The Role of the Planning Engineer and Project Controls Engineer

Gert Truyens
Gert Truyens
Lead Key Accounts

Planning and Project Controls Engineers require many skills to comply with the widespread demands. In this post we will specifically focus on the role of Planning Engineers and Project Controls Engineers for projects.

Included topics
  • Planning Engineer
  • Project Controls Engineer
Applied knowledge

When reading through the endless search results while preparing this post on the role of the Planning Engineer and Project Controls Engineer, I came across a company’s website which showed their desperate need for people filling in roles related to project controls in their organisation. They were recruiting for:

  • Planning Engineer
  • Planning Manager
  • Chief Planner
  • Project Controller
  • Construction Planner
  • Principal Planner
  • Senior Planner
  • Head of Planning
  • Scheduler
  • Project Controls Manager
  • Assistant Planner
  • Project Planner

This gave me the idea to continue looking for project controls positions companies were trying to fill in. I came across all of these above, sometimes combined with terms as junior, senior, lead, head, manager, integral, or other profiles for which the names included the term ‘cost’ which is also considered part of project controls. On top of this, the terms schedule, planning and program(me) are used as substitutes for each other – geographical location is mostly the determining factor for the preference for one of these terms. Here I had my validation for the subject of this blog post. People with the talent and willingness to take up one of these positions are highly sought after, but often those positions and corresponding responsibilities aren’t very well known, mainly in smaller firms or on smaller projects.

Some of these positions exist on corporate level where the focus lies with integration of the project activity with corporate activity, aligning project goals with the company’s strategy or on a more practical level, implementation of the software packages, follow up on coherence with corporate guidance and regulation, and so on. In this post we will focus however on the role of Planning Engineers and Project Controls Engineers for projects.

Factors impacting responsibilities and daily tasks

Project Phase

Both Planning Engineer and Project Controls Engineer have a crucial role during all phases of the projects’ life cycle, but focus can differ depending on the phase. Early on, their assistance is required to determine the size (budget, duration, resources, impact on company or other stakeholders) of a potential project. After completion of the project, their input is still required for analyses leading to the substantiating of possible claims (both for submitting and countering claims), or even compiling information for a very valuable but often omitted ‘end of work-report’.

Project Size

The size of the project will of course largely impact the role of the planning and Project Controls Engineers. By size we mainly think of the dollar-size and (mostly correlated) the duration. A small project will have neither budget nor the need for many different positions and might have just one person in place for both the Planning Engineers’ tasks and the Project Controls Engineers’ tasks. On the other side, large projects have certainly the need for a complete project controls department, led by a (very) senior profile. It depends however on the company’s maturity to appreciate the value of such a department (ref. paragraph on company’s maturity below). On those larger projects, we typically see a clear distinction between the role of the Planning Engineer and Project Controls Engineer.

Other project criteria

Besides the phase and the size (dollars and time) of the project, the set-up – and therefore the roles of the Planning and the Project Controls Engineer(s) – also depends on criteria like the (strategic) importance of and the impact on the company, type of the project, client, risks, seniority of the project management, routinely vs innovative character, etc.

Company’s maturity regarding Project Controls

My colleagues and me, who get hired by many different clients, have experienced great differences between the clients’ approach towards project controls. The largest part of this is attributed to the company’s maturity in the field of project controls. We have even developed a so-called ‘maturity scan’ to help the client determining how ready they are to adopt some of the advanced techniques project controls makes possible. Both companies with a low and high level of maturity can greatly benefit from implementing formal project controls positions on their projects. This will however determine the actual role fulfilled by the planning and/or Project Controls Engineer. We’ve noticed that there is not such a large difference between both roles if the company isn’t very mature yet and is missing some experience and structure for an advanced project controls set-up. In this case, both roles will concentrate on developing the schedule and setting the baseline, applicable reporting regarding scheduling, instructing other project staff on how to provide input and read the schedule, and maintaining and progressing the schedule. Revision administration and administration on schedule and baseline changes will have to be done accurately. Scenario analyses will have to be made to ensure the best possible outcome of the project for the company.

If one deals with projects set up by companies which have more experience with project controls, a greater distinction becomes visible between different roles in the project controls department.

Typical responsibilities and daily tasks

Now we will talk about responsibilities and daily tasks for Planning and Project Controls Engineers. It is to be said that the depth in which those tasks are to be fulfilled depends of course on the seniority of the person filling in the role.

Planning Engineer

Typical responsibilities and daily tasks for Planning Engineers are:

a. General:

  • Suggest appropriate tools for scheduling and reporting
  • Understand and comply with tender or contract requirements
  • Increase awareness of other project staff regarding providing input, calculations and estimations and comprehension of the output

b. Scheduling:

  • Set up the WBS (and EPS or OBS where appropriate),
  • Develop the schedule, including resources and costs if required
  • Set the baseline
  • Maintain and progress the schedule

c. Reporting:

  • Report on the time aspects of the project
  • Visualise and report on buffers / contingencies
  • Communicate with the project management and the rest of the team
  • Create S-curves

d. Analysing:

  • Perform critical path analysis
  • Create resource histograms and analyse

e. Administration:

  • Administer schedule and baseline changes through logs and registers
  • Maintain event-logs and issue-logs

Project Controls Engineer

In a previous blog post we have shown that project controls is more than scheduling. Project Controls Engineers are expected to have good understanding of all of the Planning Engineers’ responsibilities and tasks. It is mostly the size of the project that will define how distinct both roles are. On a small project, one person might be dealing with a combination of the tasks typically for planning and/or Project Controls Engineers – depending on the projects’ needs. On larger projects we might find several Planning and several Project Controls Engineers.

Typical responsibilities and daily tasks for Project Controls Engineers which are rarely considered to be (more junior) Planning Engineers’ responsibilities are:

a. Project Integration / Management

  • (Assist in) setting up project controls systems, workflows, communications, reporting and reporting tools, administration
  • Develop project controls guidelines
  • Assess project value
  • (Assist in) managing interfaces
  • Assist in creating cash flow forecasts
  • Watch over consistency of project controls-related data between different departments
  • Support or perform cost control (for instance Earned Value Management)

b. Communicating:

  • Communicate with external party’s project controls personnel (e.g. clients’)

c. Contract / Claims:

  • (Assist in) developing tender or contract requirements
  • Take up an advisory role in contract management
  • Assist in claim management and dispute resolution

d. Analysing:

  • Perform in-depth analyses (risk, scenario’s, what-if, etc.)
  • Perform earned value analysis and manage
  • Perform forensic analysis on time and cost aspects

e. Administration:

  • Administer and manage change
  • Administer and assist in managing handover of completed parts of the works

Some of these responsibilities require a senior profile and might be picked up by a Project Controls Manager rather than Engineer. The Project Controls Engineer can however assist in, and advise on many of these aspects.


Planning and Project Controls Engineers require many skills to comply with the widespread demands. If we boil it down and list up their responsibilities, we however discern some patterns: Planning Engineers fulfill roles which are often filled in by more junior profiles and deal with the basics of time control and administration, while Project Controls Engineers commonly require a more senior profile to deal with more in-depth analysis and additional aspects of project management. So far the theory, but how do you perceive this on the projects you’ve been involved in? Have you encountered a fully functional project controls department with clear distinction between the different roles? Or are the Planning and Project Controls Engineers more the jack of all, doing all kind of tasks no one else wants to do or lacks the skills for?

Let us know and participate in a highly entertaining discussion!

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