options-rich the body of standardized project management and execution best practices is, in effectively addressing project assignment needs. But from the perspective of the business and the managers who need to get goals completed and tasks done in achieving that, project results are always in some fundamental sense separable from operations as being one-off and non-repeating for results sought after.

I recently completed a series on consulting as a career path (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 225 and following.) And in a way this series could be seen as a direct continuation of that, as consultants are almost always brought in to work on and complete projects. A seeming exception might arise when someone who works as and identifies themselves as a consultant steps in to in effect temporarily fill some operational position where there is a gap – but then more realistically they are working not as a consultant but rather as a temp employee. So the general rule holds: consultants working as such, work on and complete projects.

But in-house employees work on projects too, and sometimes part time as a portion of their work load, and sometimes full times. So a career path focus on consulting need not be seen as available only to consultants. I am going to delve into some of the details there, and with a particular focus on in-house project work in my next series installment. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development.

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