Article Overview

The following article is derivided from F. Lawerence Bennett's Managment of Construction Book.

Table of Contents

  1. Overview
  2. Pre-project Phase
  3. Planning and Design Phase
  4. Contractor Selection Phase
  5. Project Mobilization Phase
  6. Project Operations Phase
  7. Project Closeout and Termination Phase

Having almost exclusively only dealt with and led IT software projects throughout my career, I've always been intrigued by the area of construction project life cycle. Though with my background, getting in the door - even on a consulting basis - to gain that experience just hasn't happened or the timing was just never right - either in the Midwest or in Las Vegas during the housing boom.

A project life cycle approach peaked my interest. I've written about project life cycle and methodology phases at great lengths in my articles and would like to present here Mr. Bennett's parallel segments on the construction project life cycle.

The following text was derived from Mr. F. Lawerence Bennett's Management of Construction: A Project Lifecycle Approach.


Every project, not just those in the construction industry, goes through a series of identifiable phases, wherein it is 'born', it matures, it carries through to old age and it 'expires'. A software development project manager, for example, might define the following phases in the project's life cycle: initial proposal, process engineering - requirements analysis, process engineering - specifications, design, development, testing, deployment and support. Likewise, a project that results in the development of a new product might contain the following phases: conceptual, technical feasibility, development, commercial validation and production preparation, full-scale production and product support. Although there may be some overlap in the phases, the work generally flows from the first phase to the last, with the outcome of one phase providing the basis for efforts carried out in the phase that follows.

So it is also with construction projects. We will be identifying six phases in the construction project life cycle, each with its own purposes and characteristics. First, the owner must make certain pre-project decisions. Then the planning and design of the project is carried out. Next, the contractor is selected, after which the contractor mobilizes in order to carry out the field operations. The fieldwork that the layperson often considers to be 'construction' can be considered a separate phase. Lastly, the project must be terminated and brought to a close; because these activities are distinct from the installation work, we separate them into a distinct, final phase.

To attempt to understand the management of construction by organizing the study on the basis of the project life cycle may be somewhat arbitrary because there is admittedly some overlap between phases and thus some duplication in the presentation. However, this deliberate design of this text will provide a logical basis for tracking the project's activities and understanding the roles of the people responsible for those activities, from the time the owner first conceives the idea for a construction project until that point when the contractor has vacated the site for the final time.

Structured in this way, each section provides a description of one of the project's phases. The result should be an understanding not only of the importance of each phase individually but also of the way they interrelate to form an integrated whole project.

Pre-project Phase

A construction project begins with an idea, a perceived need, a desire to improve or add to productive capacity or the wish for more efficient provision of some public service. Whether the idea will be converted into a completed project will be decided during the planning and design phase. However, prior to that, among the first things the owner must do is to decide what sort of project delivery system will be used. How will the various parties be related? Will the owner engage a design professional to prepare plans and specifications and then contract separately with a construction contractor? Or, will a single entity be responsible for the entire project? Other possible options include several separate specialty contractors, each related by contract with the owner, the use of a construction manager as an advisor to the owner, the use of the owner's own construction forces and the phasing of the project such that individual portions of the fieldwork are commenced prior to the completion of all design work.

The other primary decision required by the owner early in the project relates to the type of contract to be used with the contractor. Will the contractor be paid a specified fixed price, regardless of the actual quantities used in the project and regardless of the contractor's actual costs? Will the quantities of materials be measured and the contractor pay on the basis of those quantities and pre-agreed-upon unit prices for each material? Or, will the contractor be reimbursed for its actual costs, plus a fee, perhaps with an agreed-upon upper limit? The owner will also need to decide the basis upon which the design professional will be paid. Often these decisions are not made without consultation and advice. Depending upon the owner's expertise and experience in administering construction contracts, the owner may engage a professional engineer, an architect or a project manager during this pre-project phase to advise on these important decisions.

Planning and Design Phase

The project is fully defined and made ready for contractor selection and deployment during the planning and design phase. It is convenient to divide this phase into three stages. The goal of the first stage is to define the project's objectives, consider alternative ways to attain those objectives and ascertain whether the project is financially feasible. In this process of planning and feasibility study, a project brief will be developed, more details will be set forth in a program statement, various sites may be investigated, public input may be sought, a preliminary cost estimate will be prepared, funding sources will be identified and a final decision on whether to proceed with the project will be rendered.

