Construction Project Management: The Ultimate Guide

What do bridges, homes and airports have in common? They are all put together by construction project managers. This critical role functions as a linchpin for a wide variety of projects. It could be filled by a single person or a whole team of people. There are a lot of moving parts within a construction project, and construction project management helps pull everything together to ensure a project meets its deadlines and stays within budget.

Let's explore construction project management and see what this essential role can do for large and small jobs.

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What Is Construction Project Management?

As the name implies, construction project management is the entire process of managing a construction project from start to finish. It involves a wide variety of tasks and comes with some challenges. Management can be handled differently from project to project. Some larger jobs like bridge construction will require a dedicated project manager to oversee everything. Smaller jobs such as home renovation might dedicate the role of project management to someone like the contractor. In the case of larger projects, the project manager is likely part of a large team or third-party management firm.

This construction project management team brings the various involved parties together to discuss things like progress, setbacks and goals. This team might consist of the architect, engineer, interior designer, consultants and the project's sponsor or building owner. They may bring in other professionals as needed, such as analysts or landscapers. The construction project manager helps to unite these people and keep their common goals in focus.

A construction manager should have exceptional soft skills such as organization and communication, along with an in-depth knowledge of the construction process. One important part of selecting a project manager is ensuring personalities won't clash, since construction can be a long process that needs smooth communication. Past experience can also be representative of their work.

Some of the resources a construction project manager might use include:

  • Cloud-based tools, such as team schedules and time sheets.
  • Resource management tools to help purchase and keep track of supplies and equipment.
  • Gantt charts, which clearly lay out a project's timeline.

You'll find construction project managers on a wide variety of projects that are public, private, large and small. They can work in agricultural, residential, environmental, civil and commercial applications, among others. Buildings aren't the only things they'll work on either. Transportation, power, sewer and waste, water and telecom are a few types of projects they may work on. They might help renovate a home, create a bridge or a dam or develop a new manufacturing plant.

 

Construction Project Manager Tasks

Some of the tasks that belong to a construction project manager include the following:

  • Managing resources: A construction project manager must be able to understand where resources are and ensure they will be available when the workers need them. They'll be in charge of purchasing resources and deciding which ones to get, which influences budget, design and quality.
  • Controlling various aspects of the project: Project management involves creating a construction management plan to help keep track of things like the scope, cost and time needed to complete the job. It must factor in and manage all the challenges and constraints that pop up during the process.
  • Communicating with other entities: Construction project managers may work with designers, architects, engineers, city planners, contractors and many other people throughout the course of the build. Interpersonal skills can go a long way for this part of the job, where they'll talk about the budget, progress and goals.
  • Creating a budget: Project management helps to determine cost restraints, estimate prices and find the best way to meet the client's needs without going over budget.
  • Creating schedules and timetables: Construction is mostly sequential, meaning you can't go to the next step until you've finished the one before it. Having a timeline is an important part of the job. There are different ways to do this, which we'll cover later when we go over the methods for construction project management.
  • Reviewing and distributing design documents: There are many different design documents involved in a project, and the manager is in charge of approving those documents and getting them to the right people. They may work closely with the designers when developing the documents.
  • Responding to changes: Construction can be unpredictable. What happens when a week of rain pushes work back? What if a safety issue arises and you need to get new equipment on-site to handle it? Construction project management needs to be able to adapt to these issues quickly and keep the project on-track when they happen.

For a more extensive list of construction project management tasks and how they play into different parts of the job, take a look at the outline provided by the Construction Managers Association of America. They've listed many of the duties of a construction project manager at different stages of work.

