Bringing the idea you have for your project to life can be a long process. The path from idea to reality in construction projects often presents challenges that are difficult to foresee at the outset. There are inherent risks to construction projects that, if they aren’t minimized, can result in a negative impact on project success.

One way that owners and their project team drive down risk to an acceptable level is through construction project planning. You may have heard of or even implemented project planning in other areas of your life. Planning is one way that we can break down large tasks into smaller chunks that taken together move us towards our final goal.

Project planning services for construction projects achieve much of the same goal. Construction project planning breaks down the complex moving parts of construction projects into a realistic and actionable building plan. The importance of project planning for construction projects cannot be understated. While all construction projects and services involve some type of planning, as projects grow in scale and scope the plan that supports them becomes increasingly important.

In this article, we’ll explore the topic of project planning in the construction industry. If you have ever wondered, “what is construction project planning?”, this article will provide you with a good base of knowledge about what project planning is, what the process is, and why it is so important. The fact is, project planning for construction projects isn’t optional. Instead, it is one way that construction project managers drive increased efficiency, reduce costs, and ensure construction projects are completed according to their budgetary and timeline constraints.

Construction Project Planning Defined

Construction project planning is the act of creating a development plan for a construction project. In general, the goals of a construction project plan are as follows:

  • Define the work tasks of each entity involved in the project.
  • Illustrate the relationship between different work tasks and the individual entities that are performing those tasks.
  • Make decisions about which technologies will be used to bring about the successful completion of the project.
  • Provide a comprehensive assessment of all resources required to complete a project.
  • Use the plan to arrive at a timeline and budget for the project.

Most people that are outside of the construction industry underestimate the complexity of construction project planning. Construction planning is the process of figuring out the most efficient and cost-effective method of arriving at a satisfactory final project. Due to the fact that the project plan is also used as a benchmark from which to derive a project cost estimate and project completion timeline, it needs to be as comprehensive as possible. So, not only must a project planner assess all of the materials and labor required to complete a construction project, but they must also schedule those tasks in a way that improves the efficiency of the project as a whole.

What is the Purpose of a Construction Project Plan?

We’ve broadly outlined what the general goals of construction planning are, but you might be wondering what the purpose of a construction project plan is. At a high level, the purpose of a construction plan is to provide a durable document that will guide a project from idea to completion. By serving as a guidepost and reference point, a strategic plan developed at the beginning of a project will allow project stakeholders to verify that the project is adhering to the original stated goals as it progresses.

It’s important to understand that construction projects are fluid, so it isn’t uncommon for the strategic plan to change as the circumstances surrounding the project change. That being said, by having a high-level overview to look back on, the construction manager and other stakeholders can refer back to their original plan to ensure that the project is moving forward accordingly.

On a functional level, construction project planning is necessary in order to determine an accurate assessment of the costs associated with a project as well as a timeline for completion. No owner wants to find out that the project they thought was going to cost a certain amount of money will cost significantly more. While project costs can go up over time, having the most accurate picture of a project budget at the outset is best for all parties involved. Alongside budgetary constraints, many projects have timeline constraints. Creating a strategic plan allows the project manager to create a more accurate project completion timeline based on a realistic picture that incorporates all of the necessary work required to bring about project completion.

Lastly, on an operational level, an accurate strategic plan can define exactly what work needs to be done and in what order. This can be referred back to at any point during the project and provide an accurate assessment of which component of the project should be completed next. In other words, a construction project plan can be used as a reference for pending work tasks and enable the delegation of those operation and maintenance tasks.

How are Construction Project Plans Created?

The work of creating a plan for a construction project is a daunting undertaking, especially if it is a large project. For projects that are smaller in scope, it is entirely possible that the contractor working on a project may not even write down the plan. They may be able to define the steps required to complete that project in their head and move forward with the project. However, as projects grow in size they require more people, more resources, and more steps to complete. Once projects reach a certain size, the creation of a project plan is almost inevitable so as to avoid negative outcomes that are often associated with construction projects, such as delays or cost overages.

In order to create a comprehensive plan for a construction project, project managers look at the stated goal of the project and then figure out what it will take to get there. Let’s remember a couple of things about construction projects. First is that they are inherently complex. This complexity is due in part to the fact that, for the majority of construction projects, the work is completed by a number of different entities. Construction projects require the input of design and engineering teams, general contractors, subcontractors, and coordination between vendors and equipment suppliers. A construction plan must define the tasks that each of these entities must complete, and place them in the order that is most efficient.

