Benjamin Franklin once said, “if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”
There’s no doubt that planning is a crucial step in every project, no matter how big or small.
But what does planning consist of exactly? Is the person leading the project in charge of all the planning as well?
Read on to find out everything you need to know about what a project planner is and what they do exactly.
What is a project planner?
A project planner is a dedicated team member dedicated to planning and monitoring multiple projects from beginning to end.
They’re responsible for determining:
- Project scope
- Schedules, costs, and resources to make sure the project stays remains on track and under budget
- Project risks to help mitigate potential problems
Is a project planner the same as a project manager?
The short answer is no.
The long answer is that it’s complicated.
While a project planner is different from a project manager, the role of the project manager has started expanding to incorporate planning. This means that the project manager will often fulfill this role, especially if working with a small team.
That said, it’s quite a lot for the project manager to take on along with all their other responsibilities.
It’s the project manager’s job to manage and oversee every phase of the project, including:
- Project Initiation
- Project Planning
- Monitoring and Control
- Project Closure
On top of this, a project manager is responsible for communicating directly with project stakeholders and external clients to manage expectations and approval of deliverables.
The project planner focuses solely on project planning.
While this might seem like the project planner is only involved in the 2nd phase of the project, this isn’t the case.
Yes, the project planner is tasked with the planning phase, but they’re also responsible for keeping that plan on track.
The project planner will work closely with the project team to make sure these plans stay on track throughout the entire project lifecycle. This can include mediation between teams to help sort out any issues that may bottleneck the process.
Half of all projects experience scope creep where the workload increases beyond the original specifications.Having a dedicated project planner on the team helps to prevent these diversions and keeps everything on track. Without a project planner, it can be hard to see the moments that work strays over budget or past the deadline until the project is way off course.
What does a project planner do?
A project planner sets out the map and makes sure the team keeps on the right path.
Mapping out costs, time schedules, resources, and risks, a project planner tries to guess everything that might derail a project and draws up a strategy to stop it from happening.
With 1 eye on the project plan and the other watching how the project unfolds, a project planner keeps the team on track in myriad ways.
Let’s break down a few of them:
1. Plan scope and track scope creep
A project planner is responsible for outlining the scope of the project.
This includes the start and finish points, along with what’s included along the way.
To prevent scope creep and to keep specifications clear, a project planner will also identify what isn’t included within the project’s bounds.
The project planner will define deliverables and any expectations surrounding these, such as quality and timing.
To keep a handle on scope creep, the project planner tracks all activities to make sure the team is sticking to the specifications. This sometimes means intervening to steer teams back to shore if they’re stepping out of the prescribed scope.
2. Budget and track project costs
20% of project management professionals admit that staying in budget is a major challenge, with nearly half of all projects finishing over budget.
This is likely due to poor cost estimates, which 28% of project management professionals believe to be one of the main reasons their projects fail.
It’s the project planner’s job to accurately predict the costs for each phase of the project and to make sure that spending stays on target.
A high-quality project planner will break down each phase of the project and work out how much staffing and resources will cost to cover the work that needs to get done.
Once this budget is approved, a project planner will work to make sure that teams don’t overspend and will mediate any situations where approved funding doesn’t cut it.
3. Estimate the project timeline and keep schedules on track
It’s one thing to plan out milestones and deadlines, but it’s another thing entirely to make sure the team sticks to those schedules.
This is where a project planner comes in.
This might mean checking in on the project status to make sure team members are on schedule, or holding meetings to make sure nothing will throw progress off course.
If bottlenecks occur, it’s the project planner’s job to find solutions to overcome these blockages quickly or to reorganize the schedule so that delays don’t affect final delivery.
4. Estimate and organize resources
Resource management is the 2nd most challenging process to embed, which is why many project managers allocate a dedicated project planner to handle it.
For the project planner, resource management covers both physical inanimate resources and human resources.
It’s up to the project planner to make sure that there’s enough staff and resources for each stage of the project, as well as the right staff and resources. This means planning what’s needed when it’s needed, by whom, and where.
For example, some phases may require specialized experts to carry out certain roles.
Since projects are 30% more likely to succeed if they have the right people on the team, it’s vital that the project planner makes sure these specialists are available when they’re needed.
To make sure that resources are being used in the correct way, project planners will create resource management processes to track the movement and handover of resources. That way, project planners know where all resources are at any given time.
5. Create a risk management plan
Over half of managers consider a clear risk identification and mitigation plan to be one of the most crucial factors to project success.
That’s why it’s so important that project planners have solid risk plans.
Risk management plans identify the key risks around sticking to the project scope, staying within budget, and meeting deadlines. It’s up to the project planner to pinpoint any factors that may delay deliverables, increase costs, or cause scope creep.
Unforeseen and unplanned risks can result in significant delays or huge remedial costs.
With a top-notch risk management plan in place, however, project planners can track the likelihood of possible risks occurring. That way, if these threats start to rear their head, project planners can identify them and find solutions before they explode into catastrophes.
3 project planning templates to help project planners hash it out
Every project planner needs project planning software—the days of the spreadsheet are dead.
Highly visual, super versatile planning tools help you to see when things are about to head off track.
That’s why monday.com is a popular platform for project planners worldwide. We make it abundantly clear when your ship starts veering off course.
Try these 4 super helpful project planning templates to visualize your project plans and keep your team on track.
1. Plan project milestones
If you’re using the Waterfall framework, this Project Milestones Template is bound to come in handy.
Use the dashboard to plan each phase to be completed to reach each milestone on the project roadmap.
Add a timeline along with a specified number of workdays so that each team knows when their part of the project kicks off.
You’ll notice the highly visible project status bar. This helps project planners to identify progress and spot bottlenecks as they occur, so delays are kept to a minimum.
2. Plan project resources
Allocating and tracking resources has never been easier with this sleek Resource Management Template.
Fill in the resources that are allocated to each task or project phase.
Use the status bar to check whether these resources are still in use or whether they can be handed over for the next phase of the project.
Add deadlines and durations to keep each team on track with resource use. Assign a team leader to each phase who’s responsible for managing the resources within each task.
You can even use this template to add in the allocated budget for each phase of the project.
3. Plan your budget
This Budget Tracker Template is ideal for keeping your project spending in line.
Project planners fill in the dashboard with the approved budget for each phase of the project and assign a team leader responsible for managing these funds.
Throughout the project, the team leader updates the dashboard each time that the budget is used to keep track of actual spending.
Project planners can easily see how much of the allocated budget is left, to prevent overspending before it happens.
Become the project planner you strive to be
Whether you’re looking to hire a project planner or become one, it’s important to remember the diversity of the role. From resources to risks, a project planner maps out the expected course of action and works to help keep the team on track.
This doesn’t have to be as hard as it sounds, though. With monday.com’s sleek planning templates under your belt, flexible planning means meeting expectations without getting blindsided by catastrophes.
If you’ve got more questions about the project planner role or you need help getting started with your project plans, try our platform for free! The first 2 weeks are on us 🙂