Project planning

March 2017 — It is important to define terms such as planning and project management so that that property and facility managers can perform better in their job functions and help companies perform better, as well.

What is Planning?

Planning in property and facilities management has acquired meanings that focus on the attitude with which we approach our work. There are six facets to a favorable attitude about planning:

  1. Planning is not an end result. It is a process that results in or produces end products (for example, a plan, budget, or schedule). Planning is the process in which an organization’s needs are translated from an abstract idea into physical requirements or documentation. A job description for a certain type of worker can be translated into a plan for the installation of adequate workstations.
  2. Planning is undertaken to anticipate change and organize its implementation. Whenever an organization’s needs change, the new requirements are usually out of line with the physical facilities built to support previous needs. The faster needs change, the more planning efforts must be geared to anticipate future events. If plans are not made with the future in mind, changes made today are likely to be ineffective. In today’s fast-changing environment, planning must be continuously evolving.
  3. Successful planning requires both flexibility and a proactive approach. Flexibility is an essential ingredient in facilities planning because so many factors can change, forcing adjustments and modifications to already developed solutions. Rigid solutions (those with only one solution and no options) quickly become obsolete in the face of high rates of change. A proactive approach is also essential. In most environments, change occurs rapidly. If a facilities manager waits for events to occur and then responds to them, the events control the environment, instead of the facilities manager controlling the events. Reaction is the basis of crisis management. Being proactive can avert a crisis.
  4. Facilities planning is highly integrative. The unusually broad spectrum of property and facilities management responsibilities makes facilities planning very challenging since these responsibilities extend in so many directions.
  5. Facilities planning must be thought of in a cyclical, rather than linear, sense. The end of one project sets the stage for subsequent projects, so the planning cycle repeats itself. With each repetition of the cycle, a new project makes an impact on the property or facilities management program of which it is a part.
  6. Facilities planning occurs along a continuum. This means that while most facilities projects have an official ending, they must adapt to changes in requirements while in progress. The end of one project may become so protracted or delayed due to constant change that the project often does not end, but evolves into other projects. Planning thus becomes a continuous process. In fact, the higher the rate of change, the more intensively planning must be practiced. A strict change-control process must be in place to ensure that change occurs in an orderly way.

Realistic Planning

With planning described in context, it is easy to see how many property and facilities management documents called “plans” are not really plans at all. For example, a list of projects and related costs is not a plan. A realistic plan specifies how such projects would be executed, who would perform them and in what order, and how they would be funded. Many so-called plans amount to no more than a list.

What Is Design?

The term design means “to plan and fashion artistically or skillfully; to intend for a definite purpose; to plan the form and structure of something.” Design is linked to planning. But whereas planning involves analyzing something to determine its purpose and function (that is, taking things apart), design is a process of synthesizing elements (that is, putting them together) and making decisions along the way about how these elements will mesh. This is a far more substantive task than merely picking colors and finishes with aesthetic flair.

What Is Project Management?

The definition of project has many of the same connotations as planning. Webster defines project as “something that is contemplated, planned, or devised; a plan; a scheme; a large or major undertaking, especially one involving considerable money, personnel, or equipment.” A project has three main criteria: it must have a timeline, unique goals, and measurable milestones. Project management is the process of managing a major undertaking and the resources (money, personnel, or equipment) needed to accomplish it.

All projects have the following four characteristics:

  • A homogeneous activity (one focused on achievement of a specific goal or objective)
  • Finite limits (identifiable start and end points)
  • A single occurrence (a non-repetitive event)
  • Measurable results (results comparable to its objectives)

Note the distinction between planning and project management. Planning is a scheme designed to control the outcome of something in the future; thus, planning is always future-oriented. In contrast, project management involves carrying out a plan that has been developed within a set of standard steps using appropriate project management tools.


Given these closely related definitions, it is no wonder that the terms planning, project management, and design are often used interchangeably. On a working level, their differences lie in the attitudes they represent, which can be summarized as follows:

  • Planning determines how things work, why they exist, and how to control the way they will work in the future.
  • Project management is an exercise in logistical coordination to ensure that a plan is carried out. It is highly goal-oriented.
  • Design is a process of synthesis—putting things together by making decisions about how they should relate to each other. More so than planning or project management, design involves making choices.

There must also be a distinction between projects and programs. Projects, even complex ones, are measurable and definable. They can be described in terms of their limits: they have beginnings—self- contained and definable tasks; and they have endings—goals, objectives, and results. In contrast, organizational programs are ongoing. They rarely begin and end on specific dates. They may be repetitive in nature, reoccurring monthly, yearly, or every two or three years. Programs serve as the organizational “home” for most projects.

Whereas project goals and objectives are focused on completion of a project, program goals are focused on fulfillment of that program’s or its company’s mission. For example, while replacing a chiller constitutes a project, seasonal maintenance of the HVAC system is a program. Reroofing is a project; annual roofing maintenance and inspection is a program.

Program also has another meaning. A space requirements program (also called a space program, or more simply, program) is a document identifying the detailed needs of a customer group that must be met by a specific project. A program may include many projects. For example, replacing built-up roofing with a single membrane roof in a building is a project, but replacing the roofs of 10 or 20 buildings using the same methodology becomes a program.

This article is adapted from BOMI International’s course Facilities Planning and Project Management, part of the FMA designation program. More information regarding this course or BOMI International’s new High-Performance Sustainable Buildings credential (BOMI-HP™) is available by calling 1-800-235-2664. Visit BOMI International’s website,