Civil engineers, a man and a woman, wearing safety jackets and helmets, checking projects on construction site
Operational Excellence

How to Manage a Construction Project (Step-by-Step)

Written By: Joe Demski
May 17, 2022
10 min read

Managing a construction project is about more than just execution. There are many different tasks, teams, and dependencies that construction project managers have to organize methodically. Construction projects can be quickly derailed when steps occur out of order since they rely on specific sequences of events to reduce rework, changes, and miscommunications.

Construction projects rely on numerous contractors, subcontractors, stakeholders, and workers to complete projects on time and within budget. With so many moving parts to keep track of, construction project managers must have various skills to help them navigate projects and manage tasks across different teams.

Construction project managers should know the five project management principles and how they apply to construction teams and processes. This article will take a deep dive into the steps involved with managing construction projects and the challenges that construction companies and contractors face that can be addressed with the right tools and best practices.

Jump To:

  • Challenges of Managing Construction Projects
  • Steps to Managing a Construction Project
  • Construction Project Management Tips

The Challenges of Managing Construction Projects

Managing a construction project is a complicated process, and each stage must happen in a certain order to keep things moving smoothly. Tasks must be defined and organized, materials need to be delivered, and personnel scheduled accordingly to overcome roadblocks to productivity. Teams need to communicate about the job site, changes, safety issues, and more. And project managers need to stay one step ahead of potential pitfalls and disruptions.

Managing complex construction projects comes with numerous challenges that managers can’t ignore.

Staying on budget

Keeping projects on budget is one of the top challenges of managing construction projects, but it’s essential to keep clients happy and earn a profit. There are all sorts of costs that construction managers must pay attention to. For example, labor, tools, equipment, and materials are just a few areas that construction project managers must consider to stay on budget.

Although all types of businesses need to pay attention to costs, it’s especially important in the construction industry. While construction professionals can estimate pricing before a project begins, there are countless ways that projects can lead to costly changes. The price of materials may go up, labor may cost more due to double-handling, and unforeseen circumstances could require a complete overhaul of project tasks. Delays, miscommunications, and last-minute changes all cause project budgets to fluctuate, making them difficult to manage.

Communication across in-house and job site teams

Connecting in-house and job site teams is crucial to improving efficiency. Without proper communication, tasks can be delayed, issues may not be mitigated in time, and schedules will have to be pushed back. Most problems with managing a construction project stem from a lack of communication between teams.

Project managers are also faced with facilitating efficient communication so that all parties involved are up to date with any changes, problems, delays, and other updates. Each employee has different roles, responsibilities, and daily routines, so construction project managers have to think about how each person accesses and absorbs key project information to ensure that communication is distributed appropriately.

Managing large numbers of contracts and documents

Each construction project requires a series of reports, contracts, and other documentation essential for projects to be executed according to the client’s needs, the architect’s designs, and within the project’s scope and parameters.

Bids, agreements, bills, drawings, work orders, permits, safety reports, timesheets, and more must all be carefully managed to stay on budget. Expenses and receipts must be tracked and documented to ensure accuracy. Without adequate documentation and notation on project tasks, equipment needs, inventory updates, compliance, and so on, projects can be put to a halt.

Projects can also be stopped due to a lack of resources or communication, so it is up to construction project managers to organize and manage the many contracts and documents to keep things running smoothly.

Keeping projects on schedule

Keeping projects on schedule is another of the top challenges when managing a construction project. Project scheduling is more than just organizing a sequence of events. It can sometimes seem like a balancing act where managers must juggle numerous subcontractors’ availability along with keeping up with client timeline expectations.

According to the 2020 National Construction Payment Report, less than 30% of contractors finish projects on time and within budget. When project managers can’t see into all the moving parts of a project to stay organized, it can be nearly impossible to stay on schedule.

Risk management

Risk management in construction includes financial risk but is also focused on worker risks and safety. When working conditions are unsafe, it is unlikely that projects will be completed on time, and contractors can become seriously injured. Safety and risk management is a major challenge in the construction industry since numerous locations must be addressed.

Risks associated with offices, job sites, storage facilities, transportation, equipment hazards, and more all threaten the health and well-being of workers and project timelines.

For construction project managers, maintaining safety compliance and balancing financial risk can sometimes outweigh other tasks and responsibilities. Safety is incredibly important, but tracking regulations, ensuring facilities are up to code, and ensuring that everyone is trained to the same standards is a full-time job in itself. Balancing risk management amongst the other responsibilities of managing a construction process is a tall order.

The Steps to Managing a Construction Project

Managing a construction project follows similar project management steps as other industries, but usually on a much larger scale with many more moving parts and personnel involved. A lack of communication and technology costs the construction industry over $177 billion every year. That’s why it’s important to know how to manage a construction project step by step.

