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Topics: IT Project Management, Using PMI Standards
Operational Work Definition
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We all know the definition of a Project but when it comes to Operational Work, the definition seems to be a bit unclear. My current team seems to think that all "work" is Project Work and therefore they rely on the PMs and PMO to determine when work can be scheduled and when it can be accomplished.

While most work can be considered Project Work, I am looking for a working definition of Operational Work that I can use to delineate the difference between a Project and Operational Work.
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Rolondo -

Operational work is anything which falls outside of project work. I realize that is not an ideal operational definition but there really is no single, specific definition which will adequately cover it.

Characteristics of operational work are:
- process (vs. project) centric
- lower degrees of uncertainty about the "what" and "how"
- may not have a defined start & end

Kiron
...
1 reply by Rolondo Talbott
Jul 22, 2019 4:36 PM
Rolondo Talbott
...
Hi Kiron,

Thank for your reply! I think the challenge is and will always be is that, Operational work can quickly become a Project if we do not define it a bit more coherently.

My team is new to these concepts so the level of ambiguity this presents won't be as helpful to the team.
Network:123



Jul 22, 2019 4:18 PM
Replying to Kiron Bondale
...
Rolondo -

Operational work is anything which falls outside of project work. I realize that is not an ideal operational definition but there really is no single, specific definition which will adequately cover it.

Characteristics of operational work are:
- process (vs. project) centric
- lower degrees of uncertainty about the "what" and "how"
- may not have a defined start & end

Kiron
Hi Kiron,

Thank for your reply! I think the challenge is and will always be is that, Operational work can quickly become a Project if we do not define it a bit more coherently.

My team is new to these concepts so the level of ambiguity this presents won't be as helpful to the team.
...
1 reply by Kiron Bondale
Jul 23, 2019 8:48 AM
Kiron Bondale
...
Rolondo -

to avoid ambiguity regarding specific work, many organizations will come up with a specific, operational definition for what constitutes a project using dimensions such as cost, level of effort and so on.

By doing this, they ensure that practitioners know what will be governed as a project and, by default, everything else is operations or Business As Usual (BAU).

If your company does not have such a definition, perhaps you can work with the appropriate leaders to craft one?

Kiron
Network:6924



Rolondo,

I assuming from your reply to Kiron, that your project work is “non-chartered”, as if it were chartered, there would be a clean line between “project work” and “operational work”.

In addition, it sounds like the term “project” has too broad of a meaning at your organization or your resources are always on call to official projects and never released back to operational “keep the lights on” activities. If there is never an official release or you have resources on projects and keeping the lights on activities at the same time, then you are in a quandary. If this is your case, then you are going to have burn-out and operations are going to suffer.

To have success, you must have accountability and accountability cannot properly exist when you have resources constantly reporting on project and operations activity (at the same time) on a never-ending basis. You can sustain this type of environment for a while, but it will eventually implode.

Obviously, I’m making a lot of assumptions. Can you provide more information?
...
1 reply by Rolondo Talbott
Jul 22, 2019 6:47 PM
Rolondo Talbott
...
Thank you George for your thoughts. We are an extremely small IT team (5-7 developers). At any given time, a resource can be working on a project, researching a break/fix issue and providing training - all at the same time. Depending on the work that needs to be done (and let's be honest, who the work is for), the team can make the argument that the work is not operational and instead, Project work (so it can be scheduled far into the future) or, vice versa, they may want to treat operational work as Project work, because its fun or interesting.

I am looking for a better definition of operational work so that we can make clear delineation for the team. Hope that clarifies.
Network:123



Jul 22, 2019 5:28 PM
Replying to George Freeman
...
Rolondo,

I assuming from your reply to Kiron, that your project work is “non-chartered”, as if it were chartered, there would be a clean line between “project work” and “operational work”.

In addition, it sounds like the term “project” has too broad of a meaning at your organization or your resources are always on call to official projects and never released back to operational “keep the lights on” activities. If there is never an official release or you have resources on projects and keeping the lights on activities at the same time, then you are in a quandary. If this is your case, then you are going to have burn-out and operations are going to suffer.

To have success, you must have accountability and accountability cannot properly exist when you have resources constantly reporting on project and operations activity (at the same time) on a never-ending basis. You can sustain this type of environment for a while, but it will eventually implode.

