What is a Project Planner?
A Project Planner is the member of the project team who is responsible for maintaining the schedule of events or the timeline (i.e. the plan). This is often completed using a scheduling application of some kind such as Microsoft Project or Primavera P6. The planner ensures that the timeline is always up-to-date and that any deviations are reported immediately.
Project Planner salary
A project planner is a member of the project team, and often is the most junior member. As such the role should be seen as more of a stepping stone into a Project Coordinator or Project Manager role (and later Program and Portfolio management). Due to the junior nature of the role you should not expect to earn as much as the other members of the project team.
The average project planner in the UK earns £30,000. While in the US the average project planner can expect to earn $50,000.
This article is geared toward landing that Project Planner (PP) job. The trickiest part of any job application is the interview stage. This is where a lot of applicants fail to truly sell themself.
That is why in this post we are going to look at how you can nail the interview and land the job. Firstly we will look at some tips for the Project Planner interview, then we will discuss the BEST (and WORST) ways to answer Project Planner questions. And finally we will look at some of the most common Project Planner questions and see some example answers.
Ready? Let’s get to it…
Project Planner Interview Tips
Learn all areas of project delivery – The role of a Project Planner is going to differ within each organisation. The responsibilities will range from being responsible for scheduling tasks all the way to taking ownership of the project plan. I have even seen Project Planners take on all of the responsibilities of a Project Manager – albeit on smaller projects than the PM would undertake. With that in mind you should be prepared to answer questions across the whole project cycle.
Lean heavily on your experience – Follow the B-STAR process (discussed further below) and refer back to your previous role regularly. Show the interviewer that you are very well acquainted with projects and can apply good project management techniques in your work.
Name drop the processes, systems and tools you have used – If you are telling a story about a sprint or a project you worked on name drop the software you used (MS Projects, JIRA, etc.). If you are explaining how you did stakeholder management discuss how you utilised a RACI Matrix. Basically pepper your answers with Project Management vernacular. Make sure it comes across naturally though. don’t just shoehorn in any phrase just because.
Tailor your answers to the organisation – Learn all you can about the organisation that is interviewing you. You particularly want to know:
- What are their current, past and future projects?
- What is the level of their PMO, what processes/methodologies do they use, what are they looking to use going forward?
- What software and tools do they use day-to-day?
When answering your questions try to showcase your experience that you have in the above areas. For example if you learn that they are looking to move into an Agile delivery then you talk about how you have experience with Agile and in planning with Agile project teams.
How Best To Answer Project Planner Interview Questions
Unless the question you are asked is a straight ‘up or down / yes or no’ style question then you are going to need to learn to describe, expand and elaborate on your answers. The best way of doing this is to follow the B-STAR technique for answering interview questions.
Answers using this method follow the below structure:
B – Belief – What are your thoughts and feelings with regard to the subject matter? – As a Project Planner you should have your own work-style and processes that you tailor to each situation.
S – Situation – What was going on? Briefly explain the scenario that was taking place. – Try not to spend too much time describing the situation. The bulk of your answer needs to be about you and what you did so keep the situation simple to understand and even simpler to describe.
T – Task – What was your role in the action? Most of the time it is best that you are taking an active rather than passive role in the encounter – You are going for a Project Planner role (presumably) so the situation you describe should have you coordinating some activity to do with the project plan.
A – Activity (or action) – What did you do? Detail the steps you took and why you took them. – This should take up the bulk of your time answering the question.
R – Result – How did everything end up? Try to use figures if possible (e.g. we cut costs by $3m, customer satisfaction scores increased 25%, failures reduced to zero, ice cream parties increased ten-fold etc.).
Remember though that the B-STAR technique is descriptive not prescriptive. You do not need to follow this flow strictly, go with what is best for your answers and that will allow you to put your point across and show your experience the best.
Project Planner Interview Question & Answers
What are you good at?
“As you can see from my CV I am an experienced project coordinator and I do believe I am very good at my role. I am a very good planner, I am quick to adapt to changing business environments but I believe my best attribute is my communication skills.
Being a project coordinator is all about being able to communicate effectively and to all different types of stakeholders – something I learned recently when we released a new software upgrade and I was communicating with front-line customer service colleagues all the way up to the CEO of the whole group! – It is this experience and others that have moulded me in to the skilled communicator I am today“
What are your weaknesses?
“I have never worked with <insert tool or software> before and I see that it plays an integral role in your organisation. I have worked with <insert other tool> before and from what I hear it lacks a number of features present in <tool>. I look forward to the opportunity to use this new tool as I hear great things about it, I have also found a crash course online that I would look to take to get up to speed as quickly as possible…should I be offered the job”
When you are given a new project what do you do first?
The first thing I do when given a new project is to seek out the project sponsor and ensure that we are both on the same page. I prefer to do this face-to-face but will settle for a call or video conference if that is all that is available. I feel that at the start of a project it is crucial to make sure that nothing is lost in translation and that all expectations are clear.
