Many people get into project planning for the salary. But few truly know what it entails before they dive in. What do Project Planners do on a day-to-day basis? Before we dig into that, let’s see what project planning is.

What is Project Planning?

Project Planning is the process of providing a roadmap for the execution of a project. Imagine a project as a car on a journey. The Project Planner is the GPS finding the best possible route (method) to reaching the destination (project goals) within the designated time and budget.

Where there is a deviation on your current route affecting your progress, just like your GPS will “recalculate”, so too the Project Planner will find the best possible way forward, aiming to stay within the most relevant constraints, but guiding the project to reach its destination (deliver its goals). Will you drive on an unknown road without a GPS?

What does a Project Planner do?

Let’s get practical. What is the physical process of a Project Planner’s role?

The Project Planner will sit with the project team to determine their strategy and develop a complete project schedule, including resources, timelines, milestones, and cost. This serves as a guide to the project team during execution, indicating which tasks are to be focused on first, how many resources to have on which tasks, when equipment needs to be on site etc.

Once the project has kicked off, progress is collected from the team and verified personally on site. Updates are done and adjustments made to the schedule, where necessary, before it is delivered to stakeholders.

Key phrases

  • with the project team
    We have had so many people ask whether Project Planners need engineering degrees or more. Project Planners never work alone. There is a whole team on the project with expertise on how things work (including engineers). What they do not have are skills and expertise in project planning, which is why Planners have a seat at the table. Project planning is an entirely different skillset to engineering.
  • determine their strategy

The same project can have vastly different schedules if developed by two different teams (think tender phase). That’s because the development of your schedule depends on the strategy your team decides to follow in the execution. This does not make either team’s schedule wrong. It just makes their approaches different.

  • verified personally on site

Yes, you will go to site to verify progress. You will not sit in front of your computer all day, crunching data. While there are certainly times of data crunching (our Planners have spent many all-nighters when the project required it), you should generally be on site most of the time, only sitting down to update your program.

  • adjustments made

The project schedule is a living document that changes as the project progresses. You continually update the program, aka schedule, with the latest progress, determine whether you are still on track for both current activities and project completion, and if not, what adjustments need to be made to get back on track.

Quick Fact:
Did you know the project schedule is a contractual document? In arbitration it is the first port of call and therefore, it is essential that the schedule is accurate and true. Many companies have lost millions at the first step of the arbitration process for not having a credible schedule.

What does a Project Planner earn?

Project Planner earnings depend very much on experience.
The below earnings are based on rates in South Africa and was true at the time of publishing this article.

Entry level, or Junior, positions offer on average, around R12 000 per month.

Mid- to senior Project Planners earn between R30 000 and R50 000 per month.

Advanced Project Planner positions can easily go to R100 000 and beyond.

In order to climb the ranks, of course you need experience. And lots of it! Most vacancies require 10 years’ experience and above. We’ve even seen 8 years’ experience required for junior positions. However, we have seen that Project Planners who are deliberate about increasing their knowledge and skill climb these ranks much faster. The project planning world, much like construction, is a small world and word travels. So, if you are good at what you do, the industry soon knows it.

What are the elements of a good Project Planner?

1.      Proper training

The industry has been focused on software training and engineering degrees as pre-requisites for project planning. However, this trend seems to be turning towards both qualifications in project management and project planning specific training. *

Engineering degrees may indicate better understanding of the technical aspects of projects. But, as indicated before, project planners work in a team which, very likely, includes engineers already. What a project planner needs more than technical understanding is understanding, or rather mastery, of project planning principles.

So, the very first element of a good Project Planner, is training in the principles. Having this mastered will also give Planners an in-depth understanding of what the software does and is meant to deliver, resulting in better use of the software.

2.      People skills

Project Planners are in contact and communication with all skill levels. The entire project team, from the workforce on the ground, to the stakeholders in charge of the project, look to the project schedule, and thus the Project Planner, for guidance on where they are and where they’re going. Naturally, this means that a Project Planner needs good people skills.

Before you say that you don’t have people skills, let me clarify. You can be an introvert and still be a good Project Planner. What you do need is to know how to communicate with respect at all levels of authority (or non-authority).

3.      Determination

This one is a must. The best Project Planners are not the ones who came in with the highest pre-qualifications. We have superb Project Planners who do not even have matric. The best Project Planners are the ones who are determined to succeed!

I know, your first thoughts on someone who is determined is someone who is arrogant, right? The truth is when you are determined to be great at what you do, you are teachable: open and willing to learn. Even at the highest levels in project planning, there is something new to learn every day.

* Based on a survey of 95 Project Planner job postings in South Africa.

Charisa Langeveld