The 5 Stages of Project Management – Understanding a Construction Project’s Life Cycle
Project managers serve as the backbone of successful construction projects, dealing with a vast number of complexities on a daily basis. Project management in construction, which includes juggling various tasks and ensuring a project meets its deadlines, takes a great deal of expertise. The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines project management as “the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to a broad range of activities to meet the requirements of a particular project.” With so many details and steps going into a project, it is essential that project managers understand the project life cycle. Breaking up a project into these five logical steps outlined by the PMI can help ensure your project is organized and successful every time.
Table of Contents
1. Project Conception and Initiation
The first construction project phase is building conception and initiation. The owner initiates the idea and gathers his team of experts (design, contractor, trades). Collectively, the team decides whether or not a project is feasible and if they can realistically complete it within the desired timeframe. This means gathering a team of trusted partners together to do meticulous research to determine the scope and cost of a project.
Two ways that the team can evaluate and determine this is through a feasibility study and/or business case document. A feasibility study looks at the goals, costs, and timeline of a project to determine if the project manager thinks they have enough resources to pursue the project. A business case document defines the reasoning for starting a new project and the financial benefits. If after further research and discussion a project is found to pass these evaluation tests, the project will move on to create a project charter or Project Initiation Document (PID). On the contrary, if the team deems the project unprofitable or unachievable, they will cancel the project.
Tip: Carry out a high level of risk analysis during the initiation phase. Identifying key risks at the beginning will help prepare your team for anything that might come up during the project.
2. Project Definition/Planning
Once a project is approved and given the thumbs-up, a plan needs to be outlined and put into writing. Having a written plan helps ensure that everyone on the team is on the same page and understands the steps that they must take to complete the project effectively. During this step in the construction project’s life cycle, many of the fundamental best practices for project management in construction are utilized in this phase.
Even before the design documents and drawings have started, designers, contractors, and trade partners must work collaboratively to achieve the project owner’s goals. Gathering insight from all project stakeholders in the beginning will provide better alignment on cost, scope, duration, and quality. Hitting on each of these areas gives the team a well-rounded idea of what will go into a project and address any possible risks proactively. Therefore, an important part of project management in construction is having a thorough risk mitigation plan.
The more issues that the team can address during the planning phase will save time and money during the execution phase. This is why early involvement of trade partners and subcontractors is critical. This phase is imperative in preparing and executing a successful project.
Tip: Give some thought to who you want on your team. Do they have the skills required to carry out the role? If not, make sure they receive the proper training!
3. Project Launch/Execution
The next step in the construction project life cycle is the actual execution based on your comprehensive plan developed in the previous step. This stage is where the team collectively develops deliverables to satisfy the customer. This is where the magic happens and the project comes to life. Using the plan as the project guide, team members assign specific tasks for completion and allocates resources accordingly. Some of the specific tasks during this phase include: assigning teams, executing project management plans, conducting status meetings, updating project schedule, and modifying project plans.
With much of the execution happening at the jobsite, it is critical for those that are not on the jobsite to have visibility. Project managers in the office, designers, and owners rely on the updates of the field team to gauge execution. There are lots of fancy new technology available to gauge progress and jobsite activity such as drones, cameras, lasers, and sensors. However, sometimes a good old daily report will suffice.
Tip: Consider using a cloud-based construction software so that you can track and share every aspect of the project’s life cycle. Software to help keep the whole team organized and on track!
4. Project Performance/Control
This stage of the project life cycle is all about monitoring. Project performance and control goes hand in hand with the previous step because they occur simultaneously. During this construction project phase, project managers track a project’s progress. Many times the project manager must make several adjustments to keep a project on track. Specific key performance (or project) indicators (KPI’s) for cost, time and quality are selected and utilized. These KPIs determine degrees of variation from the original project goal. Some examples of specific KPI’s include project schedule, estimate to project completion, effort and cost tracking, and project performance. Calculating these KPI’s keeps projects on track to prevent any project failures.
Tip: Communicate and stay flexible. Go into a project with the mindset that things are going to change because they will! Successful project managers know how to adapt and modify.
5. Project Close
Once the team executes all the deliverables and delivers it to the satisfaction of the customer, they can close the project. When the team officially completes the project, we move into the final stage of the construction project life cycle. This last step is vitally important because it allows team members to evaluate, document and learn from the project. Project Close helps members determine what issues they had so that they can make improvements in the future. A final team meeting is usually held and led by a project manager to officially mark the ending of the project. Valuable team members are rewarded and recognized, contractors are terminated, and project successes and failures are identified. Also, project managers must create a final project budget and report to close out the project.
While this is the close of one project, all the lessons learned and data is important to take into future projects. When reviewing actual hours on specific labor activities versus the estimates, the team can adjust estimates on future projects. For example, perhaps the team discovered that site work actually consumes 200 labors. However, previous bids included estimates of 150 hours. This is critical information that can be used to improve future bids.
Tip: Prepare a list of anything left unfinished and identify who will complete these items. Make sure to communicate this information to any stakeholders so that they stay informed. The ultimate customer is the owner, and their satisfaction determines the overall success of the project.
Construction projects are complex which makes project management in construction equally complex. Project managers are the critical piece of this complex puzzle. Therefore, understanding the different construction project phases helps to ensure the process is much easier and efficient. The most important thing is to include the primary stakeholders including subcontractors as early in the project as possible. While each phase serves an important function, the most thoroughly planned projects are often the easiest and fastest to execute.