All construction projects require careful planning to succeed. You need to find the right resources and equipment, determine the timeline and budget, and meet various other complex requirements.
There are many ways to break up the phases of your construction project. For example, the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) defines the construction project lifecycle in five stages: pre-design, design, procurement, construction and monitoring, and post-construction.
In this article, we explain these five construction project phases, including the key activities and challenges of each, and provide some tips to ensure your next construction project is a success.
5 Phases of the Construction Process Explained
Thoughtful early-stage planning helps set the stage for a successful project, organizing your efforts and allowing your construction team to go into each step with a clear sense of what work needs to get done.
Here’s how the typical five stages of the construction process break down.
Phase 1: Pre-Design (Project Initiation)
The first phase of a construction project is the pre-design phase, which some companies also call the planning or initiation phase. This phase covers the entire period before the building or structure is designed and schematics are created.
During the pre-design phase, project managers and their teams evaluate the project’s requirements, objectives, and overall feasibility, and then establish a project budget to work from.
This first phase is absolutely crucial to the project as a whole because it allows stakeholders to assess whether it’s a good idea to actually go ahead with the project. It also sets a solid foundation for how to execute all aspects of the project if it does in fact go ahead.
Here are some activities that usually occur during the pre-design phase:
- Undertaking a feasibility study: The planning team carries out a feasibility study to assess the project’s merits and evaluate the project’s objectives. The study looks at things like construction costs, design, location, and the proposed building schedule.
- Creating a project initiation document (PID): Next, a PID is usually created based on the results of the feasibility study. This document defines the scope of the project, sets project milestones for the team to meet, and defines the criteria that determines the project’s success in the eyes of stakeholders.
- Creating construction documents: These explain which contractors, architects, and other team members will be involved in the project and what roles they’ll play on a daily basis.
Some challenges are likely to occur during the pre-design phase. Here are some examples:
- For the feasibility study to be truly useful, it needs to highlight objectives that may be difficult to achieve.
- Contractual documents have to be carefully written by someone with experience and expertise in order to avoid liability and ensure the project is safe.
- Maintaining clear communication is key to ensuring budgets, design objectives, and stakeholder goals are clear, but this is often easier said than done.
Phase 2: Design (Pre-Construction)
The second phase of a construction project is the design stage, also commonly known as the pre-construction stage.
This is the time when comprehensive plans for the structure’s final design are drawn up, and all the preparation required to begin construction occurs. For example, a project roadmap will be created to outline what needs to be done and how it will be achieved. Blueprints will be drawn up and cost estimates will be evaluated.
The design development work undertaken at this stage is crucial for finding the right equipment and materials in the procurement phase.
The design stage for most construction projects usually involves these activities:
- Choosing contractors: The project manager selects which contractors to hire based on designs for the structure that have been submitted using design-bid-build contracts.
- Establishing the chain of command: The project manager runs a pre-construction meeting to establish the project team structure and ensure everyone knows their responsibilities.
- Estimating construction costs: All costs are estimated and the project manager and project owner discuss and finalize a contract.
- Assessing risks: To ensure the project goes smoothly, risk assessment and contingency planning are performed.
- Processing documentation: Contractors and project stakeholders process any other paperwork that is required to begin the project. For example:
- Submitting documents to local authorities and obtaining all the necessary building permits and entitlements to begin work
- Conducting environmental tests (such as testing the soil)
- Creating a comprehensive safety management plan
- Negotiating change orders or other revisions to the final project plan or design
Here are some of the most common challenges teams may encounter during the design stage:
- Any changes during this stage can lead to communication breakdowns between managers and stakeholders.
- A legal team may be necessary to examine any conflicts of interest.
- Environmental concerns can delay the project or prevent it from starting entirely.
Phase 3: Procurement
The procurement phase builds on the work done in the design phase, using this preparation to effectively source, purchase, and transport the necessary materials, equipment, and services.
Depending on the project, it may be more cost-effective to rent some equipment and heavy machinery from a company like BigRentz instead of purchasing it.
A typical procurement phase usually involves activities such as:
- Sourcing materials: Materials are found and purchased, and team members are coordinated to meet the project’s cost estimates and completion deadlines.
- Building out the team: All necessary team members and contractors are hired. Depending on the scope of the project, subcontractors may also need to be hired for certain tasks (based on a bidding process).
Here are some common challenges you and your team could encounter at this stage:
- Choosing whether to purchase materials from local, regional, or worldwide markets can create different obstacles. Local materials may be received faster but are usually more expensive. Globally sourced materials may be cheaper but are subject to supply chain disruptions. You’ll need to choose based on thorough research.
- Volatile market conditions can affect the availability of equipment, materials, and even human resources, so it’s important to plan ahead.
- Contractual agreements and payment terms need to be clearly established up front to avoid issues down the road.