In my current organisation the sponsor for most of my projects is the Chief Technology Officer. Just recently I was given a new project that would deploy a major upgrade to one of our core systems. I made sure that I caught a coffee meeting with the CTO so that we could discuss the project.
I enquired as to what the expectations were from both the business and from him personally. I find asking this is key as my CTO has higher expectations than the wider business so while the business was expecting delivery by the end of the year my CTO was expecting it much earlier.
Similarly with regard to quality and budget, the business had minimum quality requirements and a budget restraint. My CTO however had higher quality requirements and made me aware that the budget could be expanded if I needed it – something that was not in the project presentation provided by the business!
Finally I confirmed with the CTO which project members were available and made a mental note to which colleagues I had worked with before and which were new to me (for the new ones I tried to pry information from the CTO as to their skills and work style)
As far as first steps goes I feel like getting the project sponsor, in this case the CTO, to have a frank and open discussion as to the aims and expectations is the best thing to do. After my conversation with the CTO I was in a really good space to start my planning, with the next step being to bring the project members into the loop.
In the end we managed to deliver the upgrade within the timelines and meeting the quality expectations set by the CTO – something that might not have been given the proper attention had I not taken that first step.“
What Project Management methodology do you believe is better?
“My preference is for Agile. I find that it is the most adaptive methodology meaning that we can pivot on a dime and be able to deliver quickly and often. Something that I don’t believe is possible when working with a Waterfall or even a Hybrid model.
That is not to say though that I believe Agile is better. I think all of the methodologies have their place in an organisation. I have worked Waterfall before and believe that it is better adapted for complex projects with a single one time delivery, like the time I helped coordinate the opening of a new call centre wing. That was better suited to Waterfall as there were defined stages and a handover to the business.
Contrast that with the time my firm performed a software deployment (to the same call centre in fact). This was better suited to an Agile-based deployment as we initially delivered a MVP of the software and then deployed multiple releases that introduced new features as we went. Agile was the better choice in this instance as it allowed us to deliver a working product much earlier than we would have done had we used Waterfall.”
How do you assess and monitor risk within a project?
“Managing risk is one of the most important tasks that I undertake as a project manager. It is crucial to success that risks are appropriately identified, assessed and monitored throughout the project lifecycle.
In order to achieve this one of the first project artefacts that I create when forming a new project is the RAID log. Within this log I record all potential risks to the project (as identified by the project team and stakeholders).
Within the log risks are assessed as to the likelihood and severity and an appropriate plan is put in place, usually looking to reduce or eliminate the risk or to mitigate the impacts should the risk crystallise.
Within the log I include a date for review. When this date comes around the item is re-examined to determine if all the underlying logic still holds true.
I have found that the on-going monitoring of the risks is the most difficult to get people engaged with. It is easy to explain the need for the initial session but slightly more persuading is needed to get people involved in continually updating the risks.“
Suppose the project has gone off the rails. What steps would you take to get it back on track?
“The first step I would take is to confirm if the project is still viable in its current state. I would do this by re-confirming the business justification and seeing if the same assumptions still hold true now. Assuming the project is still viable I would investigate the issues with the team and prioritise remediation or mitigation of each item, re-scoping or re-defining the project plan as need be. Once the new plan was ready I would re-issue to the project stakeholders for review and approval. Later on I would lead an investigation as to why these issues were not catalogued in the RAID log already, but that investigation would be held once the project was back on track.
I actually have some recent experience with a wayward project. COVID-19 had caused a number of our internal projects to stall out. I was brought onto a project when the previous PM had left the business. The aim of the project was to offshore one of our business processes. The project had stalled after our offshore office had been closed due to a lockdown.
The first thing I did was to re-confirm the business justification. In doing so I found that the project was no longer viable. The main aim of the project was to offshore a particular process (and therefore save on the labour costs), however the process itself was to be discontinued in around 18 months time anyway in favour of a new automated process. Given this, and the delays realised by COVID, the assumed cost savings were no longer accurate and the revised cost savings were negligible. I presented my findings to the Change Committee and requested I be allowed to take the necessary steps to close the project.
Tell me about a time you had to manage a difficult stakeholder
“Difficult stakeholders are unavoidable when you have been in the industry for any amount of time. It is just one of those things that you need to be aware of, not everyone is going to be on the same page or have the same goals as you and you will need to handle these people appropriately in order to deliver on your goals.
Whenever I find someone being difficult or not giving me the level of support I require in my projects I tend to do 2 things. Firstly I make sure that I fully understand the issue and therefore my colleague’s concerns and secondly I approach my colleague to discuss potential remedies to get things back on track.For example, recently I was working on a project that would automate a key data gathering task within the process. This task was performed by 2 teams within the organisation and the lead SME of the teams was assigned to my project
After some time I found that the SME was not participating in project meetings and any actions they would pick up would go incomplete or be delivered very late. I spoke to the rest of my team individually as well as some contacts I had in the wider department. I learned that there was a rumour going through the two teams that once the project was delivered that the organisation was going to fire the 2 teams as they would no longer be needed with the new automation process going live.
