If you are interested in learning more about the construction stage of a project, you aren’t alone! Many people find themselves fascinated by the process of designing and constructing a new building. Whether large or small, new construction is a collaborative process of creation that speaks to a shared human trait of creating structures that persist long after we are gone.
Despite our collective fascination with the construction management process, most people aren’t familiar with what construction planning entails. The physical construction of a structure is often considered the riskiest portion of any construction venture. There are many reasons for this, some of which are possible to minimize and some of which are outside of anyone’s control. While construction can be fascinating, it can also be a deciding time in the success or failure of a construction project.
In this article, we’ll provide some basic information about the construction stage of a construction project. Although most people consider construction projects and physical construction to be synonymous, in fact, these are two very different things. While physical construction is a core component of any construction project, it isn’t always the most time-consuming or the most difficult aspect of creating a successful construction project.
While the end goal is to successfully turn over the keys to the owner, the construction portion itself can often stand in the way of this goal. We’ll take a look at why construction itself can present so many risks to the success of a project, and dive into the ways that construction project managers work to identify and manage that risk ahead of time.
Although the construction stage can often be stressful for the owner themselves, it is also an exciting time in the lifecycle of a construction project. During the construction stage, all of the hard work done during the design and pre-construction stages begins to come to life. So, while we break down the construction stage and the risks it may carry, also keep in mind that successfully seeing a construction project come together can be a rewarding, gratifying experience.
What is the Construction Stage?
There are many ways to break down construction projects into pieces that are more easily understood and digestible. Prior to doing that, let’s get some fast facts about construction projects themselves out of the way. They are:
- Temporary – Construction projects are temporary ventures. A project occurs during a specific period of time, for a specific project. In other words, when we refer to a “construction project” we are referring to a group of individuals and resources that are brought together, for a limited period of time, to accomplish a specific goal.
- Unique – Every construction project is unique. This is true even if the end goal of the project itself is similar to another project. One distinct trait of construction projects is that they are usually completed by a group of entities that come together for that specific project. After the project is complete, these entities move onto other projects. So, on any given construction project you may work with a different general contractor, subcontractors, equipment operators, architects, and engineers.
- Occur Mostly Linearly – Although modern construction techniques have somewhat minimized the linear nature of construction projects, there is still a fundamentally linear quality to a construction project. This is true for both the construction project as a whole and the construction stage of the project itself. What we mean by this is that in most construction projects one portion of the project must be completed before another one can begin. For example, before physical construction begins you need to have permits in place, and before you have permits you have to create a design.
These traits of construction projects introduce challenges, particularly as projects become larger or more complex. One of the reasons that construction projects utilize the services of project managers once they reach a certain size is because there are so many moving parts. Every construction project has a unique goal, budget, and timeline that it must be completed within.
Each project consists of a variety of team members coming together for that specific project, and many of those team members have never worked together. What this boils down to is a need for oversight and coordination. Project managers typically serve in this role by guiding a construction project from idea to completion.
Let’s look at the main phases of a construction project and see what types of tasks they involve. This will illuminate where the construction stage fits into a construction project as a whole, and highlight some of the important steps that must be completed prior to the construction stage.
To keep it simple, we’ll group everything that happens before construction begins into the “pre-construction” stage. Sometimes this is broken down into the assessment of the initial idea, design stage, permitting, and procurement phases. Regardless of how you want to group them, each of these tasks must be completed before construction can begin.
The general flow of the first phase of a construction project is an owner has an idea for a project and approaches a construction manager to potentially build that idea. The construction manager assesses the feasibility of the project and tours the site. Once the project is determined to be feasible, a design and engineering team are brought on board to create a design for the project. Either as that is occurring or afterward any necessary permitting and entitlements are secured, and a general contractor is selected during a bidding process. Once a general contractor is selected, procurement of all materials and labor required for the project is completed. Once procurement is finished construction is ready to begin.