Second, construction projects are temporary and linear. The temporary aspect comes into play when you consider that each of the various entities working on a project may or may not have worked on other projects together. Their styles of communication may be different, their expectations may be different, and precisely how they go about doing their job may vary. This presents challenges for coordinating between various entities. Also, construction projects are largely linear. This means that one part of a project must often be completed before the next part can be started. When you are dealing with a group of contractors, subcontractors, and different teams that temporarily come together to complete the project, having a strategic plan in place that defines not only how but when something must be completed becomes increasingly important.

Taken together, both of these points result in a process that becomes more complex as the scope of the project grows. Each additional entity involved in a project, whether they are a contractor, subcontractor, or vendor must be accounted for in the strategic plan. All portions of the project must be assessed to determine the resources required to complete them, and those resources must be staged according to when they will be needed. The process of creating a construction plan is a much larger undertaking than most people believe. Here’s an example of how a construction project manager may go about creating a construction plan.

  • Work Tasks – Define all work tasks. Break those tasks into sub-tasks, continuing as needed to have a granular view of all work required to complete the project. This includes the work for all teams on the project, from design and engineering team members to the general contractor and subcontractors.
  • Sequence – Determine the sequence or order that each task must be completed in. Although this may seem mundane if done incorrectly it can result in project delays and wasted hours of labor.
  • Duration – The project manager must estimate the duration that each task will take to complete. This is important for both determining a budget after the strategic plan is in place, and ensuring that the sequencing of all work tasks makes sense. Keep in mind that while some tasks may be allowed to overlap, other tasks must be completed sequentially. An accurate duration assessment will result in more efficiency overall.
  • Required Resources – For each task required to complete the project the project manager will want to create a comprehensive breakdown of all resources required. Accurately assessing the resources required for a task will result in a more accurate budget and ensure that the right amount of each resource is ordered and that other considerations, such as storage of that resource until it is ready to be used, has been accounted for.

What are the Consequences of Not Planning?

Although it’s always hard to assess the consequences in the absence of action, with project planning in construction industry there are some predictable outcomes that can occur when inadequate planning takes place.

Poorly Defined Budget

Without a comprehensive project plan in place, it becomes difficult to accurately assess the budget of a project. A strategic plan outlines all labor and resources required to bring about project completion. This includes things like how many workers will be on your job-site, what type of specialty tradesmen you’ll need, and how long their tasks will take. You’ll also have a good sense of how much of each resource you’ll need to complete a project. Resources here include things like raw materials and equipment required to complete the project. With a more accurate picture of both, you’ll be able to arrive at a budget figure that is more accurate overall.

Inaccurate Project Schedule

Alongside budget, the timeline for project completion is one area of construction projects where estimates are sometimes wildly inaccurate. There are also risks associated with construction projects, and many of these risks can introduce delays to the project completion timeline. One aspect of avoiding project delays is having a comprehensive construction plan in place. This gives project managers a firm understanding of what tasks need to take place, the sequence of those tasks, and their estimated duration. Project managers can even incorporate a buffer on certain tasks to ensure that should unforeseen circumstances arise they are still able to meet project completion deadlines.

Closing Thoughts

Project planning for construction is an important tool that project managers use to break a large, complex project into smaller steps. Project planning requires gaining an understanding of exactly what the final desired project outcome is and defining the steps that will be required to achieve that outcome. Project plans for construction projects allow project managers to chart out all of the tasks that are required for a project and gain an understanding of the total resources required to complete each task. Additionally, the project plan will include how long each task will take and the sequence that each task must be completed.

Once a strategic plan has been created, the project management team can create a budget and an estimated timeline for substantial completion. Because it is incredibly important to get both the budget and timeline as accurate as possible the first time, the plan for the construction project must also be accurate. Although there is always the possibility that unforeseen delays may happen, anticipating as much as possible about the project and incorporating it into the plan can help project managers produce an accurate picture of the project timeline.

Construction project planning is just one of the services that construction project managers provide. To learn more about how construction project management processes and services can help your project, please contact Gilliland Construction Management today for a consultation.

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By Kirt Gilliland

Mar 26, 2019