If you are contemplating making your dream project a reality, you are probably interested in construction project management services. You may have heard that a project manager can add value to your project, help bring it to completion in a timely manner, and ensure that pitfalls of the construction process are avoided. But you may not be sure why those features are associated with construction management in the first place. Most people outside of the construction industry simply don’t have a good grasp on what construction project management is.
In this article, we’ll seek to answer the question, “what is construction project management?”. By having a firm construction project management definition, project owners will be able to make an informed decision about whether this service is something they need. We’ll dive into what role project managers play during construction projects, and explore the ways that project managers add important layers of value to the projects they oversee. We’ll also take a brief look at the stages of a construction project, in order to highlight the intersections between the duties and responsibilities of a construction project manager and the projects they oversee. In doing so, we’ll provide a window into the process that construction managers employ to bring about successful project completion.
A Brief Overview of Construction Projects
Most people outside of the construction industry have only a vague understanding of what a construction project is and the underlying process through which construction projects are completed. In order to fully understand what construction project managers are and what they do, it’s important to gain a full picture of construction projects as a whole. When we say “project”, we are referring to a discrete action that has both a beginning and end point. Construction projects are, by their very nature, limited both temporally and spatially. Meaning, construction projects are temporary. While the entities that help bring a construction project to fruition are durable, the work on the project itself only occurs during a limited period of time.
An important thing to keep in mind about construction projects is that they are almost always completed by a collection of different entities. For the duration of the project, these entities come together and each complete a piece of the project, after which they disperse and move onto other projects. On any given project you will have architects, engineers, general contractors, and subcontractors such as electricians, masons, or roofers. While some of these may work together frequently, they generally aren’t all part of the same company. For example, a general contractor may frequently use the same subcontractors because they know they do good work and are reliable, but those subcontractors may also work with other general contractors on other projects.
A final thing to note about construction projects is that they are inherently complex. Each construction project brings together a variety of entities that are necessary to bring the project to completion. Generally, construction projects occur in a linear fashion. The project will start with a planning stage where the scope and parameters of the project are defined. Next, it will progress to the design stage where the owner’s ideas are fleshed out and put onto paper. Lastly, the project will progress through the procurement stage where all of the necessary materials and labor are assembled, and finally, the construction stage where the project is actually built.
Although there can be some overlap between stages, this is inherently difficult to do and requires a large amount of coordination and communication. Still, there are barriers to beginning one stage before another is completed. You may be able to begin procuring equipment and labor before the design stage is finalized if you have a general understanding of the scope of the project and the components necessary to complete it, but you certainly wouldn’t be able to begin construction. This is important to keep in mind because, as we will see, an important facet of what construction project managers do is coordinate between different entities involved in a construction project to ensure that the project moves as quickly and efficiently as possible through each stage.
Construction Project Management Defined
Now that we have a general understanding of what a construction project is and what the core components of a construction project are, let’s look at what construction project management is and how it intersects and interacts with the components of a construction project. Construction project management is a service that is provided to the owner directly. This service entails oversight and a high degree of responsibility and involves the coordination of all of the various entities required to bring a construction project to completion. In general, construction project management begins with an owners idea and ends with a completed project. Construction project managers will oversee and coordinate all of the parties necessary to complete a project, and ensure that the project moves fluidly through each stage of the project until completion.
Now that we have construction project management defined in a basic form, let’s dive into the details of what this means in the real world. To do this, let’s explore each of the stages of construction projects that we discussed in the previous section with an eye towards the role that construction project management plays. Throughout, it is important to remember that construction project management services can take on many forms. Some construction project managers offer only a limited suite of services, such as guiding a project from idea through the design stages and facilitating the management processes of securing permitting and entitlements. Other construction project management teams offer a full suite of services that allow the project manager to guide a project from idea to completion.
This is important to note because many individuals outside of the construction industry have the mistaken assumption that all construction project management firms offer basically the same service. While the discussion in this article revolves around construction project management in general, specific project managers have skill sets that their services are often tailored around. Some project managers offer only a limited suite of services because those services are where their skills are the strongest, whereas other firms offer a full range of services because they are confident in their ability to see a project through from beginning to end.
