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Construction Project Phases: A Complete Guide for General Contractors

Tom Jodeit
Published Feb 5, 2024

From the smallest home renovations to sprawling industrial complexes, every construction project generally flows through the same steps and processes. What’s more, these standard processes make it easier for projects to get from point A to point B while hopefully staying on schedule and on budget.

Whether you’re new to the construction industry or not, sometimes it’s helpful to revisit core concepts like these. That’s why we’ve put together this quick overview of the phases of a construction project, from what they involve to why they matter in the big picture.

Key Takeaways


  • Project planning never really stops. From the moment you receive your initial contract documents to the last days on the job site, staying on top of planning can help you stay one step ahead of the game.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of the warranty period. Finishing strong is often your ticket to more work down the road.

Planning Phase

Before the construction process can even begin, a project has to be conceptualized by the client. Then, the client must determine how feasible the project is. Can they afford it? Will the city or county approve it? These are all questions clients need to ask before they can even think of hiring a general contractor. 

Once they’re ready to make their vision a reality, it’s time to put pen to paper and begin the design process.

Design

Not too long ago, pre-construction planning was driven by the architect. Nowadays though, planning and design have become much more of a shared responsibility. Still, how early you get involved in the design development process itself will depend on the contract type and specific project delivery method

Once you’re brought to the table, your goal during the design phase is to become of ‘one mind’ with the architect. How do you see their vision coming together, and how can you bring that vision into reality through your project plan? 

Bidding

Now that a job is ready to move forward, it’s time to decide whether or not it’s worth submitting a bid for. This is where conducting a feasibility study comes into play. And while this is mainly the architect’s job, it’s also important for general contractors to think about as well. It’s not just about making sure the project is viable for the owner but making sure the scope of the project is a good fit for your construction company and your team members. Before submitting a bid, you’ll want to ensure the contract includes the terms of payment and accounts for any large purchases related to construction. 

Once you’ve selected a job, there are two sides to the bidding process. One part involves soliciting bids from subcontractors and determining project costs, while the other focuses on putting together your own proposal for the owner. Depending on the contract structure or project delivery method, this process can go a few different ways. For example, you might gather subcontractor bids before putting together your own proposal and cost estimate, or you might seek out subcontractors after being awarded the job. 

When selecting subcontractors, bid leveling can be a helpful risk management tool for comparing the cost estimates of bid packages. Once you’ve selected the right team for the job, it’s important to make sure everyone is fully aware of the overall project and scope they’re responsible and that you do not have gaps in the scope. 

Scheduling

While you’re putting together an estimate and going through the bidding process, you should also be thinking about how you’re going to sequence the actual construction. What order will tasks need to be completed, and are your milestones well-defined? Ultimately, the work done here will not only help you develop the construction schedule, but make sure progress is easily trackable once teams get on-site.

Procurement

Once you’ve been awarded a contract, you’ll want to double-check that you have everything in place to complete it. Enter the procurement process, which involves actually awarding bids and setting up subcontracts, along with submitting purchase orders for materials. 

It’s unlikely you’ll have everything you need at the beginning of a job, so planning ahead is key. This is where tasks like setting up a long lead items list can help you forecast when you’ll need certain materials or equipment on the job site. 

One last note: Each piece of the design stage we’ve covered doesn’t strictly happen in the order we’ve covered them. Instead, this construction project phase is fluid, with many of the steps mentioned above happening at or around the same time. 

👉🏼 Read our full guide to construction project management.

Execution Phase

The planning phase never really stops, but once you enter the project execution phase, you can start to delegate a lot of that planning to subcontractors and your project team. Now’s the time to start drilling into the smaller details and make sure you’re staying ahead of what’s happening day-to-day on the construction site. 

Any changes made during the construction project phase are a big deal. Change orders in particular can slow progress down if you’re not prepared. Still, if you are able to manage their impact on your schedule and account for their costs, they can be lucrative.  

Building a Project Budget

You can’t execute a job without a solid budget in place. The primary goal of your project budget is to set a target for all of the resources you’ll need to complete the job. Throughout the construction project’s lifecycle, you’ll work to monitor construction costs and ensure you’re staying below that budget.

Subcontractor Management

Subcontractor management starts with buying out their subcontracts and extends throughout the entire project. You’ll manage their change orders and monitor their progress on the job as well.

Beyond day-to-day progress and schedule management, there’s also an engineering side of subcontractor management. Here, you’re making sure they’ve submitted all of the shop drawings, samples, and product data sheets required by the project.

Project Closeout

The build may be complete, but that doesn’t mean the work is over just yet. The next construction project phase is closeout – and here, you’ll make sure everything looks right before handing it off to the project owner for good.

Inspection and Commissioning

Post-construction, you and the construction team will complete quality control walkthroughs, make sure everything is as it should be, and identify any punch list items for remediation. Then, the architect will get the chance to complete their own walkthrough and ensure everything is properly installed according to the design intent. Lastly, the city will check to see if everything is built to code and sign off with a certificate of occupancy.

Before the owner can take over the building, they will be trained by project stakeholders on the operation and maintenance of the building and review any required deliverables such as warranties, performance test results, and as-built drawings. A commissioning roadmap is put together during the pre-construction phase and the results and deliverables are presented at project completion.

Financial Closeout

Financial closeout is the final stage of construction before you hand off the project to the owner. During this stage, you’ll take care of any final change orders, make sure all documentation and payments are squared away, and close out the contract.  

Handover

Lastly, you’ll need to collect all of the information needed to run the building. This can include manuals, warranties, video walkthroughs, contact information, and more. With this information in hand, you’ll be able to present a binder or thumb drive with a comprehensive overview of the building to the owner.

Warranty Period

Once the contract is closed out and the building is handed over, you enter the warranty period. Most projects today typically receive at least a one-year guarantee of workmanship, along with product and materials warranties that can go well beyond that (these in particular are delivered during handover). 

During the warranty period, the project owner can call on you to solve any problems with the building. This is an essential construction project phase to get right: oftentimes this is the last touchpoint between the general contractor and the owner, so finishing strong and leaving the client happy can help spread positive word of mouth and get you more work. 

Unfortunately, unfinished punch list items can sometimes drag into the warranty period for far too long, making it much harder for contractors to finish strong. That’s why it’s incredibly important to build out a project management plan that helps reduce the number of punch items being found in the first place.

Final Thoughts

If every new project feels like an overwhelming tangle of decisions and choices, try thinking of each job as a ladder instead. Every rung is a clearly defined project phase, and as you climb higher, the closer you get to the finish line of a successful project. Just don’t try to skip anything – or you might fall off. 

Ready to dive deeper into the details? Learn how to build project management plans that won’t leave you penniless.


Author
Tom Jodeit

Tom is a seasoned innovator dedicated to leveling up the construction industry. With a robust background in project management at Turner and Skanska, and experience in owner’s representation, he now focuses on developing software tools to address the industry’s most pressing challenges.

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