This was not true however. Our actual plan once we delivered the project was to train these colleagues on a different process where more resources were required. I approached my senior manager to discuss a change to our communication strategy so that a notice could be sent to all impacted parties.
Once the communication was confirmed I approached the SME to explain the situation and remind them that the project still required their 100% focus. Thereafter the SME was much more involved in meetings and all actions were delivered on time. The project ending up a success and the teams were successfully trained on the new project with no colleagues being let go.“
How Do You Manage Frequent Changes Made to a Project?
“If this was one of my projects then there would be a clearly defined change request process that should be followed for all requests. This will have been discussed with all stakeholders and approved by all. Given this I would speak to the stakeholder in question and guide them through the Change Request process so that their request could be reviewed and actioned if necessary.
When these type of requests occur I find it best to gently remind the stakeholder that there was a process agreed at the beginning of the project and to remind them of that process and how changes are reviewed and progressed. I had a similar request recently where a senior stakeholder wanted to increase the scope of the software product we were deploying in a month’s time, the stakeholder reached out to me directly and requested it was added for the first release.
I gently reminded my colleague that all change requests needed to be raised to the CR portal and would be triaged by a member of the project team, as his change was above the agreed small change limit it would need to be approved by the Change Board. The colleague was content with this and progressed his item through the proper channels were the request was approved for deployment in second release.
Of course this all assumes that the project was being deployed using waterfall methodologies, if we were following a more agile approach the change request would have been prioritised and added to the sprint plan where appropriate.“
Tell us about a time when you had to manage a difficult or unhappy client. What was the result?
“I believe that good customer service is key to the long term success of any business, keep customers happy and they will come back. That is why whenever a customer expresses displeasure in our service I immediately jump at the chance to make things right.
There was one occasion back when I was working at [redacted] flooring company. We had recently taken up a contract with a national chain to re-fit the flooring in all of their stores nationwide – so it was a really big customer for us. During one of the project update calls one of the store managers expressed concern regarding one of the floor fitters we had on site. The number of hours he was supposed to be on site did not tally with actual hours he was on site and the manager had concerns this would impact the quality of the work completed.
My primary responsibility for this project was to recruit and direct the sub-contractors in each of the areas that our customer had stores, so the responsibility for sorting this fell directly to me.
I immediately took action and confirmed that the manager was correct that the fitter was in fact shaving hours. I then enlisted the help of one of our most experienced and longest servicing fitters. We both travelled to the store in question to inspect the quality of the floor that was being worked on. While a serviceable job had been made on the floor it was not to the high standard that was expected from our organisation.
The floor fitter was let go and we brought in an experienced outfit to re-do the floor to the correct standards. In order to still make our deadlines we paid extra for this new outfit to work evenings and nights – extra costs were taken out of our end not the customers.
In the end the customer was extremely pleased with how we handled the issue and how quickly we acted to correct the problem. Once we finished the refitting of all the stores the firm actually picked up a bigger contract from the customer’s parent company.“
How do you feel about deadlines?
“Obviously having a future date that something is due looming over you can be daunting, especially when it is a hard deadline. It is quite easy for people to get overwhelmed and get stressed. But I feel differently. I hold a begrudging respect for deadlines. I appreciate their importance as they force you to provide more structure to your work and can act as a motivator. Without deadlines I feel like a lot of work would just not get done.
To give you an example, last year I was brought in as Project Manager on an infrastructure upgrade project. This project had been ongoing for 3 years with no end in sight. There was no urgency within the team to get their work completed as there was no deadline to meet. Instead the team would prioritise other pieces of work over this project.
Eventually this pushed on long enough that a hard deadline did appear. This infrastructure upgrade became a dependency for another project of mine and it needed to be completed before I could go-live with my project.
Immediately on taking ownership of the project I created a project plan using the new deadline to create a work breakdown structure. Then I spoke with all project team members and stakeholders to advise them of the new deadline and the new plan that everyone was to adhere to.
In the end the infrastructure upgrade was deployed successfully. As a result I was able to deploy my other project on time also. So to circle back to the question I truly believe that deadlines are important as otherwise I do not believe a lot of work would get completed.“
What was your most successful project?
How do you prioritize tasks in a project?
Tell us about a time something went wrong in a project you were managing.
Can you tell us about the last project you worked on?
What’s your experience with budget management?
How would you describe a project plan?
How would you create an environment of collaboration on your team?
What tools do you use to plan a project?
Describe your experience in this industry
One of your team members is asking for more time to complete a task. How would you handle this situation?
Work from home has become the new normal in the post-COVID-19-world. How well are you prepared to manage a remote team?
What is your strategy to deal with internal conflicts among the team members?
How do you manage multiple tasks and projects at once?
What are the most important qualities for a project planner to have?
What would you do if you noticed a discrepancy in the budget for a project?
When was a time you had to adapt your original project plan?
Describe your process for creating a project charter.
Which project management methodology do you prefer?
What do you think is the most important thing project planners can do to ensure the success of a project?
How often do you update your project plan?
Do you have any questions for us?10 Questions To Ask At The End Of An Interview (And 6 That You Shouldn’t!)