GPM First


Which planet? The capability development expert’s opinion

Guest Editor Adrian Taggart asks: ‘Which planet do you come from?’ Below, capability development expert Paul Naybour responds.

Operations management and project management have their own distinct bodies of knowledge.

Operations management draws its body of knowledge from continuous improvement and refinement of the existing operation, to deliver excellent customer service and operational efficiencies. Project management bodies of knowledge focus on long-term planning and the management of uncertainty. But beyond these obvious differences in tools and techniques there are fundamental differences in the culture and make-up of operations managers and project managers (PMs).

Certainly, the world of operations management is a high-stakes game, where a small failure can lead to a significant disaster for the organisation. In this world the goals are repeatability and consistency, and the challenge is about motivating people to deliver the same service or product, reliably, again and again in a controlled way. Think about train drivers or pilots. They perform the same operation many times over their working lives and strive to do this in a predictable, reliable and safe way.

Contrast this with the PM who, each time, is building or developing something new; making something for the first time. Here the chances of success are quite low but, for those able to deliver projects successfully, the benefits are significant. There is much talk about a world in which every project delivers successfully, but, in practice, if we are ambitious for our projects, then we cannot expect them all to succeed.

So, do you need different personalities for operations and project management? Well PMs need to be comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty; they need to enjoy taking risks and dealing with changes; and above all, they must be able to cope with the stresses and strains that these produce. Good operations managers, on the other hand, need to be good leaders over the long term, building performing teams, paying attention to detail and having the ability to deliver consistency in all they do.

These do sound like two different types of people and it will be interesting to see future research in this area.


Paul Naybour, Business Development Director of Parallel Project Training.

Paul has been a project management consultant for nine years and offers extensive experience of the design and delivery of capability development programmes for the project management communities of many clients, both small and large. Find out more about Paul.

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