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The 5 Phases of a Construction Project

The 5 Phases of a Construction Project

Between finding the right resources and equipment, determining the timeline and budget, and meeting various other complex requirements, it’s no wonder construction projects require careful planning to succeed.

There are many ways to break up the phases of a construction project. 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 discuss 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

Construction project management 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 needs to get done. Here’s how the five stages of construction break down.

The five phases of a construction project

Phase 1: Pre-Design (Project Initiation)

The pre-design phase, also called the planning phase or initiation phase, is the period before the schematic design starts. It evaluates the project’s requirements, objectives, and feasibility and establishes a project budget. This planning stage is important because it determines if it’s a good idea to move ahead with the project, and sets the foundation for the project’s execution.

Key Activities

The pre-design phase usually involves these activities:

  • Undertaking a feasibility study: The planning team undertakes a feasibility study to ensure the project’s solution and the final build are aligned with the objectives. It considers things like construction costs, design, location, and construction schedule.
  • Creating a project initiation document (PID): A PID is created based on the feasibility study, defining the scope of the project, project milestones to meet, and the criteria that determine its success.
  • Creating schematics: The design team creates a sketch of the space and the materials, designs, textures, and colors that will be used in the finished structure.
  • Creating construction documents: These contractual documents explain the roles and requirements of everyone involved in the construction process.

Challenges

These are some of the most common challenges teams encounter during this phase:

  • The feasibility study needs to highlight objectives that may be difficult to achieve.
  • Contractual documents have to be carefully written in order to avoid liability and ensure the project is safe.
  • Communication is key to ensuring budgets, design objectives, and stakeholder goals are clear.

Phase 2: Design (Pre-Construction)

The pre-construction phase is the design stage which involves creating comprehensive plans of the structure’s final design and the necessary preparations to begin construction. A blueprint or roadmap is created that outlines what will be done and how it will be done, as well as cost estimates. Design development in this stage is used in the procurement stage as the basis for finding the right equipment and materials.

people looking at construction floor plan

Key Activities

The design stage usually involves these activities:

  • Selecting general contractors: Contractors are selected based on finished designs in 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 is aware of their responsibilities.
  • Estimating construction costs: Costs are estimated and a contract is finalized between the project manager and the owner.
  • Assessing risks: Risk assessment and contingency planning are conducted to ensure the project goes as smoothly as possible.
  • Processing documentation: Contractors and project stakeholders process other documentation required to begin the project. This may involve:
    • Submitting documents to local authorities and obtaining any necessary building permits or entitlements
    • Conducting environmental tests (such as testing the soil)
    • Creating a safety management plan
    • Negotiating change orders or other revisions to the project plan or design

Challenges

Here are some of the most common challenges teams encounter during this 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 stage involves sourcing, purchasing, and transporting the materials, services, and equipment required to complete the project. Typically, it’s more affordable and practical to rent equipment and heavy machinery from a company like BigRentz, rather than purchasing it. Renting also allows teams to use the latest technology.

Key Activities

The procurement phase usually involves these activities:

  • Sourcing materials: Materials are purchased, and team members are coordinated to meet project estimates and deadlines.
  • Building out the team: Depending on the scope of the project, subcontractors may need to be hired (based on a bidding process).

Challenges

Here are some common challenges teams encounter at this stage:

  • Purchasing 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.
  • In a similar way, renting equipment may be more cost-effective than purchasing or leasing it.
  • Volatile market conditions can also affect the availability of equipment, materials, and even human resources.
  • Contractual agreements and payment terms need to be clearly established.

Phase 4: Construction and Monitoring

In this stage, physical construction begins. The construction or execution phase mostly involves contractors and subcontractors performing their daily duties to build the structure, such as laying foundations, framing structures, and installing utilities and systems.

man and woman on construction site

Key Activities

The construction phase usually involves these activities:

  • Creating the structure: In addition to performing physical labor and actually executing the project, teams also have to remain accountable to the overall project plan and parameters. Construction project managers coordinate schedules, review work, and respond to questions from project stakeholders throughout the construction process.
  • Maintaining documentation: Managers create and maintain accurate records to track the project’s progress and ensure quality.

Challenges

These are some of the common challenges teams 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 project completion 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.

Key Activities

The post-construction phase usually involves these activities:

  • Reviewing the project with the client: The construction project manager tours the project with the team or 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 project is presented to the client with all documentation. Documents may include the results of quality control inspections and technical submittals so the client can verify that the contractor followed all project requirements.

Challenges

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. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the construction process, here are some tips to help make your next project successful.

Tips for the construction process

1. Create a Detailed Plan

Planning sets the foundation for your project. During the pre-construction and design phases, use your PID as a detailed roadmap for how you move forward in your work.

You want to set goals that are SMART and CLEAR. SMART refers to goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. CLEAR refers to goals that are Collaborative, Limited, Emotional, Appreciable, and Refinable. All of these considerations will help keep your project on track and ensure you’re meeting the needs of clients, stakeholders, and team members alike.

2. Efficiently Track Project Progress

While the planning phase can help you create a strong foundation for your project, the big picture stuff doesn’t stop there. You want to monitor your project throughout its duration to ensure it goes as planned and that any issues that come up are addressed promptly.

A great way to make sure your project is progressing as expected is to use key performance indicators (KPIs). These metrics track different aspects of project performance, indicating both where you’re succeeding as well as where you might need to improve. Some examples of KPIs to track include:

  • Project objectives: Monitor the objectives you established in your initiation phase to make sure they’re being met. Is work happening on schedule? Are you within your budget?
  • Project performance: Keep track of how your project is progressing. Are things going as planned, or are you encountering unexpected obstacles in your work?
  • Project quality: Make sure that the quality of the work meets or exceeds expectations. Hitting milestones isn’t important in and of itself if the work being done isn’t up to par.

3. Ensure Clear Communication

In any 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. This helps make sure that expectations are met appropriately, and that everyone understands what their responsibilities are. 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. Planning to finish early can help you streamline your activities and budget time and resources more efficiently. It also creates time to make up for errors or delays, so unforeseen circumstances don’t throw you off course.

Try to aim to finish each project 10% faster than estimated or planned. To accomplish this, 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 it’s needed.

5. Prioritize Safety

Construction involves a lot of moving parts and potential hazards. Between heavy equipment, difficult materials, and the complex acts involved in building a functioning structure, there are many opportunities for people to get injured if precautions aren’t taken.

Make sure you make safety a priority on your job site. In addition to performing regular safety inspections, include and budget for safety program management in your plan to provide safe working conditions for everyone involved.

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