Project Planning: The Difference in knowing the principles

Project Planning: The Difference in knowing the principles

From Agriculture to Construction: A Radical Career Shift

Coming from an Agricultural background to the construction industry has been a massive change in my life. While working in agricultural irrigation I completed a course in the Principles of Project Planning part time through Profactaplan ( After writing the final exam, my CV was being sent out, but I quickly realized that the industry was looking for many years of experience and qualifications in planning software. I felt my chances were slim to none, so I decided to rather focus on agricultural irrigation. I moved into a new home and was laying roots for a steady career.

A Sudden Shift: Embracing the Role of Junior Project Planner

Then came a certain phone call which resulted in me giving my month’s notice at work, and at my new home which I had not lived a month in, packing my things and moving three provinces away to start my first ever job as a Junior Project Planner. At this point I had little experience with MS Projects and Primavera. I had never worked as a project planner or even a scheduler. To say I was a newbie, is an understatement. To anyone else, starting this job with zero practical experience and little software knowledge would be suicide, or at least a walk into an over-populated and underfed Jurassic Park. However, I had the advantage of understanding the principles of project planning.

Leveraging Principles: Engaging with Senior Planners

To most this doesn’t mean much, because they have not yet experienced the value of proper planning principles. To me it meant being able to sit in a room with senior planners and project managers, in a mostly unknown environment, and being able to have meaningful discussions with them. It meant not only understanding what they were talking about but being able to take part in a useful and constructive manner.

Learning Software on the Fly: Principles as a Guide

I mentioned having very little experience with the software before starting my new job as a project planner. You probably can’t wait to hear how that went down! Well, I’m not going to say that I opened the software and just ‘knew’ how everything worked. I had to learn, like anybody else. However, without having to do a software course, I could figure most of it out fairly quickly, as I knew what the principles were, and knew what to look for. Where I couldn’t figure it out myself, I had Google! Knowing the principles, I knew what questions to ask to get to the right answers and best results.
When my contract finished, I was tasked with teaching the junior planner, who had been with the company for two years, how to work the software. Now my skills in the software are at advanced level, because having the principles means understanding and making better use of the software.  

Experience vs. Skill: Defying Industry Norms

The industry places a lot of emphasis on experience. One needs a decade of experience just to get a junior position in the fraternity. However, I have seen that experience does not always equal skill. I literally jumped from agriculture to construction, and from an irrigation technician to a project planner. Within 6 months I went from being a newbie with no experience, to be the right hand of the senior planner, building delay fragnets into the schedule. My peers, with years’ experience, were not asked to do the delay fragnets, because they did not yet possess the skill to execute this task.

Impact of Project Planning Principles

These are specific examples of my experience of working as a project planner with the principles of project planning. However, the difference between having it and not having it count for both the Planner and the Planner’s employer.

For the project planner

Having the principles of project planning means:

    1. Knowing what you’re talking about and being a meaningful asset to your team.

    1. Better use of your software, knowing what it does in the background and how to use it to it’s full potential.

    1. Faster career advancement, due to greater capabilities.

For the employer

having a project planner with the principles of project planning means:

    1. Having credible schedules that benefit your team.

    1. Knowing you’re not just paying for someone that ticks the “contractual” box, but you’re also getting value for your project.

    1. Better chances at success with accurate monitoring and meaningful recommendations.

Conclusion:  The importance of  the principles of Project Planning

In my experience, and in my opinion, software qualifications are nice, but not a necessity. Before you spend money on software training, make sure you (or your Planners) know where project planning comes from, how it is all put together, what the basics of project planning are – the principles.

Celito Graça