Phase 4: Construction and Monitoring
In this stage, physical construction of the structure begins.
Therefore, the construction and monitoring phase mostly involves contractors and subcontractors performing their daily duties, including tasks like laying foundations, framing structures, and installing various utilities and systems.
The construction phase of any project usually involves these core activities:
- Building the structure: It is essential that teams remain accountable to the overall project plan and its parameters. Construction project managers are the ones in charge of coordinating everyone’s schedules, reviewing the work, and responding to questions from the project’s stakeholders throughout the process to ensure everything goes smoothly.
- Maintaining documentation: Managers also need to create and maintain accurate records to track the project’s progress and ensure the quality of the work.
Here are some of the common challenges that you and your team may encounter at this stage:
- Schedules need to be carefully coordinated, as dozens of subcontractors may be involved. Any confusion can lead to delays and the project going over budget.
- Onsite safety protocols must be followed and maintained.
- Ideally, structural issues won’t arise because of preparation in the previous stages, but if they do, teams must be prepared to address them.
Phase 5: Post-Construction (Closeout)
The post-construction or closeout stage is the final step in the construction process. Once the actual construction is complete, the construction project manager surveys the project before handing it over to the client or owner.
The post-construction phase usually involves these activities:
- Reviewing the project with the client: The construction project manager tours the project with the client, and creates a construction punch list of areas that need to be improved. They then work with the contractors and subcontractors to correct the errors as needed.
- Finalizing project documents: Project closeout documents are finalized, including contractor payments, inspection certificates, and a certificate of occupancy.
- Transferring ownership and deliverables: The documentation is packaged and delivered to the client. Documents may include the results of quality control inspections and technical submittals so the client can verify that the contractor followed all project requirements.
Here are some common challenges teams might run into at this stage:
- The punch list could identify a wide range of issues, from small repairs to major oversights, which need to be addressed, along with any client feedback. These need to be completed before contractors and subcontractors can move on to other projects.
- Legal disputes can arise during this process if the client is dissatisfied or feels the finished project doesn’t meet the agreed-upon expectations.
- Finalizing all the documentation can be time consuming.
Tips for a Successful Construction Project
So much goes into executing a construction project. Here are some tips to help your next project go as smoothly as possible.
1. Create a Detailed Plan
Creating a comprehensive plan sets the foundation for your project and is the best way to avoid issues during the other phases of construction.
At the pre-construction and design stages, use the PID you created as a detailed roadmap for how you move forward in your work, and do you best to stick to it.
When setting goals for your project, you can use the following acronyms to help you. Try setting goals that are “SMART” and “CLEAR.”
- SMART means Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.
- CLEAR means Collaborative, Limited, Emotional, Appreciable, and Refinable.
Setting goals that meet these metrics will help you keep the project on track to the best of your ability.
2. Efficiently Track Project Progress
The planning phase can help you create a strong foundation for your project, but you still need to monitor your project throughout its duration and adjust the plan as unexpected obstacles arise.
An efficient way to track to track your progress is to usekey performance indicators (KPIs). These track different aspects of a project’s performance, indicating where you’re succeeding as well as where you might need to improve.
Some examples of KPIs you could track include:
- Initial objectives: Set a KPI to monitor the objectives you established in the project initiation phase to make sure they’re being met. Is work happening on schedule? Are you within your budget?
- Performance: Keep track of how your project is progressing daily. Are things going as planned, or are you encountering unexpected obstacles in your work?
- Quality: Make sure that the quality of you and your team’s work meets or exceeds expectations. Hitting milestones isn’t important in and of itself if you notice the work being done daily just isn’t up to par.
3. Ensure Clear Communication
In any construction project, clear communication is the key to success.
Make sure that everyone involved in the project, including contractors, subcontractors and stakeholders, are on the same page. You might even consider making a responsibility matrix to document each individual’s tasks, action items, and authority.
4. Aim to Finish Ahead of Time
The only thing better than a project finished on schedule is a project that’s finished ahead of time. When you’re coming up with the initial plan, add padding for things you anticipate may be delayed. That extra time can give you wiggle room to make up for errors or delays, so unforeseen circumstances don’t throw you off course.
The Construction Management Association of America suggests aiming to finish each project 10% faster than estimated or planned. To accomplish this, you can schedule tasks two to four weeks in advance, and meet subcontractors and suppliers on site one to three weeks in advance. Also, try to have all the materials, tools, and equipment on site two to three days before they’re needed.
5. Prioritize Safety
All construction projects involve a lot of moving parts and potential hazards. With heavy equipment, difficult materials, and complex tasks involved in building a functioning structure, there are many opportunities for people to get injured if the proper precautions aren’t taken.
Therefore, you should always make safety a priority on your job site. In addition to performing regular safety inspections, budget for safety program management and include it in your plans in order to provide safe working conditions for everyone involved.
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