Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to improve construction project planning capabilities. As project management is a core capability in the construction industry, high-quality project planning processes are necessary for project success. Design/methodology/approach ‐ This paper involves data collected from 555 project managers across four industries spanning three different countries. The project planning capabilities of construction project managers are compared with other industrial sectors. In addition, critical project planning processes for the construction industry are identified. Findings ‐ It is found that, relative to other industrial sectors, organisations belonging to the construction sector obtain a high quality of project planning and the highest success rate. In comparison with other sectors, schedule, quality, and procurement planning are most frequently executed in construction projects. Finally, the impact of the different planning processes on project is success are investigated. The processes that have the greatest impact on project success in the construction sector are "activity definition" and "project plan development." However, construction project managers do not always invest enough effort in these critical planning processes. Practical implications ‐ Construction project managers wishing to improve project performance at the planning phase of a project should concentrate more on the accurate identification of all project activities. They should focus on the development of a high-quality project plan that can be approved by key stakeholders. Originality/value ‐ This paper identifies the most critical planning processes in construction projects. This represents new information for the construction management body of knowledge.