 

Challenges Construction Project Managers Face

Like any profession, construction project management isn't without its challenges. Some problems that can occur during project management that a manager may need to troubleshoot include:

  • Undefined goals: Without a clear goal, the team may struggle to stay on the same page. Whether from poor communication or a lack of direction from the start, unclear goals can quickly derail a project and cost time and money to fix.
  • Scope creep: Scope creep occurs when a project oversteps its original budget or time frame due to additions or changes. It can heavily affect the budget or change the project end date, so any significant adjustments must be considered carefully. For some clients, budget overages may not be as concerning as exceeding the originally slated time frame, but its impact will vary from project to project.
  • Poor teamwork: Whether it comes from poor training, miscommunication, hiring missteps or leadership, poor teamwork can significantly hurt the success of a project. Making all those moving parts mesh requires excellent communication, so a team that doesn't work well together may struggle.
  • Risk management: The construction industry consists of lots of risks for both safety and financial concerns. A good construction project manager will conduct necessary research to ensure workers' safety and develop a contingency plan to protect the investment in the project.

 

Key Principles of Construction Project Management

There are several driving principles behind construction project management that are critical for its success:

1. Conception

A project starts with an idea, and construction project management helps bring that idea to life. Accordingly, the conception of the project is crucial.

One of the most significant aspects of project conception is feasibility. The project manager will analyze factors such as costs, goals and the timeline to determine if the project can be done within those constraints. They may identify major obstacles or risks and ensure that the project is possible before major investments occur. They could also call in a business analyst to help here.

Another aspect of conceptualization is a justification for the project. The project manager may crunch the numbers and find a solid backing to explain why the project is both possible and a good idea.

2. Planning

As you can imagine, the planning stage is also critical. The project manager spends a lot of time organizing tasks within the timeline and identifying the necessary resources. Key components here are transparency and communication. The plan must be clear and show everyone the necessary tasks involved. It should also detail all the plans they identified during conceptualization, such as information on costs, scope and the duration of the project.

When planning, a project manager may start thinking about their team. They'll need to identify ideal candidates and begin assembling the key players that will help them in the project. Assembling a team may also occur at different stages, depending on the type of project. Sometimes project managers aren't brought in until later on.

3. Execution

After all the planning is complete, it's time to break ground. While the project manager doesn't necessarily need to be on the job site, they will need to stay in touch with the contractor and other people who will be taking care of business. This steady contact allows the project manager to make adjustments as issues come up. A big part of project management is adapting to the changes that appear and making decisions based on the information given. It requires flexibility and problem-solving skills.

During the launch phase, project management may also involve lots of meetings and reporting to create deliverables and manage the workload. The project manager or team works as a touch point for many different parties.

4. Monitoring the Project

Even after the groundwork is in place, project management involves following it through to the end. Monitoring should occur throughout the whole process. With successful monitoring, a project manager can step in and make changes where needed to avoid inefficiencies or problems.

Tracking the work and identifying key performance indicators ensures the project meets its goals. It can also help the project management team identify areas for improvement and places for accountability.

 

The Stages of Construction Project Management

The key principles of conception, planning, execution and monitoring align well with the four stages of project management, as outlined by the Project Management Institute. Each stage has its own tasks and goals.

Stage 1: Planning

In the planning stage, the project manager lays everything out for the project. They will:

  • Prepare overviews
  • Gather data
  • Assemble a team
  • Identify a budget, estimate and scope
  • Identify goals and objectives
  • Allocate a site

The information gathered may reflect things like project budget, conceptual estimates and actuals. All this data enables informed decision-making so the manager can make choices that serve the primary goals. They'll need to weigh many different aspects, so having this laid out is extremely helpful. It also offers more transparency and communication among team members.

Stage 2: Design

In the design stage, more concrete plans are made. Schedules are arranged, consultations occur and schematics and blueprints are designed. The project manager may consult various partners to talk about feasibility and goals. They will also share design documents with the project team.

At this point, a floor plan is developed, complete with sketches and materials. It will likely outline the colors and textures to be used, so the project manager can more readily purchase materials in the next stage or work with designers to choose them. These decisions rely on the drawings and schematics. A site plan also occurs in this stage, along with the identifying equipment and costs associated with construction. The design should be compared with local building codes, so no glaring issues appear down the road that could add significant costs.

