If you have an idea for a construction project, you are probably curious about how to turn that idea into a reality. Construction projects vary in size, scope, complexity, and their desired outcome. However, nearly all construction projects follow the same process from idea to completion. Understanding more about this process can inform decisions about where to start with your project, who to hire along the way to give your project the best chances for success, and give you a sense of what to expect for the project as a whole.
In this article, we’ll break down the construction project phases. The construction project lifecycle phases can be broadly separated into the pre-construction phase, construction phase, and post-construction phase. Within each of these categories are a diverse series of steps that must be taken to ensure the construction project is completed. For example, the pre-construction phase encompasses a wide range of activities, including project planning, design, permitting and entitlements, and the bidding process for contractors.
As we progress through our outline of the phases of construction, keep in mind that each construction project is unique. The length of time that certain portions of a construction project take to complete will differ depending on the needs of the project. At the same time, the complexity of the project can have a substantial impact on the duration of each phase. In many large and complex construction projects, the pre-construction phase of the project can be the most time-consuming. In some cases, securing the necessary permitting and entitlements for a project can take months or even years.
Throughout the life cycle of a construction project, it is important to maintain continuity through each different phase. Doing so helps preserve the integrity of the project as a whole, while also ensuring that the project adheres to timeline and budgetary constraints. As we will see, construction projects require a high degree of coordination. The activities within each development phase must be coordinated between the parties involved. This highlights the importance of working with an effective, experienced project manager that is familiar with each phase of a construction project and is capable of bringing about a satisfactory conclusion.
General Information About Construction Projects
Before diving into the specific phases in a construction project and what they entail, it is helpful to first spend some time talking about construction projects in general. Nearly all construction projects follow the same course on the road to completion.
At a basic level, all construction projects start with an idea. This idea, if feasible, is turned into a plan. Resources are gathered to turn that plan into reality. These resources include labor and materials required to complete the project. Once resources have been gathered, laborers complete physical construction. Once construction is completed according to the plans specifications, the project is considered complete.
Construction Projects are Mostly Linear
From idea to completion, most construction projects follow a linear path. Rather than being one large project, construction projects as a whole consist of multiple, smaller components. Each of these components must be completed in a specific order. If you think about how a construction project is started, this makes sense. You can’t start a project without an idea. Once you have an idea, you need to create a design. With the design process in place, you’ll need to gather resources and secure the labor for the design development.
Many Different Entities Work on Construction Projects
One challenge with construction projects is that they are usually completed by a diverse group of entities. Most projects have a variety of different teams and laborers that come together temporarily to work on that specific project. This is important because one team member must complete their portion of the project before another team member can complete theirs. Sometimes members from different working groups, such as the design and engineering teams, must collaborate in order to complete their portion of the project.
Where this matters most is in terms of communication. If communication stagnates between entities involved in a construction project, project delays can quickly pop up. Each project requires working with groups of people that have their own approach to the job. This includes how highly they prioritize communication and how effective they are at communicating. One of the tasks of a project manager is to ensure that the information is flowing between entities involved in the project. This helps streamline the entire construction process, while also reducing delays.
The pre-construction phase is a broad category that encompasses all of the work on a construction project prior to the beginning of physical construction. Generally, the pre-construction phase can be thought of as the period of time where a project plan is formed, a design is created, permitting is secured, and supplies and labor are assembled.
Although most people outside of the construction industry think of the period during which physical construction is completed to be where most of the work is done, this belief obscures the important work that is completed before any ground is actually broken. Prior to the start of construction, months or even years of work may have been done to get the project to that point. Let’s learn a bit more about the pre-construction phase.
Strategic Plan Development
The first step in getting a project off of the ground is for the owner to begin working with a project manager. Once a project manager has been chosen, the project manager will create a strategic plan for the project. The strategic plan functions as an organizational document that breaks the project down into smaller, easily digestible components and establishes a timeline for project completion.
The design stage of a project is a large endeavor in itself. Typically, the design stage occurs shortly after the start of the project and before any procurement occurs. The design stage is completed by architects and engineers. Architects help put the owner’s idea onto paper while incorporating modern design principles. Engineers help ensure that the design and construction is feasible and safe. Though both the architect and engineer may be called on to assist the project down the road, the major portion of their work is completed during the pre-construction phase.
