What Does A Project Planner Do?

Updated Aug 3, 2022.
project-planner

Running a project from initiation to completion involves a lot of people with different skills. One of these people is the project planner.

Despite their importance in ensuring the success of a project, project planners are forgotten, mainly due to the fact that most people don’t know who project planners are or their role in a project. 

So, what exactly do project planners do?

Below, we’re going to take you through everything you need to know about project planners, including who they are, what they do, the differences between a project planner and a project manager, and the characteristics of a good project planner.

What Is A Project Planner?

A project planner is a member of the project team whose role is to plan and organize how a project will be executed from initiation to completion. It is the project planner’s role to determine where a project is going, and the best way to get there.

The project planner determines the project's goals and objectives, and then lays down the specific activities that have to be completed to accomplish those objectives, as well as the required resources.

Some of the responsibilities of a project planner include…

  • Defining the project scope
  • Defining project deliverables
  • Determining the resources required to implement the project
  • Creating a schedule for the execution of project tasks
  • Coming up with a budget for the project
  • Ensuring that the project remains within budget

The project planner is also responsible for anticipating potential project risks and coming up with a risk mitigation plan.

Is A Project Planner The Same As A Project Manager?

People often confuse between a project planner and a project manager. This is due to the fact that project managers often handle the planning role as well, particularly in small projects.

In reality, however, project planning and project management are two totally different roles, with different sets of responsibilities.

The role of the project planner is to chart the path that the project will follow from beginning to completion, and to track the project and ensure that the project does not deviate from this path.

The project manager, on the other hand, is responsible for overseeing every aspect of the project. 

It is the role of the project manager to initiate the project, create and lead the project team, execute the project plan, manage stakeholder expectations, monitor and control the project, resolve conflicts, and close the project.

You can compare a project planner and a project manager to a navigator and driver in a rally team. The project planner is like a navigator, whose role is to map out the path the driver will follow during the race, and guide the driver through the rally track during the race.

The project manager, on the other hand, is like the rally driver, whose role is to execute the instructions from the navigator and successfully guide the car through the track.

What Does A Project Planner Do?

Some of the roles and responsibilities of a project planner include…

1. Scope Planning

Before a project begins, the project planner has to outline the project’s scope of work, which is a documentation of all of the project’s goals, tasks, deliverables, deadlines, and costs.

This is crucial in helping the project planner to determine whether the project can be reasonably completed within the given time and budget, as well as the resources required to complete the project.

In addition to defining the project scope, it is also the project planner’s responsibility to keep track of the project to prevent scope creep

Scope creep is one of the biggest threats to the successful completion of projects, with 43% of projects experiencing problems due to scope creep.

43% of all projects are challenged due to scope creep
Source: Proposify

To prevent scope creep from jeopardizing the project, the project planner needs to track all activities being undertaken by the project team and intervene in case they notice that some of these activities are not included within the project scope.

In some cases, the project planner can deal with scope creep by making adjustments to the initial project scope to accommodate new project requirements.

2. Project Budgeting

85% of all projects go beyond their budget. This is usually caused by factors like poor cost estimates, poor allocation of resources, vendor relationship issues, lack of proper risk management, unmanaged scope creep, or poor accountability. 

Sometimes, budget overruns can be caused by factors outside human control, such as natural disasters and inclement weather.

Whatever the reason for budget overruns, going beyond budget leads to lower profit margins, missed deadlines, and sometimes, it can even lead to failure of the whole project.

While some of these factors are beyond human control, it is the responsibility of the project planner to predict as accurately as possible how much each phase of the project will require, and then come up with a reasonable budget that covers all the work that needs to be done.

It is also the job of the project planner to continuously keep track of the project and ensure that the project doesn’t end up using more money than allocated.

In situations where allocated funds are not adequate enough to cover the required work, it is the project planner’s job to acquire more funding for that phase of the project.

In case of unnecessary budget overruns, the project planner is the person tasked with bringing the project back on track, either by reducing costs, or reducing the project’s scope.

3. Task And Resource Management

Every project is made up of small tasks that have to be completed sequentially or in parallel in order to achieve the project’s objectives.

For instance, a project to develop a new car will include tasks like initial sketching of the design concept, building digital designs of the concept, developing a clay model of the design, determining the materials and colors, determining the interior and exterior features, developing the car chassis, body, and engine, and so on.

When a project is conceptualized and approved, it is the role of the project planner to break down the project into individual tasks that have to be completed. This is done using a document known as a work breakdown structure.

After defining the necessary project tasks, the project planner then develops a schedule that will guide the implementation of these tasks

Planning and scheduling project tasks can be easily done using Gantt chart tools, which visualize project timelines in an easy-to-understand chart.

The project planner is also responsible for identifying any dependencies between the tasks and determining the effect of these dependencies on the entire project. In the above example, for instance, the modeling team cannot start their work until the design team has completed their concept designs.

