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A Detailed Guide to Construction Planning

A vague term to begin with, “planning” can be hard to wrap your mind around in the context of construction.

This post will try to do just that – untangle construction planning and discuss what construction project managers (PMs) do during this project phase.

What is construction planning?

In construction, “planning” means creating a framework for the project’s management and execution. In a nutshell, planning can fall into two distinct categories: strategic and operational.

1. Strategic planning

This is a high-level process that defines the project’s goals. During this stage, the owner’s planners must establish:
  • how the proposed development aligns with their company’s mission
  • what business opportunities and threats can stem from the project
  • whether the company has sufficient resources to complete the project successfully
Depending on the company’s business, economic climate, and project type, there may be countless other variables to work through in strategic planning. In the end, though, the planners must produce a master construction plan that factors in the project’s goals.

2. Operational planning

Here, the project team picks up where the first level planners left off and spells out how they will meet the owner’s strategic objectives. The team then ties their operational plan to a projected timeline and completion date.

Steps to completing a project plan

A construction management plan defines how the team will manage resources, finances, time, quality, risks, and communication. Generally, a PM will strive to complete these separate plans during the planning phase of the project:

1. Project plan

In the project plan, the PM establishes the scope and tasks needed to bring the project to completion. These are based mainly on the project goals determined earlier, the design, and the site conditions.

The PM groups these activities into the “work breakdown structure” (WBS), then works out the dependencies between the tasks, identifies key milestones and writes the project schedule. The latter should cover the preconstruction and construction phases of the project.

2. Resource plan

With the WBS outlined, the PM must single out the resources needed to execute the project. In drafting the resource plan, the PM must consider the types and quantities of materials, labor, and equipment that will be used in construction. Strategies for averting and coping with labor and materials shortfalls should also find their way into this plan. Once complete, the resource plan will serve as the backbone of budgeting and financial planning.

3. Financial plan

Closely following the resource plan, a project’s financial plan forecasts the costs of the resources needed to build the project. Apart from the direct costs of putting a building together, the financial plan must consider ALL COSTS and account for soft costs, financing, furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E) and all administration and overhead.

The financial plan should also factor in risks that cannot be eliminated or at least managed. For instance, unforeseen site conditions should have a contingency reserve set aside to cover their possible extra costs. The contingency fund amount depends on the project’s circumstances. Large-scale renovations are notably prone to hidden flaws that surface after work begins and may require a greater reserve than ground-up construction.

4. Risk plan

Unlike site conditions that stay hidden before construction, some risks can be foreseen and dealt with ahead of time. These include labor and material shortfalls, fluctuating prices, environmental hazards, fire, theft, and vandalism. The risk plan is the document where the PM lists these hazards and their mitigation strategies. This will involve insurance coordination based on the risk tolerance of the Client and project stakeholders. The plan also details the steps for monitoring and reacting to emerging risks.

5. Quality plan

Along with the budget and schedule, quality is a critical pillar in a project’s execution. But while the General Contractor is accountable for building to the accepted quality standards, the PM’s quality plan lays the groundwork for quality management. To be effective, the plan has to:
  • outline indisputable quality standards
  • specify which project team member is in charge of quality
  • describe procedures for assessing the quality
  • identify processes for communicating quality issues up the command chain and rectifying them

6. Acceptance plan

Before a project can be deemed “complete” and filed away, the client must evaluate and approve its deliverables. To establish a clear-cut acceptance process, prevent either party from distorting the deliverables, and ensure that quality standards are met, the acceptance plan must:
  • detail the project deliverables, and
  • outline the client’s acceptance criteria

7. Communications planning

With hundreds of processes and dozens of stakeholders, construction projects need a well-oiled communication flow to keep vital information from slipping through the cracks. To this end, a communication plan must:

1. Identify the audience. The consultants, field team, design team, project owner, and others all need access to different information bits. By identifying each of these groups, the info they will need, and the frequency at which this info will be shared, the web of stakeholders becomes less tangled and easier to manage.

2. Establish the channels through which information will be shared. These may include:
Different stakeholders will receive their communications via different means.

8. Procurement plan

The procurement plan states where, when, and how the project team will get the resources needed to complete the project. Based on the construction schedule, the procurement plans ensures that the desired materials, labor, and equipment are there right when they’re needed. Delays can lead to missed milestones and extra costs, and thorough procurement planning is critical to avert such problems.

The plan should include a procurement schedule and methods, as well as waste reduction strategies.

More extensive, complex projects may require other, distinct plans to be drawn up before construction starts. Smaller projects, on the other hand, may not need such an in-depth planning process.

With construction project planning and scheduling complete, the team will be ready to move ahead with the project’s execution.
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