Do You know the Difference Between a Scheduler and a Planner?
If you’ve worked on projects for a while, you might have heard stakeholders use ‘plan’ and ‘schedule’ as interchangeable terms that mean ‘what we are doing and when we are doing it’. However, in terms of the job, the role of a scheduler and the role of a planner are quite different.
What a Scheduler does
Many people on a project team end up doing some kind of scheduling as part of their role. The project manager and team leaders, as well as individual team members, all have to schedule their own time and make decisions about what is going to happen when.
A skilled scheduler though – someone for whom scheduling is their whole job, not part of it – will spend all day scheduling. Construction and engineering projects need someone dedicated to managing this aspect of the project because of the constant requirements for people and materials to be in the right place at the right time. Having said that, neither PMI nor APM define (or mention) ‘scheduler’ in their bodies of knowledge. The PMI College of Scheduling was dissolved and now exists as an independent body, although PMI does have a Project Scheduling Professional (PMI-SP)® certification.
So what does a scheduler do? A scheduler uses all the techniques, tools and skills available to create effective schedules. They understand critical path method, they are capable of analyzing schedule data and translating that into information the business can use. They are power users of tool suites like Primavera P6 Professional, and experts at being able to set up task relationships, leads and lags, constraints and calendars so the underlying logic of the schedule holds true.
As well as creating the schedule, the scheduler also manages it day-to-day. That involves finding out what is actually going on and then using that information to update the schedule. Overruns are recorded, but schedulers are also on the look out for ways to better balance time and resource to be more efficient. A good scheduler can see how things fit together and can identify where improvements could be made for efficiency – it is far more than a data entry position.
Scheduling also involves a lot of communication. The reports created are fundamental for making project decisions, so they need to be transparent and accurate, with the relevant data easy to understand and contextualize. Sometimes the news is not good and schedulers have to share that: for example, in a situation where the work cannot be delivered within the timescales expected by the client.
On top of all that, schedulers are essential for contract compliance. As schedules are analyzed in detail as part of the Earned Value certification process, their work is critical.
What a Planner does
A planner is different from a scheduler, although many of the interpersonal skills required in the role will be the same given the interfaces with a wide group of stakeholders and the need to sometimes convey difficult messages.
Planners look at what is required and figure out how to deliver it. In construction, this is a specific role, and a team of planners might work together, or hand off to each other, as the project progresses and the plan is refined. Planners start with the client’s expectations and go from there, considering the resources, materials, location, laws, regulations, safety and more. Then they can put together an efficient plan for completing the project that complies with necessary rules and suits the environment where the project is going to be built. Even factors like the weather get taken into account: cranes are not able to operate in high winds and extremes of temperature make sites unsafe for workers or could cause machinery to fail. Planners will research the conditions and make decisions based on what is the best thing to do given the circumstances.
Plans do change, for example, in a situation where rare flora or fauna are found on site, or if there are delays in securing materials from suppliers.
Scheduler vs Planner
As you can see, the two roles work well together. A scheduler doesn’t need to know the ins and outs of getting city permits, as long as they understand how that work fits within the other tasks and how long it will take. Both roles need to understand the overarching process for delivering the project, the lifecycle and what happens when. They use the information differently.
Scheduling can be learned as a theory, although of course practice helps. Advanced-level training like our Scheduling Best Practice course for Primavera P6 Professional or EPPM is a good starting point. Planning, on the other hand, is hard to learn without field experience.
Planners tend to be more involved with the financial aspects of the project. While the scheduler will use Earned Value Analysis to create reports so does see some financial information, the planner’s decisions will directly affect the cost. A building constructed in a carbon neutral way, for example, will have a different budget to one constructed with a different focus. Schedulers can influence the budget by making sure resources are appropriately loaded, but generally, money isn’t front of mind for someone in this role.
Scheduling and planning might be terms used to mean the same thing in casual conversation, but on a project team, they mean very different things and both are essential to the successful delivery of the project.