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Difference between planner & Scheduler

Aug 12

Written by:
12/08/2011 15:06  RssIcon

Yes there is a difference – a BIG difference – and yet, it could be argued that
they are one in the same, however I won’t argue that point here because I want
to stress the differences first, and then the similarities between the two
disciplines. But first you need to understand that I am speaking for only the
differences and similarities between the two as pertains to the construction
industry – the only one I have experience with.

We schedulers are a different lot – like estimators. By that I mean that typically
you do not find that most folk heading into the construction industry seek out a
career as a scheduler or an estimator – the glamour and power is becoming a
project manager. As a new recent college graduate in engineering and just
entering the field with a large construction company you may get trained and
spend time in the scheduling and estimating departments of the company to get
familiar with their respective ways of doing things, but you don’t typically stay put
in them. There are those that may incorporate scheduling practices into their
daily scope of work such as project managers or superintendents, but they only
devote a small amount of that time in any given day to do so. No, I am talking
about schedulers, were all they do – day in and day out – is schedule. On very
large capital projects scheduling is a full time position, for one or more
schedulers. The need for schedulers is dependent on the size of the project and
the scheduling specifications and needs built into the construction contract. So
what is a scheduler and what is it that he/she does. According to Webster’s New
Collegiate Dictionary a scheduler is one who appoints, assigns, or designates for
a fixed time. And in the National Association of Women in Construction,
Construction Dictionary, a scheduler is the person authorized to schedule work or
the flow of material pertaining to a project. The very vagueness of the definition
leads me to believe that even these august bodies aren’t tuned in or totally aware
of just what it is a scheduler does. In fact, that is what is happening right now at
the Project Management Institutes College of Scheduling – the college is in the
process of defining just what a scheduler is and does, how he should do it, and
with what tools. So the fact that the Planning Engineers Organization has been
recently created to define just what it is a planner does, is highly appropriate and
timely. Being that the PMI/COS is just getting started with their effort, I will
attempt to jump the gun and define a scheduler myself in an abbreviated

A scheduler is one who is knowledgeable with the Critical Path Method of
scheduling, who understands how to use it and analyze it. He is familiar with all
the techniques and practices of proper scheduling. He knows the proper use of
durations, scheduling relationships, lags, constraints, and logic to derive the
critical path. He knows about calendars, and code structures, and how to
organize a schedule to be a meaningful tool as a report out document for the
state of a project. He knows how to update a schedule and how often. He knows
how to read plans, specs, and contracts to determine just what all stakeholders
expect of his schedule. He knows how to account for and record delays to the
schedule and to analyze the impacts of those delays. He knows who to ask and
what questions to ask for information leading to the creation of a schedule and its
subsequent updates. He is the messenger for the state of the project. As the
messenger, lots of times his message is not wanted, appreciated, or understood.
While it is his job to make all stakeholders aware of his message, it is not his job
to correct and fix the problems – that job belongs to the project team.
Also a scheduler is usually not involved with cost in the same way that say an
estimator is. Sure he is as aware of project costs and budgets as anyone would
be on a project team. He may also be involved with cost if a schedule is resource
and cost loaded. If this is the case then he is involved with cost projections as
relates to percent complete of the project and the report out of cost curves and
other reports. His main frame of reference though is time and not money. Sure
time is money, but when a scheduler builds a project schedule, he is not thinking
about the dollars needed to construct it. He should only be thinking about how
long is it going to take to build it in a realistic and efficient time frame regardless
of cost. If, once the schedule is built and the resultant overall duration is too long
for the owner, or anyone else for that matter, to stomach, then he starts to think
about ways to accelerate and resequence the project that will have cost
implications. Those cost implications usually result in a cost increase to the
project. Now it gets down to the battle of getting the owner to understand that he
can have the project for X amount of dollars over Y amount of time or he can
have the project for X+Y dollars for less time due to acceleration. It gets down to
the owners cost of money and the dollar stream that is created once the building
is in operation and fully functional vs. the risk the builder has to endure to get the
project built.

It is also within the scheduler’s scope of work to use and understand the
scheduling software programs that are available and in use today. There are
many and whichever one is used is more often than not determined by either the
company one works for in terms of cost, requirements, and need and/or by the
owner/client and the specifications of the project being built.
Typically a scheduler – in his formative years - takes the information developed
by others to create a schedule – he is a data entry person. A scheduler can learn
all the necessary skills to be a scheduler – the messenger - from classroom
instruction and book learning. In order for a scheduler to be effective though, he
has to understand the construction process and the flow of work. Here is where
the line gets fuzzy between what it is a scheduler does and what a planner does,
because a planner also needs to know the construction process – that is what his
life is all about.