In the second stage, the design professional will use the results of the planning efforts to develop schematic diagrams showing the relationships among the various project components, followed by detailed design of the structural, electrical and other systems. This latter activity is the classical hard core engineering familiar to students in the design professions, in which various engineering principles are used to estimate loads and other requirements, select materials, determine component sizes and configurations and assure that each element is proper in relation to other elements. The output from this design development effort is used in the final stage, wherein contract documents are prepared for use in contractor selection and installation work at the construction site. The design professional prepares not only the detailed construction drawings but also written contract conditions containing legal requirements, technical specifications stipulating the materials and the manner in which they shall be installed and a set of other documents related to the process of selecting the contractor and finalizing the contract with the successful tenderer.

Contractor Celection Phase

In anticipation of selecting a contractor, the owner must decide whether an open invitation will be issued to all possible vendors or whether only certain contractors will be invited to submit offers and whether any sort of pre-qualification process will be invoked to limit the number of tenders. On the other side, contractors will have to consider a number of factors in deciding whether they will make the effort to assemble a proposal for a particular project. If a contractor finds the prospective project attractive, two major tasks will be required. First, a series of planning steps will be carried out, including studies of various methods and equipment that would be employed and the development of a preliminary project program setting forth an approximate time schedule for each major activity. Second, a priced proposal will be prepared, including the direct costs of labor, materials, plant and subcontractors, various overhead charges and a sufficient added amount for profit. The last step in this phase is the submittal, opening and evaluation of tenders, the selection of the successful contractor and the finalization of the construction contract.

Project Mobilization Phase

After the contractor is selected, a number of activities must be completed before installation work can begin at the project site. Various bonds, licenses and insurance must be secured. A detailed program for the construction activities must be prepared. The cost estimate must be converted to a project budget and the system for tracking actual project costs must be established. The work site must be organized, with provisions for temporary buildings and services, access and delivery, storage areas and site security. The process of obtaining materials and equipment to be incorporated into the project must be initiated and arrangements for labor, the other essential resource, must be organized. With the completion of this phase, it is finally time to begin the actual field construction.

Project Operations Phase

Operations phase of a construction project life cycleIn presenting the contractor's activities on the construction site, we will suggest, perhaps too simply, that the responsibilities involve three basic areas: monitoring and control, resource management and documentation and communication. Five aspects of monitoring and controlling the work are important. Actual schedule progress must be compared against the project program to determine whether the project is on schedule; if it is not, actions must be undertaken to try to bring the program back into conformance. Likewise, the cost status must be checked to establish how actual performance compares with the budget. An equally important part of monitoring and control is quality management, to assure that the work complies with the technical requirements set forth in the contract documents. In addition, the contractor has an important role to play in managing the work safely and in a way that minimizes adverse environmental impacts.

In managing the project's resources, the contractor will, first, be concerned with assigning and supervising personnel and assuring that the labor effort is sufficiently productive to meet schedule, cost and quality goals. In addition, materials and plant must be managed so that these same goals are met. Because construction projects require large amounts of paperwork, a special effort is required to manage this documentation effectively. Examples include the various special drawings and samples that must be submitted to the owner or design professional for approval prior to installation, the frequent need to respond to requests for changes in the project after the on-site work has begun and the all-important process for periodically assessing the value of work completed and requesting payment for this work. Various online and other electronic means are available to assist contractors with document management and project communications.

Project Closeout and Termination Phase

Finally, as the project nears completion, a number of special activities must take place before the contractor's responsibilities can be considered complete. There are the various testing and startup tasks, the final cleanup, various inspections and remedial work that may result from them, and the process of closing the construction office and terminating the staff's employment. In addition, a myriad of special paperwork is required, including approvals and certifications that allow the contractor to receive final payment, a set of as-built drawings that include all changes made to the original design, operating manuals, warranties and a final report. The contractor will also be responsible for transferring and archiving project records and will conduct some sort of project critique and evaluation; operator training may also be part of the contractor's contractual responsibilities.