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How to build a game plan

The art of fruitful planning is down to the science of goal setting. But how do you create a personal development plan and see it through? The Planner investigates how town planners can achieve their ambitions

Quick fixes for mind, body and soul are an oft-trodden topic in the New Year but planners, by name and nature, are way ahead of the curve when it comes to self-improvement. Planners knit new skills and knowledge into their work socks every day upon qualification.

The New Year, then, is actually about tweaking a wider career personal development plan that – at two years – lasts longer than a dry January does.

In a nutshell

Every year, RTPI members are required to write a professional development plan (PDP) and complete a minimum of 50 hours of CPD activity to meet their PDP objectives.

How to write a PDP  

Unlike a university personal statement, there is a prescribed format for a PDP though it must be unique and non-robotic. There’s a template available to download from the RTPI's Recording and planning CPD page and three steps to consider:

  • Reflect – write down the tasks expected of you in your current role, the skills and knowledge you need and the changes likely to occur in the next two years. Looking for a new job? What skills do you need to attain it?
  • Analyse – write down SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). Are there any areas from last year’s PDP to address?
  • Plan – consider your short (1-2 years) and long-term (3 years+) career ambitions using the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) objectives

Bear in mind that you will regularly review and update your PDP as opportunities arise or things don’t work out quite how you thought they would. Remember, part of career mapping is accepting that you may have a change of course that you can’t control but must learn to bounce back from.

Pick which activities will help you to improve your theory and practice of planning or to home in on a particular discipline, such as presentation skills. Each CPD activity is letter-coded and it’s best to mix them up. If your record shows a very high proportion of one letter then you must explain why. The activities are:

  • Home-based (H) distance packages, online study or structured reading Action-based (A) identification of problems and solutions in the workplace
  • Preparing material (M) for courses, technical meetings or publication in the technical press
  • Supervised and academic research (R)
  • Work-based development (W) research to tackle a new area of work
  • RTPI activities (P) specialist working parties, planning aid work or acting as a consultee.  Membership of a regional/national committee or the general assembly is not counted but discussing issues related to the needs in your PDP does
  • Conferences (C)
  • Courses leading to qualification (Q) e.g. N/SVQ

Case study: Andrew Sim

Andrew Sim is a town planner at Fife Council and vice chair of RTPI Scottish Young Planners Network

“I can be instinctive in my behaviour. This needs to be tempered”

I hold a key role in preparing Fife’s emerging local development plan, FIFEplan. My role includes delivery and implementation duties and project management.

Strength: I continually seek improvements in working practices and outcomes.

Weakness: I can be instinctive in my professional behaviours and actions. This needs to be tempered at times.

Goals: In the short term, positively develop existing links with the private sector, community groups and representative bodies.

In the long term, promote and represent a positive, proportionate and reliable Scottish planning system.

Plan of action: Promote information sharing practices between internal staff and external stakeholders and encourage the formation of forums to share and relate relevant planning practice by 2015.

With 10 years’ experience of working within the Scottish planning system I intend to apply my experience and knowledge to secure career progression opportunities. This will establish me as a professional who values outcomes, continuous improvement and the critical role of the public service.

Pearl of wisdom? Preparing a PDP does not guarantee success but it will load the dice in your favour. A useful PDP should promote the role, values and purpose of planning while highlighting the contribution you can make now or to come within any multi-disciplinary team. SMART CPD objective setting is also critical.

Measure your progress

Three questions will helkp you gauge your progress:

a. How will you achieve your objective?
b. How will you know that you have achieved it?
c. What is the timescale?

Honest appraisal

The RTPI does not assign hours or points to different CPD activities because you are the best person to recognise how much you have learnt from an individual activity. For example, if you attend a seven-hour conference but already know the material covered during the first half then you will only record 3.5 hours. Only you can judge if an activity has improved your competence.

What part does my employer play?

The responsibility for meeting the CPD obligation rests with the individual but employers can do a great deal to support their own staff.

  • Help review objectives on a regular basis
  • Simply give staff time to prepare the PDP
  • Carry out learning needs analysis – this is traditionally undertaken by the HR department but increasingly expected of managers.

Case study: David Marshall

David Marshall is a council policy officer specialising in transport and was chair of the RTPI membership and ethics committee for 2012/13

“My goals relate to when I cease to be in paid employment”

Strength: I take holistic approaches to problem solving.

Weakness: Impatience.

Goals: Develop business skills and apply phenomenological approaches to planning.

Plan of action: Having made the transition from the public to private sector and from employed to self-employed, the importance of wider business-related ability is among the competencies I need to thrive in the future.

My planning education didn't provide me with the [business] basics, albeit 30 years ago and it’s not something that the RTPI requires to become chartered but it will make me the more ‘complete professional’ I aspire to.

Traditional research techniques do not necessarily give us the full picture of how the transport system is experienced by some of the most vulnerable and marginalised in society.  

I discovered phenomenology – a suite of techniques borrowed from applied psychology, which allows subjects to describe their 'lived experience' in their own terms.

I’m in discussions with the psychology department of my local university on how I might take this forward.

I am in my late 50s so my goals also relate to when I cease to be in paid employment and how to contribute to communities in the future.

Pearl of wisdom: Follow your ambitions and don’t be constrained by convention.