Understanding The World of Project Management – The Project Planner

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The most confusing thing about a Project Management Office is that quite often there are a lot of roles that seem to serve a similar purpose or at the very least, overlap significantly. It is partly for this reason that people elect to pursue Project Management over any of the other roles, as they have a better understanding of what this entails. When it comes to roles such as Project Planner, it can be a little unclear what they do, so to help we explore the role of a Project Planner and aim to better understand their role in a PMO.

What do they do?

Project Planners are typically responsible for planning and estimating the costs and resources needed for a project. They will be the ones who offer an approximate idea of what will be needed to ensure a project is successful and they will also report on how much this is likely to cost. This information is vital in order for Project Managers and other members of the team to be able to establish whether a project is going to be viable and successful. Project Planners often work on a project right from the start, but may also be brought in as a project progresses to help create a more robust plan going forward. Project Planners may work on a variety of factors including planning work-loads, scheduling or allocating resources and will help assess the project scope, requirements, deliverables and even risks to a degree. After gathering and analysing the necessary information Planners will typically be required to present this to the rest of the project team and senior leaders where appropriate. They may also be asked to assess how the progress of a project measures up according to the devised plan, and where needed they will support the PMO team in developing alternative plans to get a project back on track.

Where do they work?

Project Planners can work in virtually any industry; by their very nature projects need careful planning and preparation, and thus employing a dedicated planner is common in industries managing large or complex projects such as construction and manufacturing.

What do they need to know?

There are no formal qualifications needed to become a Planner, but individuals may benefit from attending training aimed at understanding the project lifecycle, and elements such as work packages and critical path. They may also find it useful to undertake training on the relevant project management and planning software used in the role. Many individuals will become Planners by virtue of working in different roles in a PMO or may have experience in other areas such as scheduling or even accounts.

How do they fit into the PMO?

Planners will typically report to the Project Manager and will work closely with other members of the team including (where relevant) scheduling, controls and resourcing. The information a planner provides is essential to the success of the project, and it is their responsibility to ensure relevant members of a PMO have the necessary information to assess how the project is and will progress.

B_Johnston_B+WPMO Profile


Brendan Johnston

Job Title

Planning Director


McLaren Construction UK Ltd.

How long have you worked there?

Around 10 months

Describe a typical day

My days are quite varied, but typically some of the main things I deal with consistently are reviewing the programme and the methods being used, offering guidance to help improve the processes and procedures, manage the information flow between the project and senior managers, and monitor projects to ensure they’re aligned with the terms of the contracts. Although I work with a core team, as the planning director I am responsible for the projects across the whole country so I also have to visit sites to review what’s happening on the ground. There is also a lot of people management and people development within my role, I am accountable for making sure people are developed appropriately and are able to work effectively across projects. The role also requires a lot of negotiation, as I have to make others understand why the new processes or procedures I am implementing are for their benefit. As such a typical day will often involve a lot of stakeholder management; luckily once people are able to recognise the benefits, they are usually quite open to trying something new.  

How did you get into it?

I grew up wanting to work in construction, but didn’t intend on becoming a planner specifically. Through some government funded training I was able to do some training which covered a whole range of things such as engineering, surveying and planning. Planning was that one I really enjoyed so I followed that through, working in a range of roles including as a claims consultant, and a planner for a project building an insurance building. Thanks to this exposure I was able to continue to progress up the ladder, working in various different planning roles, before being appointed Planning Director here at McLaren.

What’s your favourite thing about your job?

My favourite part is seeing a project completed and knowing you contributed to making that happen.

Most important skills

Communication is absolutely essential; you have to be able to convey complex information in a simplistic way, but also be able to adapt your approach to address those more senior than you as well as your juniors and people across different departments. So not only do you have to communicate clearly, you need to be able to adapt your style. I also think it’s really important for you to have an understanding of the product or service you are supporting; this makes it much easier for you to notice if things might be impacted by changes and means you can prevent problems before they arise. Another vital skill is organisation and time management; often you’re dealing with tenders that will have specific deadlines, so you have to manage your time well. Teamwork and collaboration are always important, as is stakeholder management and the ability to negotiate and explain your point, but also listen to feedback and use it to improve what you do.

Brendan’s top skills

  • Communication
  • Understanding/appreciation of the service you’re supporting
  • Organisational skills
  • Time management
  • Teamwork
  • Collaboration
  • Stakeholder management and negotiation
  • Listen to and act on feedback

Being a planner requires a lot of organisation and the ability to react quickly to things that occur unexpectedly; it’s often a fast paced and dynamic job, but one that has endless opportunities for growth and the chance to work in a whole range of different industries. In next month’s blog we’ll be finding out all about the role of a Project Controller.