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Top 5 Construction Project Planning Steps

Planning a construction project starts way before plans are drawn. In fact, plans are actually at the end of the steps in the planning process, not the beginning. Defining team members, project goals, project scope, and the process the team will use to work together all come before design can begin.

The oxymoron in construction is that the more time you spend planning and making sure the project meets all your needs during design, the less expensive it is. Changes during the building process are much more expensive after work begins. So, the more construction planning you do, the better it is for the project and the budget.

Here are the top five construction project planning steps to take before you start your next project.

1. Determine project goals

It’s likely that you already have a broad idea of what you want and/or need the project to look like – add a wing to your building, construct a new building, or renovate an interior space. However, before starting the project, even design, its necessary to define the goals you wish to accomplish. Otherwise, you may create a space that doesn’t do what you need it to.

The process of developing project goals starts with determining who the stakeholders are for the project. Everyone affected by the project should be included at this early stage. This includes those who will be working in the new building, those near the new space, your maintenance team, executives, and finance team members. The more representation you have, the better.

You’ll want to include project team members outside your organization as early as possible. Possible consultants you’ll need to select or include in your construction plan include design professionals (architects, engineers, and interior designers), contractors, and representatives from the local jurisdiction that will be overseeing the project (city or county). Involving these members in the early stages of planning leads to better project outcomes. Being present during your goal defining session will help them better understand all of your needs, not just the ones that make the final list.

Once all the members are selected or identified, the whole project team should meet to put together a list of project goals. Everyone will provide a list of needs they have for the project, and the team will work together to edit the list and prioritize them. These goals will probably start out ambiguous, so the team will need to work together to define them more exactly. Strive to narrow the list down to five to seven SMART goals.

2. Define project scope

From the list of project goals developed in step 1, the team can then come up with a list of the features the project must include in order to meet those goals. For example, if achieving a LEED Silver green building certification is a project goal, then there are a number of features that the team needs to include in its design to make that happen. An efficient HVAC system, drought-tolerant landscaping, and finishes made from natural materials are just a few of the features they may choose to implement.

The scope document created from this meeting will also provide details on how the goals will be achieved or implemented in the project. It will discuss the systems that will be used, construction techniques, and what specific scopes of work will be included in the project. For example, the scope may outline that using drywall with 30% post-consumer recycled content is one of the tactics the project will use to meet their green building certification requirements.

The team will put together a rough schedule for the project at this stage. Once the scope and amount of work has been decided on, the team should be able to estimate durations for the project stages, including design, permitting, construction, and move-in.

It is a good idea to address the project budget at this stage too. With a contractor on board, the team can turn to them for approximate costs of the work as defined so far. Once the team knows the owner’s budget constraints and the project scope, they can make educated decisions adjusting the scope to help bring it in line with the owner’s requirements.

3. Process planning

Before the design team begins the design stage of the project, the team should plan what the process will look like and who will be involved. The design team may have standard processes that they can suggest to the owner, but it is important that all team members agree on the process before the work begins.

Things to consider include the roles and responsibilities of each team member, how communication will flow, and how risk will be handled. Each team member should know what their tasks are for each stage of the project. They should be clearly laid out and identified so everyone knows who to contact if an issue comes up. Holding regular meetings to update everyone on the progress of the project is a necessity. These meetings offer the owner the chance to review what’s been done and give feedback.

There are so many sources of risk on a construction project, that it can be difficult to identify them all. Events like budget cuts, changing project requirements or needs, and unforeseen site conditions can all affect the progress on the project. Knowing who is responsible for identifying and mitigating risks like these is an important part of the planning process.

4. Design process

Once the process plan has been defined, the project team can officially begin the design process. Much of the work in this stage is done behind the scenes in the offices of the different design team members. Collaboration and communication are necessary to make this process as smooth as possible.

The team will meet at regular intervals to review the process of the design and make sure it is within the scope, schedule, and budget set at the beginning. As the construction design documents move towards completion, estimates will become more accurate, and more risks and issues will probably be identified.

Part of the design process is to make changes and adjustments as needed. Rarely does a project end up just like the architect designed it from the beginning. Revisions may be needed due to jurisdictional requirements, unforeseen site conditions, or changes in the scope of work. Changes made during the design stage of the project usually aren’t as expensive as they are later on, once construction has started. So, it’s best to adjust now, rather than wait.

5. Final reviews and bidding

Once the final construction documents have been reviewed and approved by the project team, they are submitted to the city or county having jurisdiction for plan review and permitting. Your jurisdiction will likely require plan check corrections to ensure that your plans meet all building and local codes, which often create changes to the project even at this stage.

The project will usually be sent out to bid to general contractors at this point if a contractor hasn’t already been selected. If a general is already on the team, then they will send the project out to subcontractors for bidding the specific trades of work. The bidding process often reveals discrepancies or creates questions that may not have been raised before. This is why it’s a good idea to have a contractor on board early, so they can help mitigate some of these issues. However, even if you have a contractor working throughout preconstruction, it won’t eliminate them completely.

After the jurisdiction completes its review and the contractor provides final pricing and a schedule, then the team can assess their plan and make sure the project is meeting the intended goals set at the beginning of the planning process.

Changes can still be made, even during construction, but they become more expensive the farther along the project is. That’s why the processes above are so important, as they actually keep construction costs down by planning more.

Next steps

If you are looking to begin a construction project, start by defining your key stakeholders in your organization, then select a design team and a construction manager to help you through the process. Together you’ll develop the project goals and scope, then move on to creating the design. The more time you spend developing goals and defining the project scope, the less changes there will be later on, saving you time and money.

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