Obviously, I’m making a lot of assumptions. Can you provide more information?
Thank you George for your thoughts. We are an extremely small IT team (5-7 developers). At any given time, a resource can be working on a project, researching a break/fix issue and providing training - all at the same time. Depending on the work that needs to be done (and let's be honest, who the work is for), the team can make the argument that the work is not operational and instead, Project work (so it can be scheduled far into the future) or, vice versa, they may want to treat operational work as Project work, because its fun or interesting.

I am looking for a better definition of operational work so that we can make clear delineation for the team. Hope that clarifies.
...
1 reply by George Freeman
Jul 22, 2019 8:05 PM
George Freeman
...
Rolando,

Defining operational work, in my opinion, is a “grey area” in your situation, as the team has already shown a desire to construe “work” in opportunistic ways and could easily do so again even after you have defined “operational work”.

It seems odd to me that the resources have the autonomy to define their work efforts in such a way so as to change business priority, especially that which relates to the whim of “fun or interesting.” If this is the norm, then I believe there is a structural HR issue that also needs to be addressed.

That aside; with my nearly forty years of experience, I would strongly recommend that you make your definition in the other direction. Focus on defining that which is a project, and everything else would then fall under the veil of operations. Sell formal project management practices to your organization and focus on creating accountability under that structure. Even with a small team, this will benefit the organization and the team members.
Network:299



There is some overlap but in general, project work is a specific significant effort for a specific defined purpose, which occurs over a defined finite period of time. Operations is repeated predictable effort that can go on indefinitely.

Take a car factory for example. Designing the car and factory, and production of the first car is a project. The next million cars produced is part of operations. A major tooling upgrade to the factory is a project. Continuous process improvements are operations. In fact the term "operationalize" means developing the processes to make whatever you are doing stable and repeatable because you plan to do it many times.

There can be projects which support operations, and there can be different standards for how big something has to be before it goes from routine operations work to becoming its own project. In general however, my rule-of-thumb would be if it has be broken out into its own budget, tracked to completion and closed-out, it is a project. If all the money comes from the same place it's operations.
Network:6924



Jul 22, 2019 6:47 PM
Replying to Rolondo Talbott
...
Thank you George for your thoughts. We are an extremely small IT team (5-7 developers). At any given time, a resource can be working on a project, researching a break/fix issue and providing training - all at the same time. Depending on the work that needs to be done (and let's be honest, who the work is for), the team can make the argument that the work is not operational and instead, Project work (so it can be scheduled far into the future) or, vice versa, they may want to treat operational work as Project work, because its fun or interesting.

I am looking for a better definition of operational work so that we can make clear delineation for the team. Hope that clarifies.
Rolando,

Defining operational work, in my opinion, is a “grey area” in your situation, as the team has already shown a desire to construe “work” in opportunistic ways and could easily do so again even after you have defined “operational work”.

It seems odd to me that the resources have the autonomy to define their work efforts in such a way so as to change business priority, especially that which relates to the whim of “fun or interesting.” If this is the norm, then I believe there is a structural HR issue that also needs to be addressed.

That aside; with my nearly forty years of experience, I would strongly recommend that you make your definition in the other direction. Focus on defining that which is a project, and everything else would then fall under the veil of operations. Sell formal project management practices to your organization and focus on creating accountability under that structure. Even with a small team, this will benefit the organization and the team members.
Network:62



I support George.. about this concept.
Network:1851



Rolondo, perhaps the confusion is when you define hypercare period. The answer is like @Kiron stated above: if it is not inside the project plan then is not project work. Operational work differs from the project in terms of being ongoing and repetitive. Nothing new in regards of the diference between project and operation.
Network:1506



Jul 22, 2019 4:36 PM
Replying to Rolondo Talbott
...
Hi Kiron,

Thank for your reply! I think the challenge is and will always be is that, Operational work can quickly become a Project if we do not define it a bit more coherently.

My team is new to these concepts so the level of ambiguity this presents won't be as helpful to the team.
Rolondo -

to avoid ambiguity regarding specific work, many organizations will come up with a specific, operational definition for what constitutes a project using dimensions such as cost, level of effort and so on.

By doing this, they ensure that practitioners know what will be governed as a project and, by default, everything else is operations or Business As Usual (BAU).

If your company does not have such a definition, perhaps you can work with the appropriate leaders to craft one?

Kiron
Network:99690



We're running into the same situation on my two-year, $80M project. Because the project has undertaken quite a lot of work, there is a tendency for the business to keep asking the project to provide support, tools and job aids.

Our challenge is to transfer ownership of these back to business.
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