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4 Essential Phases of the Construction Process

Planning, Preconstruction, Construction & Close-Out

planning preconstruction construction close out

The construction process is typically divided into 4 essential phases: Planning, Preconstruction, Construction and Close-out. In some project management outlines, these same steps are divided into 5 phases and are called Project Initiation (which we term Planning), Project Planning (Preconstruction), Project Execution (Construction), Project Monitoring and Control (performed concurrently within Construction) and Project Closure (Close-Out). Professional prоjесt management methodology provides logistical guidelines for performance of defined tasks and objectives during each phase. Proper and complete execution of these progressive tasks establishes the strategic framework for the project and is essential to ensure success.

1. Planning Phase

Planning, the first phase of any major project is the process of articulating and defining the goals for the project and evaluating the feasibility of the plan. In layman’s terms, the planning phase is when the owner, architect and construction manager have early discussions on what is to be built, if it is approvable by the jurisdictional authorities and parameters such as scope and quality assumptions. For architects, this phase is generally called Conceptual Design, sometimes included within Schematic Design in the AIA definition of architectural services.

Every project is shaped by its own set of unique variables. For instance, building a big box store in the middle of a flat, vacant field is a relatively straightforward project—once the team has gained approvals, they build the same building in exactly the same manner every time. Building a unique project, whether it is creative office or manufacturing facility, a custom residence or sacred space, involves an entire range of design issues and may require significant effort to obtain discretionary and environmental approvals. In this phase your project architect will work closely with a civil engineer to determine setbacks from property lines, easements, utilities, slope band analysis for steep lots and so on. All design, permitting and scope variables are managed and strategized by your construction manager in order to establish a viable project plan. 

All this takes time. Not understanding construction procedures and processes, people often try to rush this planning phase in favor of leaping into design and the creation of drawings and construction documents in order to go out to start the bidding process in construction projects. However, a good construction manager will tell you that optimal results start with carefully conceived and defined planning.  Planning will often include early retention of professionals such as engineers and consultants so that their input can be included in the developing plan.

Clients should feel reassured by their construction manager’s dedication to a methodical planning strategy. Planning represents a small percentage of the overall cost of the project but has immense impact in the construction phase where 90% of the cost and liability occur. Early planning steps should include site and building assessment, early engineering evaluation and entitlement and land use analysis to determine if the owner can build what he wants, where he wants. Ideally at this early stage, green building options should be considered for incorporation into the project plan.

This integrated perspective fosters creativity and exchange of ideas for potential project variables. A good construction manager will manage development of the emerging design with an eye to scope and cost and lead the team to a comprehensive and realistic project plan that is clearly articulated, feasible and fits into the owner’s budget and schedule constraints.

2. Preconstruction Phase

During Preconstruction, the project architect commences with construction documents, which translates the early planning exercise into contract documents that will be submitted for building permit and conveyed to the contractor to define what exactly is being constructed. In architecture parlance, the development of construction documents is generally broken into three phases: schematic design (SD, which is sometimes included in the Planning Phase noted above), design development (DD) and construction documents (CD). Generally, the completion of SD phase means the drawings are about 20% complete, DD is 70% and CD is 100%. In many jurisdictions that have a complex set of approvals, an extended DD set is often prepared as a plan check set for application for a building permit.

Your construction manager will be busy during this phase with his own set of key tasks. His services performed during the preconstruction phase focus on retention of the complete professional team, retention of the general contractor, developing a total project budget and overall schedule, risk management, contracts & insurance and other project organizational business. A professional construction manager’s expertise is essential in developing a well-managed professional team.  The construction manager generally takes responsibility for budget, contracts, risk management and management of the team to meet overall design milestones, while the project architect manages the professional team for design and technical coordination between engineering disciplines.

Your construction manager will provide guidance on defining processes for the management and successful execution of the construction project. Stonemark often recommends retaining a general contractor for preconstruction services in order to provide constructability expertise to the professional team as the design evolves. The contractor prepares several cost estimates during preconstruction as a tried and true approach in the industry that yields superior results over the “hard bid” model.  The general contractor’s input on construction costs and schedule should be incorporated in the developing of the total construction project budget and critical path schedule. This approach to budget and schedule is an improvement to the change order process later in construction as there will be less opportunity for change orders and budget increases to occur. Through it all, your construction manager will ensure effective communication between project team members.

3. Construction Phase

This is the execution phase where all the planning will pay off. As the hub of communications for the project, your construction manager and contractor will transition the project into actual construction. The professional team’s role during this phase is called Construction Administration (CA). Your architect, all engineers and consultants should be engaged for full CA services to perform quality control inspections, respond to Requests for Information (RFIs), review and approve technical submittals and generally ensure that the project is delivered by the contractor as designed. If your team has diligently and properly executed the planning and preconstruction phases, construction will progress smoothly.

The construction manager’s services during the construction phase will include on-site project management, oversee quality control, monitor the contractor’s safety program, ensure contractors perform per specifications, coordinate permits, technical inspections and testing and monitor RFIs and submittals to ensure they are on track. From administering construction contracts and managing the budget and schedule to certifying contractor progress payments and approving payment requests, his vigilance during construction phase services is essential to keep the project on track.

As noted above, some project management methodologies include a separate phase called Project Monitoring and Control. Your construction manager will include monitoring of scope, budget (using budgeting techniques for project management) and schedule, along with other contract, insurance and risk management controls in this construction phase.

4. Close-Out Phase

The final phase of the project is project closure or close-out. This is a critical phase, which if not given proper attention can turn a good project into a problem for an owner. Project Close-out procedures include more than completion of the punch list—turning over the project to the client so they can transition to occupancy or operations. Clients must be provided all project information, a construction closeout document list and all closeout documents such as manuals, warranties, as-builts and final accounting. Insurance must be changed from the course of construction to permanent property insurance. For many larger projects, a formalized process called commissioning is utilized where systems are tested for performance to ensure they deliver the specified requirements. It is difficult to stress enough the importance of training the Owner in how to use their facility.

Each phase of construction has its own set of defined tasks and objectives. If performed thoroughly, they establish the strategic framework for a successful project.

If you glean only one take-away from this article, recognize that the time required to perform methodical planning and preconstruction is a worthwhile investment. Remember—most efficiencies and ѕаvingѕ орроrtunitiеѕ аrе captured during the early рhаѕеѕ whеn а соmрrеhеnѕivе аnd ассurаtе ѕсоре оf wоrk iѕ еѕtаbliѕhеd. There are many benefits of retaining a professional construction manager, including bаlаnсing thе соmреting nееdѕ оf соѕt, ѕсоре аnd ѕсhеdulе. Rely on their expertise to keep your project running smoothly through all phases from start to successful completion.

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