PMP Project vs Operation Demystify

PMP Project vs Operation

Last Updated on December 22, 2023 by andrewshih

PMP Project vs Operation

Understanding PMP project vs operation is an important topic, and you need to be able to distinguish the two for your success on both PMP application and PMP exam.  A job function can involve both tasks that can be considered a project or part of a continuous business function.  While there are some similarities, there are distinctive differences between projects and operations.

PMP Project vs Operation Definition

PMI defines the project as

a temporary endeavor in creating a unique product, service, or result.

whereas operation is

continuous and administrative

A project and an operation share some commonality such that both types of work involves you to commit time to deliver output.  However, there are discernable differences:


  • Temporary Nature: Projects have defined start and end dates, which means they are inherently time-bound. They are initiated to achieve a specific goal within a predetermined timeframe.
  • Can be canceled at any time or will be terminated at the completion. This flexibility distinguishes them from operations, which are ongoing.
  • Unique Outputs: Projects aim to deliver something unique, whether it’s a product, service, or result. This distinctiveness sets them apart, as they are not meant to produce repetitive, routine work.
  • Utilize Project Management Methodologies: Projects typically utilize project management methodologies and processes to ensure efficient execution and successful delivery.


  • No Time Span Defined: Operations do not have a predefined time span, and they continue as long as the business or function itself exists. They lack the defined beginning and end characteristic of projects.
  • Continuous and Ongoing: Operations are characterized by their continuous, repetitive nature. They involve the day-to-day activities required to maintain the stability and functionality of a business or organization.
  • Outputs from Continuous Process: The outputs of operations come from ongoing processes, and these outputs are often repetitive and part of the routine functioning of an organization.
  • Pre-Defined Procedures: Operations follow pre-defined procedures and established routines to ensure consistency and efficiency.

PMP Project vs Operation table

PMP Project vs Operation Examples

To better grasp the distinction between projects and operations, let’s consider a real-world example. Imagine managing a blog website, which involves a variety of tasks, some of which are operational and administrative, while others can be turned into projects.

Operational Tasks:

Tasks such as monitoring and removing spam, analyzing website metrics, submitting blogs for search engine indexing, responding to inquiries, and improving SEO are typical ongoing tasks. These activities don’t have specific start or end dates and are handled as part of routine operations without the application of project management processes.

Project Tasks:

Conversely, administrative tasks can be transformed into projects when managed differently. For instance, you can define specific project requirements, scope, timelines, and even engage in procurement processes, such as hiring a virtual assistant. This transforms these activities into projects. The project commences with creating a project charter that outlines the project’s scope and requirements and concludes when you make the final payment to the virtual assistant. After the project concludes, the operations continue as usual.

In essence, whether a task is considered a project or an operation hinges on how it’s managed. By applying project management principles, tasks that were once considered part of ongoing operations can be transformed into projects with defined objectives, timeframes, and methodologies.

The bottom line is that whether the work is considered a project or operation depends on how the work is handled.  If you are learning the difference between project and operation to write your project description, you may be interested in the Complete guide for PMP Project Description.

PMP Project vs Operation Exam Sample Question

Eric Smith manages the toy manufacture assembly line.  In order to improve productivity, he is looking to replace manual processes with machine automation.  He has defined the requirements, justify the business needs, and estimated the potential return on investment of this endeavor.  He has gotten the senior manager’s approval and currently going through the procurement process.  Eric estimated that it will take 1 year to complete the process automation.  What is Eric working on?

  1. Operation
  2. Project
  3. Management
  4. Portfolio


The answer is (2) Project.  Even though Eric is working at assembly line which normally deems as an operation because the job is continuous and does not produce unique output, Eric is handling this endeavor as a one-time project.  Eric has sought sponsor approval and created the project charter by defining the requirement, business needs, and summary schedule.  Eric is also applying multiple project methodologies as well as leading the project from initiation to closing.


Understanding the difference between a project and an operation is essential for effective project management, particularly for pursuing PMP certification.

Projects have clear start and end dates, produce unique outcomes, and require the application of project management methodologies, while operations are continuous, routine, and follow predefined procedures.

By recognizing and applying these distinctions, project managers can ensure the right approach is taken for each type of work, leading to successful project delivery and operational efficiency. Whether you’re preparing a PMP project description or managing daily tasks, this knowledge is a cornerstone of effective project management.

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