When wondering how to manage a construction project step by step, you need to consider both project management principles and construction’s unique aspects. By overlaying one on the other, you get steps tailored to the unique needs of every construction project. Those needs begin with project knowledge.
Here are five key steps to help you successfully manage every project:
Know and understand the scope
The first rule when managing construction projects is to know the scope. Without knowing what you are building, you will find yourself starting from scratch and constantly adjusting for unknowns. You need to know more than the dimensions and materials. You have to understand the owner’s use cases, their ideas on quality, and what they consider valuable.
You should also be very familiar with the rules of engagement or the contract documents. All construction contracts will outline your responsibilities and the responsibilities of all others that are parties to the contract. These include claims, change orders, existing conditions, payments, retainage and delays. The contract also names all the documents that make up the contract. When the contract, contract documents, and the scope are taken together, you have a complete picture of the project.
Know the participants and their roles
As the construction project manager, you are usually working for a general contractor or directly, or indirectly, for the owner. However, you must manage and deal with many other parties. When you know who those parties are and what they handle, you can apply that knowledge when working with the schedule. You can also use that knowledge when making plans for change orders and risk reduction.
You should try to be more familiar with all parties than simply remain acquaintances. You need to have trusting relationships with everyone on the project and that usually means knowing a little about them, what they value, and how they view their roles in the project.
Other important relationships include those with suppliers, third-party inspectors, banking representatives, and insurance and bonding partners. These people play important roles in the project and as the project manager, they will often look to you for information needed to fulfill their roles.
Develop and maintain a schedule
Construction projects live and die by the schedule, so it is one of the most important aspects of construction management. You must build a schedule or oversee its creation, focusing constantly on risks. Whether risks to the budget, risks to the schedule, or both, construction projects all have a great deal of risk. When you account for the risks, you eliminate or mitigate them with planning, or you insure against them.
The second most important aspect of scheduling is accuracy. Accurate schedules come from accurate work breakdowns and accurate time, materials and equipment estimating. When planning the schedule, it’s a good idea to review the estimate to spot any missed items or items that haven’t been broken down sufficiently. When items are estimated at too high of a level, they are rarely detailed enough to be accurate.
Once the project construction is underway, you need to maintain the schedule. You often need daily reviews to account for changes in how much work was completed the previous day. These same reviews help to establish accurate payments so the budget tracks with the schedule.
As long as construction is ongoing, change is happening. Not only are activities getting completed, but they are also getting delayed. You must balance the budget against the schedule as changes happen. You do that by keeping the forward movement on the critical path while adjusting crews, materials, and equipment to mitigate the forces of change.
Some days you are the one to ask for favors, while other days you are granting them. Some days you are enforcing contract stipulations, and other days you are using contract stipulations yourself. This step in managing a construction project is the one with the most variables. In classic management jargon, this is the controlling stage of management. It’s here that you:
– measure performance;
– compare performance to the specifications;
– find reasons for any deviations;
– take corrective actions.
You will usually compare performance to activity completion in the schedule. You will also compare performance to the money flowing outward to pay for the work. These are the critical aspects of change management on any construction project. Get this right, and your project will hum along to completion with only minor hiccups.
Close the project
The project will only be complete when the owner cuts the last check and accepts the work. Closing the project is much more than a ceremonial milestone. It is when systems get tested and approved and when many errors in individual tasks and activities get corrected. In this step, you will also prepare and turn over all the documentation used to build the project.
From operating manuals for system components to as-built drawings showing how changes affected the original plans, this is when you provide the owner with all the information necessary to manage the build through the rest of its life.
But even before distributing last payments to those parties who partnered with you, you are already preparing for the next project. Besides closing the project for the owner, you are closing it for yourself, and that includes recording lessons learned. Throughout the project you tracked aspects of your own performance and how your partners performed.
Now, it’s time to catalog all that data and draw conclusions. Some data, like the hours crews worked on specific tasks, become new multiplication factors for your estimating. Other data, like incorrect assemblies by subcontractors, is added to your subcontractor qualifying process. In short, this is where you take lessons, learn from them and get ready to apply them to the next project. This keeps you on the path to constant improvement.
When you manage a construction project step by step, you overcome inefficiencies, reduce mistakes and minimize risks. This process becomes the foundation for the best project outcomes.
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