The pre construction phase in a construction project is less familiar to most people than the construction management process itself. If you have found yourself wondering, “what is the pre construction phase?” you are not alone. The pre-construction phase encompasses all of the activities in a construction project that occur prior to construction. Put another way, from the moment a project begins to the time you are ready to start construction you are in the pre-construction phase.
During the pre-construction phase, a strategic plan must be created, a budget and timeline must be agreed upon, a design for the project is begun and finalized, permitting is acquired, and procurement of both labor and resources occurs.
In this article, we’ll provide an overview of the pre-construction phase. We’ll look at its importance in the lifecycle of the project as a whole, and we’ll examine how each component of the pre-construction phase is integral to project success.
What are the Phases of a Construction Project?
Construction projects aren’t a single, monolithic event. Rather, a construction project consists of a series of events or tasks that must be completed over time. One way that we help conceptualize the process of bringing a project idea to life is by breaking down construction projects into different phases.
There are many different ways to think about different aspects of construction projects. An easy way to visualize the phases of a construction project is to think about them in terms of their proximity to physical construction. There is all of the work that must be completed prior to the beginning of construction, the physical construction itself, and the period of time after construction has been completed but before the project is handed over to the owner. Let’s take a moment to examine each of these phases.
If you are still wondering, “what is pre-construction?” here’s an easy way to think about it. Typically, the pre-construction phase includes creating a strategic plan for the project, creating a design, securing permits or entitlements, and gathering the labor and resources required for construction.
The next phase of a construction project lasts from the moment physical construction begins until physical construction ends. The construction stage is the period of time that most people associate with construction projects, partially due to its visibility.
The period of time spanning from when physical construction ends until project turnover to the owner is known as the post-construction phase. During this period, a number of events and processes occur. The physical job site must be cleaned up. All equipment must be returned, and labor is typically demobilized and moved onto other projects. A punch list of items that need further attention is created and those items are addressed. All documents related to the project are handed over to the owner, and the owner’s team is trained on how to operate all systems and equipment in their new building.
What Happens During the Pre-Construction Phase?
Remember, the pre-construction phase refers to a series of tasks and events that either generally occurs or must occur prior to construction beginning. Although these steps aren’t often thought of as part of a construction project, they are actually integral components of nearly all modern construction projects.
Here’s a basic breakdown of pre-construction phase activities.
Secure a Project Manager
Typically the start of a construction project occurs when a project owner has an idea for a project and begins to work with a project manager. During an initial introduction, the project management team will take time to assess whether a potential project is realistic and feasible. If the project manager determines the project is feasible then the project can truly begin.
Strategic Plan Development
Once a project manager and owner have agreed to pursue a project together, the first thing the project management team will do is create a strategic development plan for the project. This will include the budget for the project and the estimated timeline for completion. While this information is important, the strategic plan for the project will also serve as a guide for other construction team members during the remainder of the project. In many ways, the strategic plan developed at the outset of a project serves as an ongoing reference point for each member of the team to refer back to if needed.
Putting an idea on paper is a huge step towards transforming a dream project into a reality. The next step in the pre-construction phase is to begin the process of creating a project design. In order to do so, the owner and project manager will need to bring additional stakeholders on board. These will include a design team that usually consists of one or more architects and an engineering team.
Creating a design for a new project is an inherently collaborative process. While the natural assumption is that both the architectural and engineering teams operate in silos, this is far from normal. Typically, both the architectural and engineering teams will work together, with the owner, to create a design that the owner is happy with, that adheres to safety and regulatory requirements, and meets any sustainability or design requirements the architect and owner have agreed upon.
Throughout the design process, the project manager ensures that information is flowing freely between the design and engineering teams. Both teams need specific information from the other in order to complete their portion of the project. Often, a change by one team necessitates a review from the other team. Without effective communication, the design process can be painstakingly slow. With effective communication, the design process is streamlined and costly delays are avoided.
Permitting and Entitlements
Once a design has been put on paper it is usually time to pursue permitting. In some cases securing permitting and entitlements can run concurrently with the design process. Typically, the project manager helps guide the project through the permitting process. Securing necessary permitting for projects of any size can be a frustrating experience. There will most likely be multiple authorities in charge of issuing permits that may or may not have overlapping areas of responsibility. What results is an often confusing mix of local, state, and federal regulations that must be navigated.
If any entitlements are necessary for your project they will have to be secured prior to the start of construction. If you aren’t familiar, entitlements concern a building’s intended use and how that interacts with or contradicts municipal zoning requirements or city planning. The process of securing necessary entitlements can be vexing. The process can include a public awareness campaign, multiple meetings with local city officials, town hall meetings open to public comment, and many other steps.
What is worth noting about both the permitting and entitlements process is that it can take a substantial amount of time. Roadblocks in securing necessary permitting and entitlements can introduce delays that impact the project completion timeline. While some projects are straightforward, others navigate the permitting and entitlements process over the course of months or even years. One area of risk with the entitlements process specifically is the fact that at the end of the process you may fail to secure necessary entitlements to move forward with your project. Working with a project manager experienced with navigating the entitlements process is one way of potentially reducing this risk.
General Contractor Selection
During the pre-construction phase, a general contractor and subcontractors will need to be brought onto the project. General contractors are responsible for handling the physical construction process. This includes using their own labor and securing the services of any necessary subcontractors required to complete construction.
It is often said that the construction phase of a project carries the most risk. This is true for a number of reasons and emphasizes the importance of working with an effective, experienced general contractor. Selecting the general contractor, like selecting other members of your construction project team, should be done with care and an adequate level of due diligence. While sometimes an owner chooses a specific general contractor, more often the general contractor is selected through a bidding process.
In the general contractor selection bidding process the project manager will invite bids from select contractors who wish to work on the project. These bids will then be evaluated by the project manager and owner. Usually, bid submissions are followed up with an interview process with the general contractor company. Once a good fit for the project has been found, the general contractor is brought on board and tasked with preparing for physical construction. This includes securing the services of any necessary subcontractors or skilled labor that the project requires.
One of the final tasks that must be completed during the pre-construction phase is procurement. Procurement is the complex process of ordering, assembling, and staging of all materials required to complete the project. The procurement stage must be approached carefully to ensure that all necessary materials have been ordered and staged appropriately to best facilitate the construction schedule and process.
Alongside any material required for the project, equipment rentals will also be secured and staged during the procurement process. While it may seem mundane, the process of ordering and staging materials and equipment for construction is an art in itself. Done correctly, procurement can help facilitate construction and improve efficiency, reducing wastage. Done incorrectly, the procurement process can introduce delays that impact project completion and wastage that impacts the project budget.
As this breakdown illustrates, the pre-construction phase can be very complex. Prior to any construction actually beginning, a vast amount of work on a project has already been completed. Navigating the pre-construction process in an efficient, effective manner is one way that construction management services help create successful construction projects.
To learn more about the role of project management services during the pre-construction phase, please contact Gilliland Construction Management today.
- Dykstra, Alison. Construction Project Management: A Complete Introduction. Santa Rosa, CA: Kirshner Publishing Company, 2018.
- Mincks, William R., and Hal Johnston. Construction Jobsite Management. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2017.