If you are considering using a project manager for your next project, you probably have some questions about the process. Specifically, you may be wondering what the stages of construction project management are, and how those stages relate to the construction process and project plan in general. While there are some broad similarities between the construction project management process and the general flow that a construction project follows in general, there are some differences as well. These differences highlight the important role that construction managers have in overseeing the construction process. Their role is at once integrally tied to the stages of the construction process, yet much broader and expansive at the same time.

Understanding the construction project management process is important for setting realistic expectations. You may not have a clear understanding of how construction project management works, or you may just want more information about construction management in general. The information provided in this article is intended as a broad overview of the construction project management stages. In discussing these stages, we will also touch on the responsibilities that construction project managers have. If you are familiar with construction management, the stages of a construction project and the role of a construction project manager in bringing about the successful completion of that project may be well known. However, if you are just beginning to explore the role of project managers in construction projects, this outline will serve as a useful starting place for further research.

Stages of Construction Management vs. the Construction Process

Before we begin exploring the construction project management process, it is helpful to first separate this process from that of a construction project as a whole. These two processes are at once intertwined and distinct, for reasons that will become clear as we continue. Let’s start with the basics. Construction projects are largely completed in a linear fashion. At the beginning is an idea, which is tested for its viability. A site is selected, a design is drawn up, and resources are gathered. At this point, physical construction begins. Once construction is completed, the project is finished and the owner begins utilizing the constructed space.

There are a couple of things about the general flow of a construction project that is worth considering. The first is that construction projects are completed through a collection of knowledge, labor, and resources that are brought together for that specific project. Nearly all construction projects consist of a variety of different entities working together to complete the project. Once a project is finished, this project team then moves onto other projects. The easiest way to visualize this is by picturing an electrician that is brought onto a project as a subcontractor. The electrician receives their work order, completes the work required of them, and then moves on to another project. The second thing to consider is that construction projects are almost always completed in a linear fashion. Put another way, one component must be finished before they can move onto the next phase and another can be started. Returning to the example of the electrician, they aren’t able to complete their piece of the project before a foundation is poured and a frame erected.

In contrast to the progression of a construction project, the stages of construction project management often overlap. Although the construction management process necessarily follows the progress of a construction project as a whole, it is non-linear in the sense that project managers work with a variety of different entities involved in a project simultaneously. They may be overseeing the design process while working with the engineering and architectural team, and at the same time accepting bids from the general contractors that will be working on the project. Each of the entities that the construction manager is working with may be moving forward on the project in a linear fashion, but the project manager is coordinating all of their activities. Due to this, construction project management requires an individual to move seamlessly between different stages in the construction process simultaneously. This balancing act can present challenges, particularly for large or complex projects, which highlights the importance of working with an effective project manager with demonstrated experience on projects of a similar size and scope.

Pre-Project Administration

It may surprise most people that aren’t familiar with the construction management process to find out that a large portion of the work required to successfully complete a project occurs during the administration and early stages before construction begins. These two stages occur consecutively, so let’s take a look at them in order. The pre-project administration stage is largely centered around information gathering and plan development. This is the period during which the project owner begins working with a construction project manager. During this period, the owner and construction manager will explore the project itself, working towards getting a firm understanding of the scope of the project, the budget for the project, and the desired occupancy date. Also important is understanding the site itself, including whether the construction manager can identify any potential environmental issues with the site, or related to that project on that specific site.

One of the most important things produced during the pre-project administration stage is a strategic plan. The strategic plan for a project will serve as the guiding document that the construction manager refers to throughout the life of the project. It will guide decisions that will impact both the budget and timeline for completion, so having a firm understanding of the client’s wishes and ensuring their feasibility from the outset of the project is essential.

Pre-Construction

Once the pre-project administration stage is completed the construction project manager will quickly begin assembling the team required to complete the project. This will include a design team that will begin working on a preliminary design. This team will include an architectural and engineers that will work closely during the pre-construction stage, and later with the general contractor during the physical construction of the project. During this stage the construction project manager will work closely with this design team, as well as the project owner, to finalize a project design and ensure that the design is viable.