The Project Management Institute is the world’s largest nonprofit association for project managers across all industries and is a key player in setting standards and expectations for project managers. Learning project management principles and processes can take a long time to grasp and understand fully. In fact, there are numerous certification levels for different types of project management, including construction.

The five phases of project management are initiation, planning, execution, performance and monitoring, and closure. Let’s take a closer look at construction project management step by step.

Initiation

Before construction projects even begin, project managers are tasked with developing and evaluating a business case that will determine whether or not a specific project is worth taking on. Stakeholders are also involved in this project management phase and are often tasked with doing their due diligence. Then, all the involved parties can exchange notes, decide if the project is right for their construction firm, and create a project initiation document (PID).

This document defines the project scope and parameters and outlines the purpose and any other project requirements. This is not meant to be an intensely detailed document and should instead broadly discuss the construction project’s parameters, needs, and business case.

Planning

After the project has been discussed and initiated, it’s time to develop a roadmap for the project to follow. This planning stage of project management is more specific than the initiation phase. A project management plan (PMP) document is a formal document that the construction project manager creates to guide the project to completion and define its scope, cost, and timeline.

In addition to project planning, there should also be a communication and risk management plan in place. All aspects of communication roles, tools, and methods should be established from the beginning, and a plan to identify risks, potential pitfalls, and other problems that may come up down the line.

Execution

Now it’s finally time to get to work. The execution stage of construction project management is where teams develop and complete final deliverables. It usually begins with a kickoff meeting with all team members involved so that all parties can begin with the same expectations and goals in mind.

Project managers have several tasks to complete during the execution phase, including team development, assigning resources, setting up tracking systems, holding status meetings, updating project schedules, and communicating effectively every step of the way.

Performance and monitoring

Although listed as another step, the performance and monitoring phase usually occurs simultaneously with the execution phase. While projects are underway, project managers must measure the progress that teams are making and monitor their performance for optimal efficiency.

This stage is crucial to ensure that project outcomes align with customer expectations and the approved project management plan. Construction project managers must pay attention to project objectives, the quality of deliverables, and overall project performance and adjust schedules and resources as needed.

Closeout

After a project has been completed, the final phase begins - closeout. Project managers should hold a meeting with stakeholders and construction firms to discuss what went right, what went wrong, and how project workflows can improve in the future. At this point, any lingering tasks are assigned, the budget is finalized, and teams issue a project report.

This stage is key for the continued improvement of construction workflows and projects in the future since it is where leaders can reflect on the project’s positives and challenges from an objective standpoint. This helps set goals for future projects and allows teams to develop and improve over time.

Construction Project Management Tips

Construction managers must track many events and tasks to optimize projects over time. Adequate project management skills, construction expertise, and the right tools all contribute to managing construction projects more effectively. Here are some quick tips and best practices to help you get a better idea of how to manage a construction project more effectively:

  • Manage expectations: Construction project managers should take care to manage expectations appropriately so that everyone involved in the project is aware of their tasks and priorities.

  • Thoroughly document plans: Documenting project plans and details and communicating them effectively throughout the project helps things go smoothly from the very beginning.

  • Adopt tech tools: There are many ways that construction companies can benefit from tech resources. No-code tools and software allow construction project managers to create customizable features. Project management software helps manage construction projects more effectively. And more construction teams are using sensors and devices to track inventory, manage equipment, and schedule transportation more accurately.

Finally, don’t forget to communicate with teams as effectively as possible. The construction industry is no stranger to change orders, costly rework, annoying delays, and catastrophic disruptions. Most problems with construction projects can be avoided or mitigated with thorough communication across subcontractors, workers, and managers. Keep thorough notes, keep track of project milestones, and make sure that all team members receive important messages regarding project tasks and timing.

Final Thoughts

Construction and project managers face several unique challenges that other industries don’t have to contend with. Construction projects involve numerous moving pieces, including documentation, personnel, resources, logistics, inventory, etc. That’s why construction teams should follow the five construction project management principles and enhance their operations with construction project management software.

Construction project management software offers teams visibility into tasks that can be done to make progress, dependencies, and the status of each task. Organizations and contractors can use Quickbase to connect and control every task involved in complex construction projects to improve outcomes and minimize change orders. Construction companies can even take advantage of next-gen insights and automation without the need for in-house engineers or IT teams.

Quickbase offers construction managers powerful project management software with features such as work order management, safety and incident tracking, and seamless integrations with real-time updates. Get started for free and begin managing your construction teams more effectively today.

Written By: Joe Demski

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