How to Build Construction Management Plans That Don’t Leave You Penniless

What makes a helpful, effective construction management plan? It’s the million dollar question. Thankfully though, the answer is pretty simple. You don’t even need a formal document to get started, and you should even iterate on the plan as the project progresses to improve delivery.
  January 17, 2024
project managers sorting out construction management plans

When speaking about his experience serving in WW2, President Eisenhower said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything”. And while the construction industry is a long way off from the frontlines, the sentiment still rings true. Plans rarely stay the same, even in the simplest of jobs, but the process of planning itself can give you the leg up you need to stay on top of your schedule and bring home the maximum profit possible. 

So what makes a good construction management plan anyway, and how can you make planning a habit? Let’s dive in.  

Key Takeaways


  • Good construction management plans help you visualize how a given job will progress beyond the four corners of your initial documents. 

  • Good planning comes with practice, and every contractor (no matter how large or small) can benefit from proper planning. 

  • Remember that plans may change, but that never takes away the value of a solid planning process. “Plan the work, work the plan”. 

What Makes a Solid Construction Management Plan?

What makes a helpful, effective construction management plan? It’s the million dollar question. Thankfully though, the answer is pretty simple. You don’t even need a formal document to get started, and you should even iterate on the plan as the project progresses to improve delivery.

We like to think of good construction management planning as a process that helps you visualize how a job will progress based on all the initial documents you have (drawings, specs, contract, etc). What does a finished project look like? Can you visualize how you’ll reach certain schedule milestones or pass specific inspections? These are the kinds of questions you should be focused on answering while planning.

Zooming in a bit, here are some of the most important elements to consider when making your construction management plans:

The what, how, and when – Your schedule should never stand alone. Make sure to read between the lines of each schedule activity to consider how the work will be completed and all that must be true for each task to be completed. How does one activity build upon the next, and how can you optimize the flow from one task to the next? The goal here is to recognize the dependencies of the “iron triangle” – your cost, scope, and schedule and consider the what, when and how well in advance of the work starting in the field.

Safety – Your plan should also include safety recommendations, but think of them not just as rules to comply with. When a safe working environment is cultivated, it can actually speed up the progress on a job. Consider a clean slab as opposed to one with materials or debris all over the place or what if workers had access to lifts or work platforms instead of ladders. Even personal protective equipment (PPE) can reduce injuries that might otherwise grind your jobsite to a halt. So in your planning, don’t forget to include some suggestions or even rules that will not only protect workers but even help with project delivery.

Quality – Similarly, don’t underestimate the negative impact of rework. Your plan should emphasize how to get the work done right the first time by rooting out as many questions about how the team knows when the work is finished during planning instead of as they are progressing. A submittal register and an inspection checklist are two tools that can get the tradespeople aligned with the designers and Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) and can be included in the construction management plan to get everyone on the same page.

The unknowns and unknowables – You can’t anticipate everything in construction. Take the weather, for instance. What if the weather conditions are actually better than what you planned for in the schedule – do you have the materials and labor available to to speed up the work? Accounting for these unknowns in your construction management plans can help you stay adaptable when circumstances change, for better or for worse. You’ve probably been advised to keep a Risk Register or a list of risks to the job to look out for, but also consider the upside and ensure you can capitalize on good luck too.

Planned check-ins – Every plan you make should outline check-ins. The plan along with any checklists or reference docs that the plan includes is only valuable if it’s regularly put to use. Who is going to lead certain tasks, and what are the mechanisms they’ll use to document and check in on their progress? If you have checklists, then who is responsible for reviewing them. Back to Eisenhower’s quote, the accountability and thoughtfulness in the planning is more valuable than the plan itself.

The “soft” stuff – Good planning isn’t just about nailing down the nitty gritty details. It’s also thinking about the social and relational side of the job – both within your own team and beyond. For example, are you able to look through the eyes of the architect or building inspector and anticipate what they’ll need? Never underestimate the value of taking the time to strategize how you’ll team up with different people, and how you’ll deal with things like public relations along the way.

Input from stakeholders – Feedback is absolutely crucial to building a good plan. Ideally, you’ll meet with anyone who is helping facilitate the project (owner, superintendent, architect, etc) to introduce new problems or challenges and get their input well in advance of breaking ground. At the end of the day, the best version of construction management plans will incorporate feedback from every stakeholder involved.

