With 25 years in the IT industry, I certainly do not pretend to be a construction project manager.  I feel that many of the skills and processes are similar and you can still rely on similar tools such as the powerful combination of MS Project and Seavus’ Project Viewer, but since I have no experience in the construction PM world I’m relying on information from books and articles in order to dig deepr.  I thought it might be interesting for what I believe to be a primarily IT PM audience here to see a quick overview of a construction project life cycle to allow us to compare it in our heads to what we normally see on a daily basis in our IT engagements. For the purpose of this article, I’ll be primarily looking at information and snippets from a book about a project life cycle approach to construction management.

Phase 1. Pre-project

Prior to the commencement of the construction project, even before the selection of the designer and the accomplishment of any planning activities, the project owner faces two important decisions regarding the relationships among the various parties and the basis upon which the contractor will be paid. These two are:

Selection of the project delivery system and the selection of the type of contract.  Let’s look at each of these…

Selection of the project delivery system – the list below indicates several different types:

  • Design-tender-build
  • Design-build
  • Construction manager
  • Project manager
  • Document and construct
  • Separate prime contracts
  • Turnkey
  • Build-own-operate-transfer
  • Joint venture
  • Force account
  • Phased construction

Selection of the type of contract – several different types of contracts include:

  • Lump sum/fixed price
  • Unit price/measure and value
  • Cost plus
  • Variations of basic cost plus
  • Time and materials

Phase 2. Planning and design

In this phase there are significant activities that take place in the project development process prior to the selection of the organizations that will assemble the various project elements in the field. There are many different parties involved in the planning and design phase and this phase is really divided up into three different phases. In the first, or planning and feasibility study stage, the various parties define and clarify the project’s purpose and scope, conduct feasibility studies, select and acquire land and investigate site conditions and consider options, in a preliminary way, for how the work might be assembled. In the second, or design stage, schematic design lays out the relationships among the project elements, while design development provides the detailed calculations and drawings that specify the sizes and locations of the structural members, earthworks, mechanical systems and all other parts that make up the project. In the contract document development stage, all of the documents required to enter into a construction contract are put together, including the detailed working drawings, technical specifications and legal conditions of the contract. When the planning and design phase is complete, the owner or the owner’s representative is ready to select the construction organization.

Phase 3. Contractor selection

We now turn to the selection of the construction organization that will assemble the project in the field. The basic steps are generally the same, whether the contract will be lump sum, unit price or cost plus. If a project manager is involved, that party will assist the owner in choosing a contractor. The construction manager, if part of the team, will have to be chosen. If the design-build approach is used, that organization will be chosen before the design is undertaken.

Phase 4. Mobilization

This phase of the construction project life cycle deals with the many activities that take place between the award of the construction contract and the beginning of construction work in the field. Some of this work may have begun prior to, and in anticipation of, the award, and much of it will continue into the days and weeks during which fieldwork is beginning. But these are the actions that prepare for and set the stage for what the layperson considers ‘construction’, the things that people and machines do to assemble the project in the field. We consider in cursory fashion such contractual issues as permits, bonding and insurance and then we deal with the preparation of detailed project schedules, the conversion of the cost estimate into a project budget for use in controlling project costs, the organization of the work site, acquisition of materials and the engagement of subcontractors and such staffing issues as the project management structure, collective bargaining agreements and non-union contracting.

Phase 5. Operations

With the start of construction operations in the field, the project takes on a different focus and the construction manager is called upon to perform a variety of responsibilities aimed at effective and efficient use of resources in the assembly of the several parts of the project. All of the previous planning, design, tendering and mobilization have been the prelude to the actual performance of field operations. While some activities in previous phases, such as procurement and staffing, are likely to continue during the early stages of the project operations phase, now the emphasis is on monitoring and controlling various aspects of the project, managing resources effectively and coordinating the vital documentation and communication activities.

The phase begins by monitoring and control of the project schedule, budget, quality, safety and environmental concerns. It also concerns detailed resource management, in this case the management of personnel, materials and equipment. Other key elements are communication and documentation issues such as submittals, measurement and progress payments, variations, the overall document management responsibility and the role of electronic communications in the modern construction project.

Some final key elements to be aware of during this phase of the project are legal issues, including the claims process, methods for dispute prevention and resolution and some particular legal matters that frequently arise during project operations.

Phase 6. Closeout

The project closeout and termination phase can be thought of as a project unto itself. Often termed commissioning, this phase must be planned and programmed, tasks must be assigned, the phase must be executed effectively and its costs, schedule and quality must be controlled. On large projects, a specialist team is often engaged to assure that project closeout is carried out in the best manner possible. The tasks for closeout are generally divided into two categories: (1) completing the work, which includes the physical activities that must be accomplished on the site and (2) closing out the project, involving the multitude of required documents and other paperwork issues, some related obviously to finances but others to certificates, project records and provision to the owner of the required training, operational information, spare parts and the like. The two categories definitely overlap and interact.