The construction stage is when the physical structure is built. During the construction stage, the general contractor serves as the oversight and coordinating authority on the job site. Work during the construction stage is completed by individuals employed by the general contractor and outside subcontractors. Coordinating between these entities is a big task. While day-to-day oversight of the construction process falls under the general contractor’s responsibility, project managers stay abreast of progress on construction through regular tours of the job site.
Once construction stops the project isn’t completely done. This period of time is sometimes referred to as “post-construction” or sometimes as “project closeout”. During the post-construction period, the project manager and architect will walk through the completed structure and create a list of items that need further attention or adjustment. This is referred to as a “punch list”. Once a punch list has been created the project manager will work with the general contractor and subcontractors to ensure that all punch list items are addressed before the project is turned over to the owner.
During project closeout, the project manager will also arrange for training for the owner’s team on all new building systems and equipment. Along with training, the project manager will collect all documentation related to the project and transfer that documentation to the owner.
Who Carries Out Construction?
The primary entity that is responsible for coordinating physical construction is the general contracting firm selected during the pre-construction phase. Most of the laborers that work on the project are employed either directly by the general contractor or are subcontractors hired by the general contractor for that specific project.
While day-to-day responsibility of the construction stage falls on the shoulders of the general contractor and their staff, the project manager is still engaged with the process. Most project managers come from a construction background, and many have worked directly for a general contracting firm in the past. As such, most project managers are intimately familiar with the construction process. This allows them to ensure that construction is proceeding at the correct pace, that the quality of the construction meets the requirements of the project, and that any potential delays are quickly identified and minimized.
How Does the Construction Stage Progress?
You may be wanting a comprehensive breakdown of stage construction details. Remember, every project is unique, so not every project will utilize the same building methods, processes, equipment, or design. That being said, there are general steps to a construction project that are broadly similar. Here is the general progression that will occur to the building during the construction stage:
- The job site is prepared for construction. The land is tested, cleared, leveled, and prepared for construction to begin.
- The foundation for the building is laid.
- The building frame is erected, internal and external supports are put in place, and a roof is built.
- Walls are finished, doors and windows are installed.
- Plumbing, electrical, and fixtures are installed.
- Painting and detailing is completed.
Are There Risks During the Construction Stage?
Every construction project carries risk. Managing and minimizing that risk is one of the key components of how project managers approach the construction process. Most people in the construction industry agree that the construction stage not only has risks but also tends to be the portion of a project that is most vulnerable to risk.
One of the foremost challenges that confront construction project managers during the construction stage is managing risk that is largely outside of their control. While there are certain events that are within the control of the people working on a project, such as ensuring that equipment and supplies are where they need to be at any given time or making sure that adequate safety measures are in place, there are other risks that are simply beyond anyone’s control.
The prime example of this is the weather. Inclement weather can pop up at any time, and introduce extensive delays into construction projects regardless of how large or small they are. While many construction projects will seek to start the construction stage during months when bad weather is less likely to impact their work, there are still instances where bad weather shuts down a job site for days or even weeks.
Identifying and managing levels of risk that affect the construction stage is an ongoing process. Effective project managers will seek to identify and minimize as many areas of risk that could potentially impact the project completion timeline or budget.
In general, the bulk of work during the construction stage is completed by the general contractor and subcontractors that are working on the project. The general contractor exercises day-to-day control and supervisory authority over the construction stage. At the same time, project managers stay engaged with the construction process through regular tours of the construction site.
The construction stage is inherently risky. A variety of problems can arise that can introduce delays or negatively impact the project budget. Identifying and mitigating these risks is an essential component of what project managers do to help ensure that the construction stage progresses smoothly.
Each construction project is unique, and so the construction stage for each project will have unique requirements. Due to the level of responsibility that the general contractor has during the construction stage, it is incredibly important to carefully select the contractor who will be working on your project. Working closely with the project manager during the general contractor selection process is one way of ensuring that the general contractor you work with has an adequate level of experience and resources to complete your project.
- 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.
- Mincks, William R., and Hal Johnston. Construction Jobsite Management. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2017.