The Profile of a Planning Engineer
At many companies involved in large-scale projects, I’ve noticed that project engineers could be engaged for any project and for many different roles. It seemed to me that little care was taken in how well the new role fitted with the talent, skills and personality of the project engineer. So it is fate that decides if one becomes a superintendent, calculator, budget estimator, QHSE engineer or… planning engineer! Just like you, I have witnessed quite some mismatches and this should not surprise you. Being engineer because you studied something along these lines, doesn’t erase your personality and predominant skills.
During the years I’ve been in the project controls business, I’ve learned what it takes to be a real planning engineer, or by extension, a real project controls professional. It turns out, after trying to list the skills and talents needed for the job, that it requires a combo of everything a recruiter would be looking for in the perfect candidate for almost any job! Here is an enumeration of what you need, and I won’t skip the clichés but rather explain why they apply.
- Computer Skills: No-brainer. Nobody drafts-up a schedule with pen and paper, so you need some basic IT-skills. You’ll need to know how to operate MS Project or Primavera and the likes, and have decent understanding of other software, or at least have the ability to quickly gain the required skills. Knowledge of Excel is indispensable.
- Analytical Skills: Almost a cliché, and at least a vague term for a skill everyone asks for. Preparing a schedule requires conceptualisation of a project. You’ll need to break down a complex ‘problem’ into bitesize chunks and turn them into a comprehensible schedule. That requires analytical skills. One needs to be familiar with all kinds of graphs and other representations of data to easily interpret them or produce them. Our operational director will always ask candidates to explain an EVM curve to test for those skills.
- Discipline: Traceability for schedules is difficult. A Word or Excel file can easily be named Rev02 and that version’s content will be the same for eternity. With a schedule in e.g. Primavera where information is edited ‘live’ in a database, things get more complicated. You’ll need creativity to work out a method to overcome this and discipline to stick to it.
- Focus on a top-down approach: Here is our first true cliché! It is certainly a skill not to lose yourself in the details, but keep the overview at the appropriate level (I deliberately used ‘appropriate’ and not ‘high’). Understanding the needs of the project and it’s managers is essential to be able to assist them in a valuable manner. To accomplish this, you’ll need the skills to operate and communicate on a high level and work your way down to substantiate your findings.
- Eye for detail: Cliché again! Often people are good at either messing with details, or keeping the overview and thus can focus on a top-down approach. A combination of both is more scarce. Both are however important. A tendency to incline to one or the other direction can also mean that you might qualify for slightly different jobs.
- Creativity: We’ve arrived at the soft skills. Working effectively with planning software requires a degree of creativity. Modelling data can be done in many different ways and finding a way to do this effectively and efficiently is crucial. This skill is also essential to find ways to clearly present data to deliver maximal insight to your colleagues.
- Communication: An immense part of the job has to do obtaining and delivering information. This means that you’ve got to reach out to people in a suitable way. Every project has this gruff person on board (who usually wonders why the project needs a planning engineer or even a planning). Finding a way to address him or her and get something out of him or her requires great communication skills – and some experience.
- Being a team player: cliché alarm bells going off everywhere! I might as well throw in ‘having good interpersonal skills’ here. As a planning engineer, you really are in the centre of the project. You are reaching out to most other departments for whom you are transforming data into readable charts and figures, or you use their information as input. Data has to be consistent throughout the project and over the different departments. Sharing and caring, that’s what it’s all about!
- Being ethical: This often proves to be a difficult one! You want to represent data as close as to reality as possible, but this might clash with different interests. As a planning engineer you’ll be constantly facing the situation where the final version of the ‘truth’ (or ‘alternative facts’ to be sent to the client or contractors) is a bit different from where you started. In my opinion, two things are important here: the first one being that you always start from facts and widely supported and documented assumptions. If not, you’ll quickly end up in a swamp of vague data and assumptions of which no one remembers the origins. The second one is that you always clearly communicate to your manager that what he or his boss asks you to do is deviating from what reality (or sound forecasts) would look like. They’ll appreciate this because you show some character and help them keeping things clear as well. Now read number 3 again on discipline and traceability.
- Of course, there are other skills that will be of benefit. Some should be more predominantly present for certain roles than others and this correlates somewhat with the industry the project is situated in. Having legal or contractual mindset, technical knowledge, skills gained in execution or a construction background are examples. They can represent an immense benefit for properly filling in the role, but can be omitted – or at least present to a lesser extend – in certain environments.
At Primaned, we take people’s skills and personality into account when assigning a person to a position within a company. We strive to a maximal match between our people and the role that person gets assigned to. A match should also exist between his or her personality and the company’s culture and (future) colleagues. Every person is unique and will perform in a different way, having that match will ensure that we achieve desirable results.
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