So now we need to define a planner. Here I am not talking about city planners or
environmental planners, but construction planners. In Webster’s New Collegiate
Dictionary the definition of a planner is – one who acts on or processes the
making or carrying out of plans. The Construction Dictionary doesn’t include a
definition for the term, so I will attempt to define a planner here. A planner in
construction is the person who creates the plan and figures out how build the
project in the most efficient manner. To be honest it takes more than one planner
to plan a large project. One planner may start the process and get the ball rolling.
At some point in time his plan will get presented to others in the construction
team for their review, comments, and approval. The plan will get further tweaked
as more is learned about the project. As with a schedule, the more eyes that take
a look at a plan, the better, more realistic, and refined it becomes. In order to be
a planner you have to know how a project goes together. In the construction
industry, that means knowing the steps needed in the design process, the
permitting process, the development/release/award of bid packages, the tracking
of long lead procurement items and material, the actual construction of the
project, and finally the steps need to commission and closeout the project. To be
affective you need to think outside the box and consider any and all means to
execute and construct the project. You need to think about the resources
(workers and equipment) needed and available to execute per the plan. You
need to have a full understanding of the owner’s expectations and milestones.
You need to have a full understanding of the physical parameters, codes, laws,
customs, and neighbors of where the project is going to be constructed. You
need to know who to go to, to get further information. You need to be able to
read and understand the set of construction documents including the contract for
the project you are planning. You need to know the language of the project i.e.
the acronyms, abbreviations, construction and engineering terms used to
construct the project. In short you need to be able to talk the talk and walk the
walk – to give your plan credibility.

A construction planner, as opposed to a scheduler, becomes one not by going to
a class or reading about how to do it from a book, but from actual experience out
in the field – and lots of it. The more experience at building projects the better the
planner and the more experience at building different projects the better the
planner. Variety allows for outside of the box thinking. In construction, planners
have to have a full understanding of what it is they are planning to build, where
the project is going to be built and the parameters that control that site, the site
conditions themselves in terms of geology and hydrology, the equipment needed
to develop the project based on the site conditions, the structural framework of
the project and the equipment and manpower needed to construct it, the time it
takes to order, fabricate, and deliver long lead equipment items and material for
the project, the qualifications of the subcontractors and their ability to perform,
man up, and equip their scope of work per the contract, all safety issues, codes,
concerns, and practices for a safe working environment, to where all the workers
for the project are going to park their cars and eat their lunch.
Planners are also involved with cost. More so than schedulers because the way
buildings or projects are built have huge cost implications. Planners in the
design/build arena can directly affect the design of a building and thus it’s costs –
especially its structural frame. Usually the seismic zone the project is located in
determines the structural system – at least it’s minimum requirement. But once
that seismic requirement is determined there are many different structural
systems that can be used to build the project and meet the requirement. The
structural system could be either a steel moment frame, a hybrid concrete
moment frame, or it could sit on seismic isolators and be built conventionally with
either steel or concrete. With today’s steel prices – steel is not necessarily the
first choice. Depending on the footprint of the building, the placement and
number of cranes to construct becomes a major cost factor. Do you use mobile
cranes or tower? What is a typical lift for the crane? How far out and over what is
it going to have to reach to place a pick? How long is the crane going to be in
use? Based on the National Weather Service data, how many days of wind over
25 knots can I expect in a given year that could possibly shut down my crane
time? While the crane is not in use lifting steel – what else can I be doing with it?
All of these questions and answers have cost impacts and planners have to deal
with them – there is no getting around it, especially now with tight budgets and
owners who are really starting to take a hard look at capital expenditures.
Naturally they want more for less – so what’s new? All of the above and more are
the job of the planner.

It can be said that to be an effective scheduler you also need to be a planner, but
you can be a planner, and not a scheduler. You can plan how to build a project
and not need to know how to input that plan into some scheduling software
program. Naturally to plan you need to understand relationships and sequencing
of work and some aspects of scheduling in order to graphically create the plan.
You do have to be able to communicate that plan to a scheduler though so that
he can input it. A planner, like a scheduler, is a messenger. He develops the plan
and then others usually execute it. To be a truly effective scheduler though,
knowing how to plan and the construction process is key to being a professional
scheduler and not just another data entry person. As a scheduler, if you do not
know the plan and how things go together and in what sequence, you cannot
credibly relate to others the impacts of a delay to a schedule and create or come
up with some other way to do it to recover lost time. In my own personal
experience, as I became a better and more experienced scheduler, I also
became a planner. The planning discipline grew out of, and concurrent (to use
scheduling terminology) with, the scheduling one. It is as the planner of a project
that the fun begins, because what better part of a project to be involved with than
the planning of it. Then as the project goes through the design and engineering
phases and eventually gets built and commissioned, the satisfaction gained from
seeing a project go together – as planned – is a planner’s final reward for a job -
well planned.

The two disciplines are separate on one hand and linked on the other. In some
circles the two terms are synonymous with one another. In construction they are
not and knowing one discipline does not automatically make you knowledgeable
and proficient in the other.

Copyright ©2011 Dave Brown

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