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A Guide to the 5 Project Management Stages of Construction Projects

Project Management Guide

It’s essential to understand a construction project’s life cycle to ensure success. In this article, we will boil it down to 5 project management stages: concept, planning, execution, monitoring and control, and project close.

1. Concept

Conception is the essential preliminary phase of every project. The first aim of this phase is to define the project in general terms. Generally, the project architect, or sometimes the Client themselves, will prepare an initial programming document that includes what they would like incorporated into the project.

With the Client’s overall desired scope established, some projects undergo a feasibility study. The latter tries to answer the question: can the project be completed successfully? And while success can mean a range of things to different owners, a typical feasibility report will consider:

  • Are the available resources sufficient to bring the project to successful completion?
  • Is the project economically viable?
  • Can the project satisfy local planning and building safety requirements?
  • Can the project be completed within the desired timeframes?

Once a feasibility report is completed, the project stakeholders decide whether the project is a “go.” If it is, then it’s often useful to prepare a Project Initiation Document (PID), which will define the project and establish its management framework. Here is a non-exhaustive list of what this document usually contains:

  • the project’s goals
  • the business case
  • the scope of work
  • the project budget
  • the project’s organizational chart
  • the project’s risks and corresponding management strategy
  • quality management strategy

With this initial guiding document complete, the project can move on to the next phase: planning.

2. Planning

As its name suggests, this phase entails planning various aspects of the project. Here is what the project team must create before moving on to the next step:

Project plan. This document outlines all the tasks required to complete a project. These are organized into the “work breakdown structure,” after which the tasks are sequenced, and resources are allocated accordingly.

Resource plan. This document states the projected quantities of materials, labor, and equipment needed to bring the project to successful completion.

Financial plan. The financial plan lays out the expenses that the project is expected to incur. These include the costs of resources detailed in the Resource plan, as well as the administration costs.

Scheduling plan. This plan defines the required activities and milestones and organizes them into a time sequence to create the construction schedule.

Quality management plan. Critical to delivering the desired product, a quality management plan stipulates the project’s quality objectives and outlines a quality assurance plan. The latter is a list of activities the project manager expects the team to follow to ensure that the quality targets are met.

Risk mitigation plan. Every construction project is susceptible to risks. When these are not identified at the start, they can emerge as stunning extra costs and time delays. The Risk plan defines known and predicted risks, creates risk control mechanisms and allocates funds.

Communication plan. With multiple stakeholders, effective communications are essential for everyone to access and share information smoothly. The project manager creates a Communication plan that defines when and how various team members talk to each other.

Acceptance plan. Before the project is deemed “complete” and turned over to the owner, the latter will have to verify that the expected deliverables have indeed been completed. The Acceptance plan identifies these deliverables.

3. Construction Execution

The execution phase of the project management lifecycle is where the project team constructs its deliverables. It usually starts with a kick-off meeting, where all team members get their instructions for the duration of construction. The project manager oversees this stage to ensure that the plans developed earlier are executed without deviation. Here is what typically happens during execution:

  • required activities are identified to keep the project on target
  • project deliverables are produced, tested, and approved by the client

At the same time, the project team manages changes and measures progress against the performance baseline. Which brings us to the next phase, one that’s concurrent to execution: Monitoring and Control.

4. Monitoring and control

Despite the best efforts of the preconstruction team, changes are almost inevitable during execution. Some stem from the client’s wishes; unforeseen conditions cause others. To minimize the financial and schedule impact of changes, the project team must control them through strict, established change management procedures. These include change orders, change directives, and substitution requests. Formal communication channels, such as Requests for Information (RFIs), can help streamline the handling of unforeseen events.

Even without changes, the project manager needs to assess the project’s progress regularly. During this phase, and as execution proceeds, the project manager will always try to answer these questions:

  • Will the project meet the owner’s schedule and budget requirements?
  • Will the project meet the owner’s scope and quality requirements?

Typically, the depictions of scope, cost, and schedule variances come from comparing the progress to the baseline budget or schedule.

For instance, the project manager can establish the Cost Variance by subtracting the actual costs incurred in performing a specific scope from the budgeted cost of the completed work. Likewise, the Schedule Variance can be found by deducting the estimated expenses planned for a particular period from the budgeted cost of the performed work.

Based on these assessments, the project manager may have to adjust the schedule, reallocate, or add resources to keep the project on time and budget.

5. Project close

This phase begins just as the project is completed. At this time, the project team will:

  • correct deficiencies and punch list
  • commission building systems
  • obtain the Certificate of Occupancy or other jurisdictional approvals
  • create a final project budget, as-built schedule, and as-built drawings
  • settle final payments
  • hand the project over to the owner

Once the project is entirely in the owner’s control, the team will perform some internal housekeeping to ensure the relevant files are stored or archived as needed and hold a lessons learned session. 

Conclusion

The project management cycle represents the critical sequence of activities on a construction project. Each phase prepares the team to move on to the next. Combined, their ultimate goal is to meet the customer’s time, financial, scope, and quality objectives.

While these phases involve the project’s stakeholders, consultants, contractors, and trades, it takes a skilled project manager to see them through to a successful finish.

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