Nothing great happens overnight, especially in managing construction projects. In a line of work where there are many moving parts, every activity requires meticulous construction management planning and proper oversight. But instead of taking on a project head-on as one big undertaking, it’s more realistic and manageable to subdivide it into segments of phases, and this article will help you understand them better.
The 6 Phases of a Construction Project
Projects can’t be built at once. They need adequate project scheduling, orchestration, planning, and many knowledgeable people and experts to turn them into reality. Because of that, projects are broken down into various construction phases, each with different contractors and significant risks involved. The following are six construction stages that most job sites go through, from conceptualization to completion.
Phase 1: Pre-Construction
The pre-construction phase is where a person envisions an idea and puts it into motion. This phase involves planning, engineering, surveying, design, permits, and feasibility studies. It acts as the roadmap that everyone in the project team will soon follow.
The pre-construction phase engages a few parties: the project owner, the general contractor managing the job, the architect or designer, an engineering firm or consultancy, a surveyor, and anyone else who might need to approve project parameters, and plans, or specifications. It’s is also when a general contractor will begin the search for possible sub contractors and trade contractors.
Since the construction project hasn’t broken ground yet, potential risks in the pre-construction phase are minimal. Beyond the back-and-forth of specifications and drawings changing during the design process, this phase involves putting together a plan.
Establishing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
During the conceptualization phase, the team must also develop a list of KPIs that would act as the outline of the construction management plan from the start to the project’s finish. Here are some of the most common KPIs used in the industry:
- Effort and Cost Tracking—ensure that the budget is following the allocated amount
- Project Performance—observe the changes and unforeseen challenges
- Project Objectives—check whether the project goals and schedule are met
- Quality Output—determines if specific task deliverables have been fulfilled
Phase 2: Break Ground and Site Works
The second phase of construction is when the project starts to break ground. Workers get the site ready by grading the property according to the surveying plans, applying relevant land development modifications, digging or drilling the main foundation and footings, and creating a driveway for deliveries and subcontractors. They’ll also drill wells for water and bring temporary utilities to the site like power, gas, and even a makeshift office and barracks.
The general contractor, architects, engineers, and surveyor are all closely involved, but subcontractors have also entered the mix. The excavation, drilling, earthwork, utilities, framing, scaffolding, and concrete subcontractors are usually on-site and working hand-in-hand to get the frame in place, concrete poured adequately, and the deep foundation ready for vertical structure. With these many people involved in the job site, the general contractor must have excellent scheduling management to complete all tasks on time.
General and subcontractors also have a few risks during the site work and break ground phase. First, they often deal with retainage, which means a certain percentage of their payment is withheld until the end of the project. They also need to worry about conditions on-site not jiving with the agreed drawings and weather and other external factors disturbing the timeline. Lastly, everyone on the job has to worry about the general contractor or project owner’s financial stability since bankruptcy can halt the job and their payments.
Phase 3: Rough Framing
The third phase of construction is rough framing, and it’s when the structure starts going up or vertical. The tower cranes lift the structural steel components while steel subcontractors attach them to the footings and foundations. With the steel framings or decks for each storey in place, workers pour the concrete for the floors. Once completed, the framing subcontractors construct the walls to give the building the main structure.
This rough framing stage is a significant undertaking, but it usually includes fewer subcontractors. As expected, the general contractor will be on-site, along with the framing sub, scaffolding sub, structural metal, and steel subs. A lot of this phase involves welding, cranes, and metal framing.
Since the structure is still open to external elements, weather delays are still a significant concern in the third stage. Moreover, the fear of bankruptcy doesn’t fade until the work wraps up and the checks get clear in the bank. Retainage is also still a problem, but the uncertainty of materials pricing, another risk, can squeeze a subcontractor’s cash flow.
Phase 4: Exterior Construction
The fourth stage of construction deals with the exterior of the building, which typically involves “drying in” the structure or sealing it off to the external elements. This phase also includes installing the doors, windows, siding, roofing, plasterwork, and anything else the specifications demand on the exterior of the building.
Subcontractors on-site will have unique specializations at this stage of the project. The general contractor is still present, along with the metal and scaffolding subs. However, the roofing, glazing, siding, doors and windows, brick and masonry, and plastering subcontractors are also there, closing the building off to outside conditions.
By this stage, the risks begin to show up more than ever before. Retainage, bankruptcy, weather delays, and materials pricing are still a considerable concern, but timeline delays are not surprising now. Also, fund shortages due to the long wait for progress payments start to stretch construction firms a bit thin, and project owners or designers changing specs only worsens the issue.
Phase 5: Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing Works (MEP)
With the building shell finally sealed, specialty or trade subcontractors are called to go on the site and do their respective jobs.
The general contractor is still present on-site and oversees all the movements in the project. Mechanical contractors can install air handlers, ductwork, boilers, and other equipment and utilities. On the other hand, electricians can start installing generators, panels, switchgear, and distribution rooms and pull electrical wires throughout the building. Lastly, plumbers are also on the job site, running water and waste supply pipes and drain, fixture, and vent pipes. This is also the section where fire and alarm subcontractors will begin installing their respective suppression systems, and elevator contractors can build their cars and shafts.
The only risk that mellows at this construction stage is weather delays, as the structure should already be weathertight. Subcontractors are still worried about the effects of fund shortages and retainage, and they should still be distressed about bankruptcies on the job site. Material’s volatile pricing is still a concern, and completion delays and changing of specifications tend to add up.
Phase 6: Finishes and Fixtures
One of the most challenging and exciting parts of scheduling project management activities involves finishes and fixtures. At this time, the building starts to take its final form and show the final output, inside and out.
There are many moving elements at this stage, and the general contractor has the responsibility to stay on top of things to make sure everything runs smoothly. The number of subcontractors jumps remarkably: masonry, plastering, glazing, door and window, elevator, drywall, insulation, painting, finish carpentry, tile, and flooring subcontractors are all working together inside the building to finish the job at the best timeline and quality possible in accordance with the agreed budget. Landscaping and swimming pool subcontractors might be working on finishing up the exterior features of the surrounding area.
With these many people involved in the job site, the general contractor must have excellent scheduling management to complete all tasks on time.
Though it’s the final step, this stage isn’t any less risky than the previous five. Communication issues over materials pricing, finishes, and changes in specifications can cause massive completion delays. Retainage payment might be coming closer to settlement, but the strain of shortage in the funds and bankruptcy concerns are still ever-present.
Once the major construction phases are wrapped up, it is time to close out the project so the team can move on to the new one. Typically, this is where a general contractor goes through a punch list of items that still need to be rectified before endorsing for turnover to the project owner. Once the project meets satisfactory completion, complete payments and retainage can be distributed to the individual contractors too. This influx of cash allows the subcontractors to float their next projects and start the process over again.
Construction management is not for the weak since a lot of collaboration, risks, and challenges are involved in the whole project lifecycle. But with all these potential lows comes an adrenaline rush that motivates construction professionals to show up to work every day.
Moreover, there is always a project management tool available at your disposal to help you in your daily activities in these innovative times. Pro Crew Schedule, a frontrunner construction management software, can do that.
One thing about overseeing the project from conceptualization to closeout? You’ll realize it’s always worth it. Allow us to lend you a hand, no matter what phase you are in your project. Start with a 30-day free trial today!