Construction Project Management 101 - Four Part Guide

Modern construction is complex - requiring hundreds of people and a vast network of resources. Perhaps more importantly, these people and resources must be managed effectively.

This process is called construction project management.

Successful construction project management involves coordinating and connecting people and resources in order to complete construction projects as close to on time and on budget as possible.

In this post, we’ll explore the foundations, people, and processes of construction project management. Click any of the links below to jump directly there.

What is Construction Project Management?

Construction project management (CPM) is the planning and execution of a construction project. In practice, it means directing resources to achieve construction goals within a predetermined time, budget, and scope.

CPM is multifaceted and overseeing physical construction is just one piece of the pie. Though surprising to some, the process is primarily dominated by design, contract, and relationship management.

The main difference between construction project management and more generalized project management is that CPM is purely objective-based. That's not to say other project types don't have objectives. Construction's focus is just more singular.

In construction, completing the build is always the primary objective. When the build is complete, so is the project.

Though the goal of a construction project is clear cut (i.e. finish the build), the number of project variables is often more complex. For one, there are more stakeholders: city planners, architects, suppliers, engineers, citizens, and more. Also, the stakes tend to be much higher.

Construction is expensive. Materials, contractors, designers - none of these things come cheap. So mistakes at any point in the process can be costly. More than that, if a mistake goes unnoticed during the build - it can come to light later in the form of structural instability and even collapse.

Numerous variables plus high stakes means that effective CPM is not just nice-to-have, but absolutely necessary. That's why most organizations use a combination of people, tools, and technology to help get the job done right.

One of the most important construction project management tools is software. Construction project management software helps PMs manage the variables and organize a project's data, while connecting all the various stakeholders.

Intro to Construction Project Management Software

buildertrend logo

Buildertrend

Best for: Privately owned, medium to small sized projects

Top Features:

  • Flexible spreadsheets
  • Cross platform integrations
  • Customer interfaces

Mobile Capable: iOS and Android

Price: Plans start at $299/mo

Summary: With Buildertrend, mobile-optimized features are tailored for collaboration between contractors and owners. Spreadsheets and cross platform integrations make it well-suited for users seeking accounting and client-relations from a single platform.

CoConstruct logo

CoConstruct

Best for: Residential contractors

Top Features:

  • Selection sheets
  • Field reports
  • Photo editor

Mobile Capable: iOS and Android

Price: Plans start at $299/mo

Summary: CoConstruct is an all-in-one residential construction management platform. It organizes your project assets around a dashboard, making it easy to compare estimates and track progress. The platform’s photo repository allows users to annotate and share pictures across devices.

Procore logo

ProCore

Best for: Enterprise construction

Top Features:

  • Capital planning
  • Work order analytics
  • Field productivity reporting

Mobile Capable: iOS and Android

Price: Plans start at $375/mo

Summary: ProCore gives organizations total control of project data. From CAD drawings to handling TCO, the platform boasts features for every stage of the construction lifecycle. It is a trusted solution for publicly funded projects like public schools and hospitals.

Smartsheet logo

Smartsheet

Best for: Accounting

Top Features:

  • Form builders
  • Calendar integrations
  • Customizable dashboards

Mobile capable: iOS and Android

Price: Plans start at $21/mo

Summary: Smartsheet is flexible, allowing you to organize project data as you see fit. Custom reporting and a powerful grid view are intuitively aligned with accounting and expense tracking.

Unearth Technologies logo

Unearth's Capital Construction Solution

Best for: Multi-site & horizontal projects

Top Features:

  • Map-based progress tracking, digital as-builting, & project collaboration
  • Intuitive mapping tools, multi-layered maps, data collection forms, & real-time communication
  • Geo-location of photos, drone imagery, plans, BIM models, inspections, permits, RFIs, and other documentation

Mobile capable: iOS and Android

Price: $10k per project (30-day free trial)

Summary: Unearth's map-based platform provides a more intuitive way to document your project and collaborate with stakeholders. Use satellite imagery as a starting point before overlaying shapes, drawings, measurements, asset information, and more.

The Role of the Construction Project Manager

The construction project manager oversees six broad project areas: schedule, cost, safety, quality, function, and scope. Managing these responsibilities effectively requires a wide range of cross-disciplinary skills.

construction project managers responsibilities

Construction project managers must be able to thoroughly understand the owner’s vision, budget, and scope. Then, they must be able to translate that knowledge into properly drafted request for proposals (RFP).

