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This is How Preconstruction Managers Balance Time, Costs, & Scope

Every construction project faces the inevitable “project management triangle,” which highlights three familiar limitations in construction: time, costs, and scope. In an ideal world, every building will be high quality, take the least amount of time to complete, and be completed well below budget.

Unfortunately, this is seldom the case, and many contractors will ask their clients to sacrifice one of these 3 tenets. On the other hand, experienced Construction Managers (CMs) acting as preconstruction managers have a chance to find a balance between time, costs, and scope to achieve the most value for the project and client. During the preconstruction phase of a project, these 3 constraints must be continually weighed against each other. CMs know best how to manage these limitations while preserving project quality.

This post will look at how these 3 limitations interact and what a CM can do to create an equilibrium between them on a construction project.


The continuous or uncontrolled growth in a project’s scope can quickly get out of hand, causing an undesirable impact on costs and scheduling. A good CM can circumvent this dreaded “scope creep” through proper planning during preconstruction stage activities. By ensuring that proper coordination is performed during the design, and that well-written design and construction contracts are in hand, the CM will assist in keeping rising costs and time delays at bay.


Scheduling tends to be a significant challenge because there are multiple elements involved. Even when a project seems to be on track, something as seemingly innocuous as a delayed architect revision can snowball into weeks of setbacks. At times, owners can hold up their own projects by making slow decisions.

Because timing is so integral to a successful project, it’s essential to choose a team of designers, engineers and contractors who each have a proven track record of effectively planning and hitting targets. When considering candidates, the preconstruction manager should determine whether their proposed schedule is realistic.

The CM will set up a schedule based on expectations and flag potential conflicts early. Then, during the execution phase, the CM will accelerate the construction schedule to save on costs of delay later on. Sometimes, this may involve adding more resources by increasing staffing or adding shifts to avoid an increase in the project duration.


In addition to the actual hard construction costs, the major soft costs of a construction project typically include:
  • Drawings and plans from an architect
  • Engineering costs (mechanical, electrical, plumbing, structural, civil, geotechnical, acoustical, etc.)
  • Landscape architecture
  • Surveying
  • Testing and inspections
  • Fees for consulting and management
  • Fees for permits
  • Interior design, furniture, fixtures, and equipment
  • Interest, legal, financing, cost escalation, and other owner’s costs
Budgets can also change based on the client’s design preferences and aesthetics. It’s not uncommon for material selection to vary, for instance, if the owner decides to splurge on high-end interior finishes.

Preparing an early total project budget with detailed soft costs will set expectations. This also allows CMs and project owners a chance to set up a contingency line item for any unforeseen expenses that may arise. This usually excludes discretionary funds for better finishes and fixtures, but can be reallocated for these improvements if the project goes well and little contingency funds are expended for unanticipated costs.

For owners to make informed decisions about their project, it is essential to educate them on the associated costs and schedule implications that will arise from a change in scope and incumbent delay. Having a total project budget for reference during the preconstruction phase can only help the project in the long run.


While time, cost, and scope always compete during a project, with an experienced CM managing the preconstruction stage, there can be a balance between these elements.

The CM can plan and monitor a project’s scope, schedule, and budget, giving the owner a clear idea of how the project will play out. Responsible for the “big picture” elements, the CM will set out a clear budget, oversee retention of the project team, and coordinate design, engineering, and construction. He will also focus on keeping the project on track during its life cycle with effective communication and careful supervision of the various moving parts involved.

A project’s success hinges on proper planning, along with anticipating and mitigating problems so that it can be completed on time, within budget, and to the owner’s quality expectations. This can be accomplished by hiring a capable CM with a proven track record in managing a skilled and well-coordinated team.
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