Securing the necessary permitting for a project is completed during the pre-construction phase. Securing the permitting for the project is usually completed by the project manager. Navigating the permitting process can be daunting, given the fact that there are often overlapping authorities that must approve a project. It should also be noted that should any entitlements be required, the permitting process can take months or even years.
General Contractor Bidding
Unless you have already chosen a general contractor to work with, you’ll need to select one during the pre-construction phase. For most projects, you’ll start by selecting a general contractor, then work with the general contractor to accept bids for any remaining work that needs to be completed by subcontractors. Most general contractors are selected through a bidding process that is usually overseen by the project manager.
One of the final things that must be done during the pre-construction phase is securing all of the resources and elements necessary to complete the project. This includes raw materials and any equipment your contractors and team will need. An important consideration during the procurement stage is where and how material and equipment will be staged in order to reduce costs and improve efficiency.
The construction phase is what many people consider the meat of the project. While this has its merits, it is important to remember that a large part of the work required to make a project successful has been completed before any construction actually begins. Whereas the majority of the work during the pre-construction phase is completed by the project manager, design, and engineering teams, during the construction phase the contractor and subcontractors take center stage.
Rather than provide a granular work breakdown of the construction stage itself, let’s point out a couple of important components of the construction phase that you should keep in mind.
Construction is Risky
If you were to perform a risk analysis on a hypothetical construction project, the phase of the project with the highest amount of risk would be during physical construction. Minimizing the risk of the project as a whole is an important part of what project managers do. Through comprehensive planning and strategic development, construction managers are able to identify areas of risk and enact measures to minimize that risk before it affects the project. With that being said, physical construction carries with it risks that can affect the project completion timeline that is outside of anyone’s control.
One area of risk that is nearly impossible to limit or control is the weather. Of course, we can’t change the weather no matter how much we would like to. We remain at its mercy, and by extension construction projects do as well. Inclement weather is an excellent example of something that can be prepared for but not entirely controlled.
Construction Also Occurs Linearly
Although there are exceptions, most physical construction also occurs linearly. This means that one portion of the construction process must be completed before another one can begin. Some parts of physical construction can occur alongside each other, and for some projects, prefabrication can allow multiple portions of the construction process to occur simultaneously.
For most people that don’t work in the construction industry, physical construction can seem to take a painstakingly long time. Usually, this is because a portion of the construction team is waiting for another portion to complete their part of the project. One benefit of working with a project manager is that they will regularly tour the construction site to ensure that construction is being completed according to the project timeline and specifications of the project. These regular tours ensure that any problems are quickly identified and fixed before they become larger issues.
The post-construction phase is more important than you might think. At this point, the physical construction is completed but the project still hasn’t been handed over to the owner. During the post-construction phase, a couple of things happen. Let’s take a look at these in turn.
All of the resources required for the project are demobilized once they are no longer needed. Equipment rentals are returned, the work site is cleaned up, and subcontractors that have completed their portion of the project begin to move onto other projects.
During the post-construction phase, a punch list of all items that remain to be completed is made. This is generally created through a collaborative effort between the project manager and engineer, who physically tour the site and make notes of anything that needs to be changed. Once a punch list has been created, the project manager will work with the general contractor to ensure remediation occurs in a timely manner.
Construction projects as a whole generate a large paper trail. Assembling all of these documents and getting them in the hands of the owner is one of the final acts of the project management team. The documents created during a construction project can be useful for any number of reasons for the owner’s team and are an important reference tool that the owner can refer to months or even years after project completion if needed.
The different phases of the construction process we have gone over are a logical extension of how a construction project is created. Construction projects are temporary, pulling together a diverse body of labor and resources. Construction projects are completed in a linear fashion, and progress from idea to a finished project in a mostly linear manner.
All construction projects are unique, yet nearly every construction project will have a pre-construction phase where an idea is turned into a schematic design, resources are assembled, and permits are secured. The construction that follows is also itself very linear, with one portion of the physical construction occurring before another can begin. Once physical construction is completed any necessary changes are made, the resources used are demobilized, and documents related to the project are handed over to the owner.
Construction projects are inherently complex, and navigating the different phases of a construction project can be a daunting process for individuals that aren’t familiar with it. Project managers serve an important function by helping to guide the construction process from beginning to end. To learn more about how construction project management services can help you, please contact Gilliland Construction Management today.
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- Mincks, William R., and Hal Johnston. Construction Jobsite Management. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2017.