Construction projects can be extremely complicated, with tens or hundreds of tasks to be completed from beginning to end. Add in the intricate scheduling requirements that are needed to finish the job in a reasonable timeframe, and it’s easy to get lost in the details and miss out on the big picture.
Clever construction project managers know how to stay focused on what’s important by breaking the project down into steps, sometimes known as the five phases of project management. These five phases allow for the separation of tasks into chunked out blocks that each target a specific goal and set of procedures. The next step is to optimize each phase of the project management process by integrating a multi-purpose software that supports the project from beginning to end.
This article breaks down the five steps of project management and how each step contributes to the overall success of the project. We’ll also look at strategies for integrating software into the five phases of project management to develop an understanding of the techniques and methods that project managers use to stay organized, on track, well-informed, and profitable throughout the project life cycle.
Step One: Project Initiation
Project initiation is the first step in the project lifecycle. Choosing whether or not to initiate a project is both a science and an art, and project initiation begins as soon as a new opportunity is seriously considered. Project managers use one of two tools to assess whether a project should be initiated:
- Business Case Document – PMs can prepare a business case document that justifies why the firm should take on the project and assesses the financial benefits and profitability of the project.
- Feasibility Study – A feasibility study assesses the goals of the project alongside the various resources available to the firm. PMs look at the project goals, timeline, and costs to determine if pursuing it makes sense.
Construction job costing software effectively supports the project initiation phase by allowing PMs to come up with accurate job costing models and estimates in the shortest time frame. This makes it easy to prepare a business case or feasibility study that accurately reflects job costs. Big jobs can put small firms out of business, and if your project manager is guessing on estimates, it won’t be long before a small error in judgment leaves you underwater.
Step Two: Project Planning
Project Planning is a crucial step in the project lifecycle. Once a project has been initiated, it needs a detailed plan that identifies the required human and material resources and keeps everything on time and on budget. An effective project plan includes guidelines for everything from procuring and delivering materials to the job site, to guiding work crews in delivering quality outputs, handling risk, and meeting the acceptance criteria for the work.
Construction management software is an effective means of communicating information like project plans and scheduling between the back office, workers on the job site, and other stakeholders. A project plan that exists electronically and is available to all members of your organization creates transparency that allows for accountability at all levels – nobody has any excuse for “not knowing the schedule”, or “not seeing the plan”.
Cloud-based document control also allows project managers and other stakeholders to collaborate on the plan, and specialized project planning modules enable PMs to quickly produce timelines and visual tools that facilitate better communication and management of expectations with shareholders.
Step Three: Project Execution
Once a quality plan has been formulated, it’s time to get everyone on the same page so the project can execute successfully. Project execution in the construction business comes down to building things that meet the requirements of the end user while conforming to any applicable laws or building codes and remaining on schedule. To coordinate all of these moving parts, a project manager must set expectations for everyone involved in the project.
Construction management software can play a significant role in the project execution phase. For starters, document sharing enables your field workers to access important documents, drawings, and schematics directly from the job site. This means that they won’t have to report to the back office for directions when they get stuck – they have all the information they need to complete the project available from their mobile phones.
Keeping the flow of information between the job site and the back office steady and effective, but what’s even more important is maintaining the flow of materials into the job site. After all, a brick mason is useless without bricks, a sheet metal worker is ineffective without metals, and a drywall contractor can’t get anything done without daily shipments of drywall to the job site. Project management software allows PMs to schedule customized material shipments from a nearby warehousing center to the job site on command, ensuring that workers always have the materials they need to get the job done.
Step Four: Project Monitoring and Control
Project monitoring and control occur in tandem with the project execution step described above. At the same time as project managers are referencing their project plan to facilitate the ongoing execution of action steps in the project, it’s crucial that continuous communication between the back office, job site, and stakeholders take place. Project managers need to be constantly in the loop in order to address any delays or implement a backup plan if something goes wrong.
Thankfully, project managers can integrate software solutions into project monitoring in several ways to ensure that things go according to plan. The most obvious application is electronic time sheets – the firm installs a GPS checkpoint at the job site, enabling workers to “clock in” when at the job site and generating a real-time record of attendance at the job site. This way, project managers can immediately respond to worker shortages by allocating more resources to keep the project on track.
Direct communication between the back office and job site is also facilitated by mobile software. If workers encounter an unexpected delay, they can immediately communicate the issue to the project manager and other stakeholders using text, images, and even audio. This means that teams can work together to address delays immediately and find solutions before lost time becomes an issue.
Step Five: Project Closure
When the work is all completed, it’s time to present the work to the customer, communicate to all stakeholders that the project was completed and release project resources for use in other areas of the business. Project closure is also a time for reflection on how things went – was the project completed efficiently? Was it profitable? Should the firm do another similar project in the future?
Project management software makes project closures a breeze. Project managers can conduct detailed expense tracking and job costing throughout the project life cycle, which means more timely and accurate invoicing once the project has been completed. Automated accounting makes it easy to determine profitability, and electronic change order forms are never lost, ensuring that extra changes or add-ons are billed correctly.
Finally, project managers can schedule meetings with workers and other stakeholders to review the work that was done and keep their feedback and analysis on file. Job costing data obtained during the project can be used to inform Project Initiation decision-making in the future, and any notes about project successes or failures are easily stored for future reference.
Integrating software into the five phases of management has concrete benefits for project managers and the construction firms they work at. Software can be used to facilitate monitoring and control of projects, maintain lines of communication between the field and office, keep track of scheduling and resource allocation, and ensure timely completion of projects and bigger profits.