What is the difference between Projects and Operations?

Projects are temporary and unique initiatives created to achieve a specific objective for an organization. Operations on the other hand ensure a business or an entity continues to operate as expected and continue to provide its services without discontinuity or issues. In some ways, they are two different manifestations of time upon work, in one case, time being very short and defined and definite, while in the other, time being very long, in fact never ending and continuous. The physics enthusiast in me is shouting “it’s the same difference as between particles and waves” .

Anyway, getting back to the real world, let’s look at a few key differences between the two.


Project work is unique. Operations work is not unique. In fact, because of that, organizations and teams create operational procedures to handle similar repetitive work.


Projects are one offs – they exist for a temporary duration. They are initiated, and then they exist for a period of time and then completed, closed and done with. A project will be finished when its objectives are met or are no longer valid, and/or it runs out of time/money. While operations on the other hand are created with the intention of being there forever (while from time to time they also could transform into something very different or cease to exist completely), and they exist for a long time.


Projects generally tread unknown waters and thus involve a lot of risks. Operations deal with things that have been dealt with in the past and thus have an operational procedure. Thus the amount of risk associated with operations is relatively less.

Performance vs. Efficiency

Performance and efficiency generally do not go together. Consider cars for instance – as you increase its speed, initially efficiency increases, but after a point efficiency starts to go down as performance (speed) continues to go up. Or, better yet, think about Porsche 911 and Toyota Prius. How would you associate “Efficiency” and Performance with these cars? Projects are performance intensive. They are designed to be high performance vehicles to drive change. Operations on the other hand (due to their continued long-term existence), tend to be efficiency intensive.


Projects are objective-focused, while operations are metrics-focused. End-goal of projects are to ensure a set of objectives related to the future state is met. One the operations-side, the focus is to meet key-performance indicator targets.

I think that’s it for now. Please let me know if anything important comes to mind.