The project planner also has to determine the resources required to accomplish these tasks and come up with a plan on how these resources will be deployed to the project.

Once the project is underway, the project planner has to keep track of the project and ensure that everything is going according to schedule. In the case of delays, they are also responsible for taking corrective action to ensure these delays do not negatively affect the completion of the project.

4. Risk Management

There are numerous risks that can occur within the lifetime of a project, often leading to budget overruns, late project delivery, and sometimes, total project failure. Risks refer to any uncertain situations or events that could potentially affect the delivery of a project.

To ensure successful project delivery, it is the job of the project planner to identify any risks that could potentially threaten the project, and determine the best way to deal with these risks.

Risk management usually starts with a risk assessment. This is an evaluation that considers various elements of a project, such as available resources, the project schedule, dependencies between project tasks, and so on to determine potential risks to the project.

After identifying the potential risks, the project planner needs to then scrutinize each risk and determine how likely it is to happen, factors that could lead to the occurrence of this risk, and its effect on project delivery.

Armed with this information, the project planner then creates a risk mitigation plan that explains how risks will be handled. 

The risk mitigation plan covers the action that will be taken to prevent the risk or reduce its impact, how much such action will cost, how such action will affect the project, as well as the team members who will be responsible for the corrective measures.

5. Quality Planning And Management

A project can only be considered successful if the project deliverables meet a certain quality standard. In other words, the project needs to solve the problem that it was meant to solve.

For instance, if you have a project to create a booking website for a resort, the project can only be considered successful if the resultant website actually helps visitors to make bookings. If a website is delivered, but people are unable to make bookings, the project is a failure.

To ensure that the project is delivered successfully, it’s the project planner’s role to come up with a quality management plan. This outlines the quality standards that the project deliverables need to meet, as well as the criteria that will be used to monitor quality as the project progresses – not just after it is completed.

Characteristics Of A Good Project Planner

The skills of a project planner are often the difference between successful projects and failed projects. If you want to become a project planner, therefore, you’ll need to invest time developing the right skills. 

Below are 5 skills that every good planner needs to have…

1. Good Communication Skills

Project planners have to communicate with project stakeholders and sponsors to understand the objectives of the project, and communicate with the project team to understand the amount of work required to achieve these objectives.

To be a successful project planner, you therefore need to be a skilled communicator. You need to be able to clearly communicate project requirements, choose the right communication channels, and properly manage stakeholder expectations.

2. Excellent Planning And Forecasting Skills

Planning is a project planner’s core responsibility, and therefore, to be a good project planner, you need to have excellent planning and forecasting skills. 

You have to have the capability to accurately determine the scope of work, and then come up with a roadmap that will help the project team achieve the project deliverables.

Aside from planning how the work will be done, you also need the forecasting skills to accurately estimate the resources required to successfully execute the project.

3. Good Risk Management Skills

Every project comes with its risks – vendor disappointments, unavailability of resources when you need them, approval delays, and so on.

While risks are unavoidable when executing a project, a good project planner needs to be able to anticipate these risks and determine how likely they are to occur and how they will affect the project. From there, the planner should then come up with contingency plans to handle the risks should they occur, while keeping the project on track.

4. Subject Matter Expertise

To come up with project timelines and schedules, a project planner needs to be aware of the tasks involved in the project, as well as the average amount of time each task would take. Such knowledge usually comes with experience, and therefore, a good project planner needs to be a subject matter expert.

For instance, if you are working on a project to design a website, you cannot accurately plan and schedule for the project if you don’t know how long activities like wireframing, coding, or UI/UX design take, and the amount of resources required for each activity.

5. Good Knowledge Of Project Management Software

When working on small projects, you can use simple tools like spreadsheets to plan your project. Once the projects start getting complex, however, such tools become inadequate.

To seamlessly plan huge projects without the risk of something slipping through the cracks, you’ll need access to project management software.

To be an effective project planner, you need to be conversant with some of the most popular project management software and tools in the market. Here are some of the top project management you should be familiar with…

  • Monday.com: Best for maintaining a visual representation of project tasks and activities
  • ClickUp: Best solution for collaborative project planning
  • Wrike: Best for those looking to utilize agile methodologies to plan and manage their project
  • Teamwork Projects: Most affordable solution with enterprise-grade project planning features

Martin Luenendonk

Editor at FounderJar

Martin loves entrepreneurship and has helped dozens of entrepreneurs by validating the business idea, finding scalable customer acquisition channels, and building a data-driven organization. During his time working in investment banking, tech startups, and industry-leading companies he gained extensive knowledge in using different software tools to optimize business processes.

This insights and his love for researching SaaS products enables him to provide in-depth, fact-based software reviews to enable software buyers make better decisions.