The first stage of a construction project is planning. During this stage, a construction project manager will work directly with the project owner to define the scope of the project, determine its feasibility, and get a sense of the timeline for completion. Each construction project is different, so project managers must approach each owner’s potential project with an open mind and a clean slate. Although it is often overlooked, early planning is one of the most critical portions of any construction project. Planning is key to creating a final product that aligns with the owner’s desired outcome, while also staying within budgetary and timeline constraints.
During the planning portion, the project manager will work directly with an owner to create a strategic plan. The strategic plan is critical because it serves as the backbone for the remainder of the project. Throughout the rest of the project, the project manager will refer back to their strategic plan to ensure that each portion of the project aligns with the original goals and expectations of the owner. Think of the strategic plan as a road map which ensures that, no matter how complicated the project becomes, will provide a clear picture of how to move forward.
Once a strategic plan has been created and a budget and timeline have been agreed upon, the construction project moves into the second stage. This is the design stage, where the owner’s idea begins to come to life. Construction managers will bring on a design and engineering team to help make the project a reality. The owner may have a specific designer that they wish to work with, or the project manager may have designers that have worked on projects that are similar in scope and complexity. Throughout this stage, the construction project manager will work closely with both the design and architectural or engineering teams to flesh out the owner’s idea.
During the design stage, the construction project manager will also work with the design team to secure any permits and entitlements necessary for the project. This portion of the process alone can take months or years depending on the project. At the same time, navigating the permitting and entitlements process is an area where the expertise of the construction project manager comes into focus. Navigating the labyrinth of federal, state, and local laws that govern construction projects, and seeking entitlements where necessary, requires an in-depth understanding of the local legal framework and how to move through it.
Procurement and Construction
The procurement and construction phases of a project are what most people think of as the core components of a construction project, yet much of the work required to complete the project has already been done. During these stages, the construction project manager will assemble all of the necessary labor and materials required to complete the project. This includes accepting bids from general contractors, identifying any specialty labor that is required for the project and securing that labor, and ordering all of the material necessary to complete the project and having it staged on-site if feasible. Some construction project managers will work directly with vendors to order all necessary materials and furnishings, while other project managers will facilitate these discussions between vendors and the owners.
Construction itself is, of course, the riskiest part of any construction project. There are many things that can go wrong during construction, as is evidenced by the sheer number of delays that often crop up. The larger and more complex the construction project, the greater the risks are during the construction phase. A core component of what construction project management seeks to accomplish during this phase is identifying potential problems that can arise during construction and seeking to mitigate those problems before they become big issues. To do this, project managers must work closely with other stakeholders in the construction phase, which include general and subcontractors, as well as material and equipment suppliers.
Defining exactly what construction project management is can be challenging due to the complexity of the role itself. As should be clear from this discussion, at a basic level construction project management is the coordination of each various entity required to bring a project to completion. Construction project management involves developing a plan for a specific project, assembling the people, materials, and equipment necessary to complete the project, and ensuring that at each stage each stakeholder involved in the project completes their portion in a timely matter.
All of this requires a construction project manager to have a high degree of understanding and expertise in each area of a construction project. Project managers must be able to identify pitfalls that exist at many points in a construction project and seek out ways to minimize the impact these have on final project completion. One often underestimated service that construction project managers provide is facilitating communication between the various stakeholders involved in a construction project. Each different project team involved in the project must complete their part of a project before it can be handed off to another. In some cases, one team will require information that another team has. Facilitating the movement of information between teams from start to finish is a core component of construction project management.
Construction management services aren’t necessary for every project. However, as projects grow in scale and complexity, securing the services of someone to provide oversight and coordination functions becomes increasingly necessary. Large and complex construction projects are constantly plagued by delays and running over-budget. A central purpose of construction project management is to streamline the process of bringing construction project to completion while doing so on-budget and within the timeline agreed upon during the planning stages. In the end, saves both time and money for the owner themselves. If you are interested to learn more about how construction project management services can help make your dream project a reality, please contact Gilliland Construction Management today.
- Dykstra, Alison. Construction Project Management: A Complete Introduction. Santa Rosa, CA: Kirshner Publishing Company, 2018.
- Sears, S. Keok, Glenn A. Sears, Richard H. Clough, Jerald L. Rounds, and Robert O. Segner. Construction Project Management: A Practical Guide to Field Construction Management. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2015.
- Dewey, Joseph, PhD. “Construction Management.” Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2018.