Project Planner, busniessman, throwing documents.

3 Reasons project planning is useless to you!

Your contract says you have to have a project schedule and that you must submit regular updates. You are paying an arm and a leg for a Project Planner or a project planning service, but you are getting absolutely nothing for it, other than complying with the contract.

You’re not the first to feel this defeated. You can change this feeling into empowerment when you can actually use what you are already paying for. Here are 3 possible reasons project planning isn’t doing anything for you, and what you can do to change it.

1.      It’s not you, it’s your Planner

I can hear the Project Planners gasp in shock. Yet, the sad reality is that your Project Planner might be unskilled, and it’s not entirely his fault. Project Planning is one of those careers that grew and advanced so fast that the industry could not catch up. Or in short, the role exploded before proper training and standards were in place. So, the result is that we have so many individuals who carry the title, but not many that carry the skill.

How do you know if this is your problem?

If you know how to read and use a project schedule then a few simple checks can give you an indication of the Planner’s capabilities, i.e. there should be no open-ended activities, milestones should identify deliverables, etc. (You can get a whole checklist of useful Project Planning Principles here.)

Another way to determine your Planner’s skill is by developing a test. Profactaplan uses such a test to identify capabilities before even hiring. (You can read more on how this test came about here.)

If you are uncertain how to read and/or use a project schedule, your problem may be number 3. But to eliminate number 1, here are a few questions you can ask yourself:

1. Can your Planner set out targets for your team to meet?

2. Does your Planner warn you when targets will not be met?

3. Does your Planner give accurate forecasts of work to be done. In other words, are his forecasts realistically achievable?

If you answered no to any of the above, chances are your Planner could require some training. (We happen to have a course teaching project planning principles.)

OR… you could have problem #2.

2. It’s both you and your Planner       

When you and your team decided on the way forward either without your Planner, or before your Planner came onboard, chances are you are not aligned in strategy. Remember that project planning is part of project management and in the planning process it is crucial that the whole team is involved from the start.

If this was not the case, your Planner might be developing a schedule that is not in line with the strategy of the team. Another possibility for this misalignment is when a schedule is developed to satisfy the commercial need rather than for practical execution (where it will be effective both for commercial and the project team). This means that the team will not be using the plan, as it is not set out the way that they are doing the work. It also means that you will not be getting the full benefit of the schedule as it will not accurately point out problem areas, critical path, etc.

How do you know if this is your problem?

  1. The work is consistently executed in a different manner than planned in your schedule.
  2. The forecasts received are not in line with the strategy you and your team are following in terms of the work activities. 

The best way to solve this problem is to re-align your strategies. Sit together and decide what can be done, how you plan on doing it and then have the schedule developed in-line with these. Not only will it now reflect the work you actually plan on doing, but you will also receive warnings when your timeline is being affected, ahead of time! Which means you will have time to do something about it, before it hits.

Be careful though. If the first pointer rang true to you, your problem might actually be number 3.

3. It’s not your Planner, it’s your management

There you go drawing your breath again. However, this is a two-way street and the problem can lie on either side. The good news is that this is the one you have the most control over. The other good news is that, as with the Planner, this is also not entirely your fault. Project planning and project schedules were not always contractual. When it became contractual, project teams were not educated to be able to use it. The result is that schedules are developed in-line with strategies, giving proper forecasts and raising the flags anytime problems appear on the horizon, but Construction Managers and Project Managers do not understand what they are receiving. Therefore, this tool that is meant to lift a lot of the weight off their shoulders, is lost to them.

How do you know if this is your problem?

Often Managers feel that Planners are trying to tell them what to do.

If you have a GPS, then you are accustomed to hearing things like “Turn left.”, “Make a U-turn.” and “Enter the roundabout then take the second exit.” While these are instructions, they are not orders. In a GPS you could opt to avoid toll roads, that’s the driving strategy you are planning to follow. The GPS then finds the best route from your location to your destination in line with your requirements (strategy). It warns you when there is traffic on your desired route and then reroutes to give you the most flawless journey. Of course, you can opt to ignore the GPS, and sometimes it may even work out well for you, but most times when I have ignored the GPS, it has cost me dearly in time. Why? Because the GPS just sees more than I do. It knows of accidents and traffic blocks and things that I cannot see from where I’m currently at.

That’s what a Planner is meant to be for the team management. The Planner is like the team GPS that takes your strategy and then plans out the best route for you to seamlessly get to your destination. He/she continually adjusts the plan based on actuals to continue offering the best route and keeps indicating the all important “arrival time”, or finish date.

If this is not the view your management team has about planning, chances are they do not understand how to use it. Here are a few practical checks to see if this is you:

  1. When your Planner talks about forecasts, critical path, S-curves, prospective and retrospective, it sounds like he/she is speaking a different language.
  2. Your management struggles to make sense of the look-aheads that are given to them.
  3. Your management struggles to realise the plan into action on site.

Solving this problem is not as hard as you may think. It may require you to admit that you (or your management) do not understand all on the planning side, however you can opt for a more discreet option below if the idea of this admission makes you cringe.

  • Project planning does have its own lingo and terms, so if it sounds gibberish to you, don’t feel bad, some Planners even struggle with it. Do an internet search on Project Planning terms and definitions. When you understand the lingo, often the rest makes sense too. Alternatively, you can download this A-Z of Project Terms and Definitions document.
  • Another option, which I highly recommend, is to have planning workshops with your planning team. They can explain the schedule and the reporting not only to you, but to the rest of your team. When everyone understands where they’re going, they go together. And if everyone is moving forward together, success takes care of itself.
  • Ask your Planners to give you the same information in a different format. They can present it in a way that you better understand it. Planners actually want their Construction- and Project Managers to be able to use the information, so they will be happy to give you information in the format you best understand.

In the end

Project schedules are contractual because it not only helps you to deliver your project on time and in budget, but it also helps you secure your entitlements, so as to not leave you exposed.

The keyword remains project TEAM. If your Project Planner has the skill to develop schedules that are in line with your strategy, and if your project management has the know-how to read and use it, there is very little that can hinder your project success!

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