They must understand the build process, while also being a strong communicator. If they can't communicate project goals and work to keep contractors aligned, the build will experience issues.

This combination of soft skills and technical understanding is crucial. Without it, projects break down and construction is difficult.

Field experience can be a construction project manager's most valuable tool. Being aware of the challenges crew members face helps a CM to be more supportive - ultimately cultivating greater productivity.

Detailed documentation - through vigilant note taking and job site photography - is another important part of a CM's job. Documentation is important because it helps lower liability, keeps everyone on the same page, and simplifies the creation of final as-builts.

Though a CMs day-to-day will look different during each phase of the project, it's important they are included (or at least in the know) throughout. We'll cover these phases in the next section.

Phases of Construction Project Management

While no two jobs are identical, managing construction projects follows a fairly regular pattern. This sequence is a good framework for understanding how to manage a construction project step-by-step.

construction design

Design

The design phase involves conceiving, engineering, and architecting a viable construction project. Structure functionality and required materials are determined in this step.

Involving the CM during design is important. A good CM will help to maintain fidelity between designs and the owner's original vision. They should also work to manage the owner's expectations in terms of design feasibility.

With a feasible design in hand, bidding for goods and services begins. RFPs are sent to contractors outlining the desired work.

Because a project’s design is influenced by the limitations of obtaining permits, materials, and services, this process occurs simultaneously and in dialogue with pre-construction.

construction project timeline

Pre-construction

Pre-construction is the preparation phase. Though design is an important part of this stage, pre-construction involves many other important tasks.

Timelines are set, permits and contracts are finalized, and the final budget is determined.

Experienced CMs partner with pre-qualified General Contractors to deliver RFPs to subcontractors. After selecting bids, contracts are signed and the project team is complete.

Site surveyors evaluate environmental factors and conduct soil tests of the worksite. Depending on the survey’s finding, revisions may be made to the project plan.

With permits approved, pre-construction gives way to procurement.

construction procurement

Procurement

Securing resources for a project is called procurement. First, a procurement management plan is drafted. This plan will help guide the acquisition of goods and services.

Then, a second round of RFPs is sent to subcontractors to acquire specialized labor like fencing and windows.

Construction Managers are tasked with expediting resources according to subcontractors’ schedules. Effective forecasting is vital, as a project suffers when workers are forced to wait on materials.

Construction management software can prevent unforeseen delays by organizing contracts, purchase orders, and supply chain data on a single platform. These tools help CMs evaluate finances and procure resources with clarity.

With materials scheduled for delivery the construction phase can begin.

construction site

Construction

In construction, contractors build while the project team conducts quality control. Construction starts with a kick-off meeting to establish standard operating procedures on the jobsite.

Changes made during construction are the most common cause of delay and budget overrun. Proper management of work change orders and Requests for Information (RFIs) is crucial to a smooth build process.

In this phase, risk mitigation is a priority. Photographing the site and enforcing worker’s safety are core tenets of a CMs role. Inspecting and signing-off on work requires detailed record keeping. Documentation alone can save a project millions.

Quality control is made easier with software. Real-time data allows CMs to inspect work upon completion and maintain oversight of the crew. Encouraging productivity is key to completing the construction phase on-time and within budget.

construction close out

Close Out

During close out, project documents are published and site control is yielded to the owner.

Contractors receive final payment while the architect issues a certificate of substantial completion.

In this step, CMs benefit from the quality of their record keeping. A CM’s daily work documentation informs as-builts and extended RFIs. The more detailed the entries, the more information exists to protect owners from liability.

Conclusion

As the construction industry evolves there is increased demand to accelerate project timelines. This creates new challenges in maintaining quality while managing budget and scope.

Despite new challenges, communication remains the key to Construction Project Management. From the design phase through hand-off, the successful CM keeps workers aligned with project goals.

As this post emphasizes, digital tools are the best way to coordinate these resources. In a competitive bidding environment, using the right software can make or break a business. Finding a tool tailored for your organization will yield immediate results.

For more on project management, see our expansive Project Management 101 guide or individual pieces on key skills and methodologies.

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