The fields of Operations Management and Project Management have long and often been confused with the terms used interchangeably. Books and our own experiences define Operations as a set of repeatable activities; whereas a Project is a one time exercise, unique and non-repeatable. The interesting bit about the confusion that surrounds these terms isn’t our daily tasks or our reactions to these daily tasks. The confusion stems from the manner in which we react to the surprises that each environment throws up and how we are for some reason always surprised when faced with them. Seems confusing? Let’s step back for a minute. Where does the confusion come in? Both environments are impacted by uncertainties that make life difficult, albeit in their particular way. The difference between the two sets of uncertainties, however, is how we allow ourselves to react to the surprises in each environment, whether repetitive or one time. How we manage them so that our goals and objectives are always achieved to plan. To truly understand these environments, we must ponder over a few questions which keep cropping up in our day to day management:
- If Operations is a repetitive activity, shouldn’t murphies (after Murphy’s law or uncertainties) be related only to external dependencies such as design changes, or non-availability of materials and resources rather than operations planning issues? If I were to go one step further, I’d posit that even these external dependencies are repetitive.
- When operations planning is well managed, shouldn’t our plant run on an auto-pilot mode with predictability in murphies? However, auto-pilot in operations is often a mirage because there are just too many internal challenges. More so than external ones. We also spend more time managing these internal issues as they are far easier to handle as compared to external ones.
- Why do external issues tend to be hidden in the closet until they escalate into an emergency requiring the expertise of senior leadership? Yes, it is a universal truth – the role of senior leaders is often validated by their firefighting skills. Most organisations have a few on the rolls and are quite proud of it.
- Is it really all about capability and skill in managing issues? If that is the case why do we often end up with a solution in the end when the client is screaming at us down the phone or when senior leadership steps in?
- Is everything about capacity and time? If so, how do we always have that big push in our turnover in the last month of the fourth quarter of the financial year? This one is a killer and should give us pause and make us really evaluate our environment and company.