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Project management How do you learn to make "plans"?


This might be kind of a silly question but as a staff planner I have never had to make a comp plan, neighborhood plan. demographic forecast, etc. i know what they are, of course, but outside of hiring a consultant and reading about them in teh AICP testing process I've never seen any literature about HOW to make them. I was amazed during the AICP process how many questions were "You're a planner creating an X study..." Like school boundary study, economic development study, etc...

Who is doing this? It certainly isn't lowly staff planners in small towns. Where do consultants learn exactly how do to all of these plans? More detail is better.


Staff member
I would argue to you, that a lot of consultants don't know how to make a plan.

With that caveat out of the way, I would honestly say the only way to learn, is by doing. We have done "in-house" corridor plans, economic master plans, and some other plans, including our comprehensive plan. We hired out for a larger more detailed master plan, and worked with a consultant to do it, and found that although they had more time to dedicate to it, the overall quality of the product wasn't that much better.

Generally, when consultants do something, they put a lead, who is experienced on it, and then have some new blood doing a lot of the data collection work and general up front layout and design. That is a way to get your feet wet.

Otherwise, you kind of just do it. My community has embraced our staff's ability to get these types of projects done on time and under budget. I don't know that all communities provide that kind of support. They also like to have outsiders do the work so it seem less biased.

P.S. I agree school's are doing a terrible job teaching planners to be planners. They are really good about things that don't really matter to 80% of planners (i.e. planning law, etc.), but really bad at teach how to run a meeting, how to solicit data from people, and how to put together plans ;)

luckless pedestrian

Super Moderator
Staff member
Any plan has a basic outline that applies to anything:

  1. General understanding of what we are studying - comprehensive plan, transportation plan economic strategy - what is it and make sure the chief elected officials or your client is in agreement
  2. I usually do some blank piece of paper general listening sessions here - meetings on the topic if it's a topical plan, like pedestrian/bicycle safety if it's a transportation plan, or general meetings on what do you like about living here, what don't you like, if you were a monarch and could change it, what would you do - it's a way to get to get to know your audience more and for them to start thinking about the process
  3. Existing conditions - what do we have now - if it's transportation, it's all about counts, accident data, growth in the last decade kind of thing - if it's a neighborhood plan, it's demographics, housing prices changes, housing stock, stores, sidewalks, bicycle use - basically it's a snapshot in time of what you have right now in what you are doing your planning for
  4. Analysis - what is the data telling you about trends? I usually have a meeting or two here in the public to say, okay this is what I heard from you in the listening sessions, this is what the data is telling me, so now what do you think?
  5. Visioning - what do we want for our community - hold more hands on more public meetings
  6. Policy - What are we willing to do - this is when the chief elected officials are crucial for involvement - all along, you should be doing check in at each stage, to say, okay I had these meetings, and this is what people said to me, so - you don't want to surprise them at this point where they say "how did you get to this?" It shouldn't be a big surprise.
  7. Strategies - How do we do what we said we wanted to do, what do we need to do to get what we want - example, the policy may be, encourage more affordable housing and a strategy might be, allow accessory dwelling units in single family zones
  8. Implementation - When do we do it and how do we pay for it - that is, what's immediate, what's a capital expenditure, what's operations (that is, changing how we do things) - do a basic column in your policy/strategy sheet for short term, middle term (5 years), long term (10 years) and operational for all of the strategies
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What LP said above. Coming from a cynic, you learn to do it by coping other plans and putting it into your words and tweaking it for the specific strategies you need. After doing a bunch you figure out that most is just pretty words to sound important until you get to the implementation stage, but you need the rest to support the why the thing is needed.


It helps if you have a good mentor.