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How to be Successful in the Construction Planning Phase

Jarone Ashkenazi
Published Feb 6, 2024

Construction planning lays the foundation for a successful project. This initial stage lays the groundwork for how each part of the project process proceeds, from scope to timeline to communication protocols and more. If it’s done well, you’ll be set up for a successful and profitable job. If done poorly, you’re looking at a loss of profit and potentially even damage to your reputation.

What is Construction Planning?

Simply put, the construction planning process creates the blueprint for managing and executing construction projects. Out of the planning process comes a construction plan, which is a written document that details the required activities, resources, project schedule, and project budget. Construction management plans (CMPs) are designed to serve as a roadmap for the project so all stakeholders (construction managers, designers, consultants, contractors, etc.) understand their role and the project requirements.

Before we dive into the planning phase, let’s review the five phases of construction.

The 5 Phases of Construction

  • Initiation: This step begins with the owner defining the broad deliverables of the project. It is a step before the project initiation document (PID) in which stakeholders, resources, and project budget are loosely defined.
  • Planning: Alongside the CM, the owner will then break down the overall goal of the project and implement procedures by which the project can be executed. This phase will define the construction activities and create a baseline schedule as well as create specific and realistic metrics and goals for each stakeholder to achieve.
  • Execution: Tasks are assigned to the design and construction team. On the design side, the architect/engineers will understand the owner’s vision and put their idea on paper, the first tangible step of the execution phase. Second, the construction team will take those plans and construction documents and provide the framework for building whatever is needed.
  • Monitor and Control: All parties play a key role in ensuring project performance and safety. During this phase, you will track the project’s progress against the prescribed schedule and monitor the performance of your subcontractor’s work.
  • Closure: The last phase of the project lifecycle is where the team will close out the project, ensuring all goals have been met. The deliverables of the project are presented to the owner, resources are released, and documentation is completed.

The Planning Process

Construction project planning is a collaborative process that follows a few key steps that ensure all the stakeholders agree on the project deliverables, time frames and resources needed.

Strategic Planning – The planning process begins at a high level with strategic planning, where the owner will assess how the project aligns with their company ethos, assess opportunities and risks, and confirm that they have the resources to complete the construction project. At this stage, the owner will set the project goals.

Project Initiation Document (PID) – Once the strategy is created and the owner has defined the project goals, the team will benefit from capturing more detail in the form of a PID. This document outlines the deliverables for the project, the people needed to perform the scope, the resources needed to design and build the project, and sets the budget.

Operational Planning – This is the stage where you’ll take the owner’s strategic objectives and Stakeholders should agree on a timeline, identify dependencies, and set a projected completion date so the owner can ensure they meet the resource requirements and that the plan aligns with what they want to achieve.

The work breakdown structure is a critical tool here in ensuring a smooth transition from design to construction with a clear communication plan throughout.

The Role of a Construction Manager in Construction Planning

Owners can decide to manage the project internally working with the design and construction teams or hire a third-party consultant to take on the role of construction manager (CM). The CM acts as the quarterback throughout the project, taking information from the owner and dispersing it to members of the project team. They are critical in the execution stage of operational planning and use their expertise in project management to achieve all the project goals within the project timeline.

How Does a Contractor Add Value During the Construction Planning Phase?

As the general contractor, you are the operating arm of the project and are key to achieving the project goals. In the preconstruction stage of the project, you’ll provide the construction budget and schedule, vet and select subcontractors, and ensure quality and safety throughout the entire project. You can highlight your expertise and value in a few key areas:

Creating an accurate cost estimate.

An accurate cost estimate is one of the biggest factors in making sure you actually make money on the project and there are a few steps you can follow to get the best outcome each time.

  • Step 1: Review the bid package which will include the construction drawing and specification book along with other design and engineering documentation.
  • Step 2: Perform a job site visit to examine the intricacies of the build and existing conditions that may impact the feasibility of construction.
  • Step 3: Work with your estimating department to do a material take-off to ensure a proper bid process throughout and that you are accounting for all materials on the project.
  • Step 4: Obtain pricing from suppliers and subcontractors based on the scope of work and specific tasks.
  • Step 5: Calculate your allocation of overhead and indirect costs that you as a contractor will incur during the construction phase.
  • Step 6: Review insurance and bond costs and account for profit and contingency to cover any risk.

Build the construction budget.

Whether you work alongside the design consultants to provide expertise during the design phase or get brought in closer to a bid set or construction set, you will need to provide project costs for the scope of the project. Depending on when you get involved in the project, you will provide a cost estimate upon receipt of a bid set (in which you will have to include allowance items due to an incomplete set) or a construction set which is a full set of drawings.

Build an informative construction schedule.

During the preconstruction phase, your construction project manager will define the schedule for the scope of work and set milestones throughout the project. The milestones can be anything from critical inspections, closing of walls, pouring of concrete, etc. These serve as progress indicators to the owner and are helpful to all team members in making sure the project is on track. Another key aid in scheduling is the critical path, which shows the minimum time frame needed to complete the entire project. On the critical path, tasks that are deemed critical to the project and can push the schedule based on incompletion by a certain date, are highlighted to show how they impact those which follow.

Partner with trusted subcontractors.

You must partner yourself with subcontractors you trust, as they are the lifeblood of the project. Proper vetting during preconstruction to understand everything from their crew size to the types of construction they’ve worked on to their office support is critical. Before you get into the specific plans and buying out scope, you must make sure that their competencies meet your quality demands and project needs.

Account for procurement of material.

This is the stage where you acquire materials or equipment to complete the project. Procurement and scheduling work hand in hand as you need to build in the time it takes to receive the raw material to perform the function. For example, although tiling may take your crew one week on the actual schedule, you need to include the amount of time it takes for the physical material to arrive on the construction site.

Assess the feasibility of the project.

This step is critical as it may impact the profit at the end of the project. This preliminary study aims to assess if you can perform the prescribed scope of work in the schedule that the owner has set. The purpose of this step is to understand any environmental risks, potential issues with any landlord services and existing conditions, delivery concerns along with other issues such as regulatory approvals.

Final Thoughts

The planning process will lay the foundation for your construction company’s ability to be successful and turn a profit on the job. It’s important to make sure the project is the right project for your team and that you have the resources available to meet the project objectives. From cost estimating, subcontractor selection, procurement and feasibility studies, your own operational planning is critical to ensure success, but most importantly that your profit margin stays intact.

Further Reading: Foundations of Construction Management for SMBs

Jarone Ashkenazi

Jarone started his construction career working for a commercial general contractor in Los Angeles, before transitioning to being an Owner's Representative for the past eight years. Jarone has led multiple projects and has been integral in cross-departmental communication and implementation of processes with design, leasing, planning and facilities/operations teams.

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