The ultimate goal of all of this is to build a set of plans that take you well beyond the four corners of your initial documents.


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Is This Something Only Big Contractors Need to Worry About?

No matter how large or small your business is, every contractor needs to prioritize good planning as a habit. Granted, if you are smaller, you don’t need to worry about presentation as much as the thoughtfulness and intention behind your plan. Just because you’re not producing a 50-page document doesn’t mean you don’t need to go through some sort of checklist. Below is a lightweight checklist that you could use as a basis for putting a more complete plan together. Remember that this plan should work in tandem with the rest of the construction documents, including the drawings, specs, project schedule, and any contract requirements:

💥 Here’s a downloadable version of the checklist so you can take it with you.

Safety

Training: Ensure all personnel are trained on  site hazards and equipped with the tools and PPE that will help them efficiently complete the tasks required of them.

Pre-Task Planning: Integrate pre-task safety briefings for high-risk activities, like hot work or confined space entry to enhance on-site coordination and preemptively address potential delays

Permits: Manage a hot work permit system and obtain necessary environmental permits (e.g., SWPPP) proactively to prevent stoppages.

Toolbox Talks: Hold regular toolbox talks to discuss specific safety topics and reinforce safe practices and share tips for better work environments.

Incident Reporting: Establish a clear and accessible system for reporting incidents and near misses so that the team can regularly improve the process.

Communication

Meeting Cadence: Schedule regular project meetings (e.g., weekly, bi-weekly) with key stakeholders to keep information flowing.

Collaboration Tools: Utilize designated software (e.g., project management platform) for RFIs, submittals, and change orders that offers convenient and immediate answers.

Emergency Contact: Prepare and distribute an emergency call list for rapid response to incidents.

Contractor Onboarding: Establish a clear process for first-time contractors and visitors to navigate the site.

Logistics Reference: Refer to the dedicated logistics plan for transportation, parking, and delivery details.

Quality Control

Definition of Done: Define clear quality expectations for each task through inspections and walkthroughs. Start with the end in mind.

Inspection Schedule: Establish a schedule for inspections by qualified personnel according to project specifications and incorporate it into the progress schedule.

RFI & Submittal Process: Outline the process for submitting and responding to RFIs and submittals (reference specific document or procedure).

Non-Conformance Management: Define a procedure for addressing and resolving non-compliant work or materials.

Schedule Management

Lookahead Schedules: Utilize lookahead schedules to identify upcoming critical tasks and resource needs.

Progress Tracking: Monitor progress against the master schedule and address any deviations promptly.

Risk Management: Proactively identify and mitigate potential risks that could impact the schedule.

Change Management: Implement a controlled process for managing changes to the schedule and budget.

Communication: Update stakeholders promptly on any changes to the schedule or anticipated delays.

Lastly, here are a few planning tips specifically for smaller contractors:

  • Remember that as a GC, your profit ultimately comes from your ability to lead projects smoothly and help people work effectively together.
  • Learn how to see around corners. What unknowns can you anticipate? How can you exchange assumptions for clarifications?
  • Remember that plans may change, but that doesn’t take away the value of planning.

Resources That Make Planning Easier

We’ve said it many times and we’ll say it again: people are one of your best resources, especially when it comes to making construction management plans. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Reach out to people who have built in the same neighborhood you’re working in, reach out to contractors who’ve had to get permits in the city you’re in, reach out to anyone who might offer helpful insight into the job you’re working on. If you want to get an edge, make sure you’re asking the right questions from the people who have ‘been there, done that’.

Another indispensable resource is your notebook. Keeping either a physical or digital notebook on hand throughout the preconstruction process can help you capture thoughts as they come, so you don’t miss anything. And while the concept of daily logs is common in construction, it should also be common preconstruction. Don’t discount the benefits of taking notes on even the smallest changes and sharing your findings with the rest of your team to mitigate any possible negative impacts down the road

In any construction project, good planning is half the battle. If you can master this art, you’re already ahead of the game. Just remember that your best resource is always the people around you, so continue building those relationships and practicing good communication.

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The CrewCost Team

Written by The CrewCost Team

The CrewCost Team consists of men and women who have worked in the construction industry as project managers, general contractors, sub contractors and more. They share their decades of experience on our blog as a way to help other contractors grow healthier and more profitable businesses.

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