An important part of the pre-construction stage is securing the building permits required to actually complete the project. This planning is often overlooked or thought of as a formality. For some projects, securing permitting is largely a formality where the required forms are submitted, fees are paid, and the permits are issued. However, in situations where entitlements are required, this process can take substantially longer and require greater resources. Land-use entitlements are required when projects fall outside of the boundaries covered by the normal permitting process, such as when a project needs a variance or zoning amendment.

Approval for entitlements must occur before building permits can be issued and often must include one or more public hearings and numerous meetings with relevant decision-making entities. Construction managers play a vital role in this process by navigating the bureaucratic requirements for entitlement approval, but it should be understood from the outset that there is no guarantee for approval of entitlements and the process itself can take months or even years. If securing entitlements is necessary for your project, you will be working closely with your project manager throughout the process so it is important to work with a construction manager that you trust and that clearly communicates all relevant information about the process to you.

Assuming that all necessary permitting for the project has been secured, the construction manager will secure a general contractor and any specialized labor required to complete the project. Additionally, any materials or equipment required for the project will be lined up for the physical construction stage. Once all the pieces are in place for construction to begin, the next stage of the project will start.

Physical Construction

Lots of work has already been done on a project by the time construction actually starts, but the physical construction stage remains one of the areas of greatest risk in any construction project. There is any number of reasons that a project can experience delays or cost increases, and most often these occur during physical construction. The role of a construction manager is to oversee and coordinate the entire construction process, and physical construction of the project is no exception. In fact, throughout this process, the construction manager will stay involved by monitoring construction progress to ensure adherence to the schedule. To do this, construction managers typically tour the construction site on a regular basis, or in some cases maintain a physical presence on the site for the duration of the project.

Regular visual inspection and touring of the site is essential for the construction manager to identify any irregularities or issues before they become larger problems. Effective construction managers are intimately familiar with the physical construction process, and many come from a background of working on construction projects. This on-the-ground experience proves invaluable in identifying problems early on. If an issue surfaces, the construction manager will work with the general contractor or any subcontractor involved to ensure that remediation efforts are put in place to address the issue. The goal of this is to avoid any impact on the project completion timeline or budget. Remember that construction projects largely occur linearly, so one small hiccup in the process can lead to larger delays down the road.

Post-Construction

Once physical construction of a project has been completed, the job of a construction manager isn’t finished. In order to close out a project with success, a construction manager will first tour the completed building, usually accompanied by someone from the architectural team, to identify any areas that don’t meet the project’s requirements. If any such issues are identified during this walkthrough, the construction project manager will work with the general contractor or subcontractors to ensure that the issue is resolved. If all issues have been resolved, the construction manager will work with the general contractor to train the owner on the operation of all systems installed during construction.

Once all of these steps are completed, the construction manager will begin collecting all of the documentation from the project. Project document closeout will require the construction manager to gather documents generated during the course of the project from all of the entities involved in it. The construction manager will then assemble these documents and forward them to the project owner for their records. Once the owner has all of the documents required for project closeout, the project is completed and physical occupancy of the space takes place.

Closing Thoughts

As this outline illustrates, construction managers exercise a high level of responsibility and coordination over all facets of a construction project. The stages of construction project management span from an idea that the owner has for a project, all the way to the point where the owner actually begins utilizing their finished project. Construction project management coordinates and oversees the activities of each entity required to bring about project completion, from assembling a team of designers, engineers, architects, and contractors, to securing the permitting, materials, and equipment necessary to physically construct the project.

Although the stages of construction itself follow a linear path, the construction project management process requires working with entities involved in different stages simultaneously. Because of this, construction project managers must have a high degree of expertise and knowledge of the entirety of the construction process, including design, engineering, and physical construction. At the same time they must understand the permitting and entitlements process, and since they are responsible for handling the project accounting, they must have knowledge of accounting principles and best practices. The broad responsibilities of a construction project manager highlight the importance of choosing a project manager that understands their role and has demonstrated experience and expertise in successfully guiding projects to completion. Contact Gilliland Construction Management today to find out how we can help bring your project to life.

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By Kirt Gilliland

Jan 07, 2019