Project management vs. operational / line / functional management


With the current economic crunch evident throughout the world, organisations are increasing pressure on “normal” management to become more efficient, effective and more goal orientated. Does this push them into the realm of project management?

What do you need to declare something a project?

  1. Defined deliverable, goal or effect
  2. Defined or delimited time period in which to achieve it.
  3. Defined budget or funding to achieve the deliverable, goal or effect
  4. Limitations on resources (human, financial and physical)
  5. Close out / completion or delivery measurements
Tough Life

Tough Life

That seems like business as usual for most managers. “Normal management” contains to some extent some if not all of these elements.

So what makes project management so different?

  • Defined deliverable, goal or effect

Every manager has to achieve milestones, deliverables or outcomes while performing his / her work during a financial year. These can be divided into manageable chunks, sub-divided by discipline, function and sequenced. They can be planned and controlled down to task level. So this does not differentiate project management at all.

So by mutual understanding a project should deliver something outside the norm. It should deliver something that can not be achieved by performing “business as usual.” If this id not satisfied – why bother?

  • Defined or delimited time period in which to achieve it.

12 months is a defined and delimited time period. What seems to be the problem?

Projects therefore have to exceed 12 months to allow d different type of accounting to be applied OR there must be some other element that would have to make it “stand out”. Usually the most prevalent defining factor here is that projects are compacted into periods that are disproportionate to the amount of work to be achieved (too little time).

  • Defined budget or funding to achieve the deliverable, goal or effect

Financial year by definition is a budget, with targeted releases and scheduled “open” periods. It is the culmination of planned financial planning and weighted cash flow considerations. Capital expenditure is included in the planning of the budget, so how can a project possibly be different?

Project budgets are “closed” meaning that the funds earmarked for it can not be used for “something better / more important”. They may also contain commercial and other constraints that requires the funds to be deployed in a different manner or using a different method. Usually cost focussed and not expenditure driven projects by nature endeavour to manage cost in a way that can not be described differently than – as low as possible.

  • Limitations on resources (human, financial and physical)

Every business has or should have shrunk during the economic crunch. Most will be down to the “essentials” in terms of human resources and physical assets. Procurement has been placed under the spotlight and expenditure, overhead and run of business cost are actively managed. The pressure on every manager is on, to get the same results from half the people and not that much money. The pressure on work throughput and productivity is high, making every cent spent count.

And yet projects are worse off in this regard. They operate from temporary environments, with resources hailing from different organisations, functional groups, departments and they are all exposed to a “unique” environment that only exists for the duration of the project. They don’t know one another (at least at the start); don’t really understand each other’s strength and weaknesses. When looking at physical resources the project team often operate on newly installed or temporary infrastructure environments. Things break all the time, the people that are supposed to maintain the infrastructure is still on a learning curve, making life more interesting. Money and procurement is managed with an iron fist (not covered in velvet for comfort) and the pace is unrelenting. Change management is meant for the people that would “inherit” the product of the project, not for the project team; they simply have to cope and keep up.

  • Close out / completion or delivery measurements

Each financial year has a close date where accounting professionals draw an imaginary line to evaluate the “state of affairs”. This has to be done in such a way that it does not disrupt the normal operations of the organisation. Tasks left undone can be re-scheduled to occur in the “new” year.

Projects don’t close out, they close down. Everything comes to a grinding halt. People get shipped out to their “new” lives, all financial transactions are frozen and outstanding tasks have to be completed – without fail. The product of the project gets “handed over” to the client with pomp and circumstance and the people that built it, turn around and walk away.

How many of these elements do you need to be able to say – this is a project?

Short answer – Any one of them. Realistically most of these will become prevalent in any formalised project. They may not all be present throughout the duration of the project, nor do they have to exist simultaneously to have an impact on the project.

Is project management a separate managerial discipline from operational / line / functional management?

Yes and No. No because it utilises exactly the same skills and knowledge required by “normal” management and Yes because it requires a significantly different attitude or frame of mind.

Please post your views and comments – they are valuable to others.

Have a great day.

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5 thoughts on “Project management vs. operational / line / functional management

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