Finally, contract documents will be drawn up. These include final drawings and specifications for construction. These documents allow contractors to bid on the job, which will help the manager find the best person for the job.

Stage 3: Bidding and Procurement

With all the designs finalized and the bid documents created, the project manager starts to collect the necessary resources, including a contractor. They will divide the work into bid packages and take care of negotiations, making sure to identify pre-qualifications beforehand. While awarding contracts may fall to the building owner, the project manager or project management team may offer recommendations.

Typically, the project manager or a contractor will identify which materials and equipment are needed for the job and submit purchase orders to the owner or other responsible party. After that, it's time to find more specific personnel, though this can occur as early as the planning stage. These people might include contract administrators, superintendents to ensure resources arrive on-site at the right time and field engineers to help with paperwork.

This stage will also involve a site investigation. Someone will need to determine what resources workers need to get the job done safely. This inspection looks for things like:

  • Safety issues: Nearby power lines, traffic control and working with heights, electricity and trenches are just a few examples of situations that would require special safety measures. Other general needs include work that requires personal protective equipment like hard hats and high-visibility vests.
  • Environmental issues: A construction site should not create environmental hazards, like runoff into a nearby water source or air pollution. Methods for mitigating environmental hazards and waste management must be identified before construction.
  • Other evaluations: Site inspection will also involve things like accessibility, materials storage and the suitability of the ground for supporting the proposed tasks.

Stage 4: Construction

Finally, construction can begin. Project management involves coordinating everyone involved at this step. There are many pieces to this puzzle, so it takes a keen eye to follow everything.

To set up the job site, the project manager must collect all the right permits and direct delivery of materials to the site. They'll get everyone set up for a safe and efficient work environment, complete with a schedule for payments and work processes. Part of project management is ensuring workers are happy and well-informed throughout this process. It can make them more productive and keep financial or legal issues out of the picture.

While a project manager may not be present on the job site, they maintain contact with the contractor to keep everything on schedule and within budget. They'll make adjustments to changes that surface and keep a close eye on the job's progression.

After construction work is complete, the project management team will ensure all the requirements were met and enter a warranty period for any issues that arise before concluding the project.

 

Project Management Methods

Just as workers have different styles, project management can take many different approaches. Here are a few of them:

1. Waterfall

The waterfall method is one of the most popular. It makes use of the sequential nature of construction by working from one stage to the next with a well-laid timeline. It has clear due dates and milestones and maps out the client's expectations on the timeline in a systematic approach.

A waterfall method relies on the fact that construction depends on the stage before it. You can't design until you know your requirements, and you can't build until you have the materials. A waterfall plans accordingly. One downside to this method is that it may stretch out the timeline by making it hard to move ahead as you wait for other stages to finish up.

2. Lean Construction

Lean construction takes a top-down approach and focuses on improving the entire project as much as possible with ongoing refinement and reflection. While timelines are important, lean construction focuses more on meeting demands and needs than meeting a timeline. It closely monitors progress and looks for ways to:

  • Save money
  • Reduce waste
  • Boost efficiency
  • Create quality results
  • Meet and exceed client expectations

Lean construction requires close monitoring and backward planning. It may also look for more input from the client to refine the process as much as possible.

One way that lean construction aims to improve results is by learning about the customer's needs and expectations. Certain clients may find value in different places. Some may want a higher-quality building over one that costs less, while others may want as much efficiency as possible. Lean construction prioritizes these desires.

3. Agile

Agile project management emphasizes flexibility. It addresses all the ups and downs of construction work, allowing the project management team to adapt and adjust. It typically breaks the project down into smaller parts that are easier to handle. It focuses on time management and productivity and may look for more input from participants to gather valuable insights.

A downside to agile projects is that they can make it challenging to keep track of schedules. It will take a sharp eye and excellent communication to run an agile construction management plan.

4. Critical Path

The critical chain path is an older idea that focuses on efficiency. It views the project as a set of chains, identifying steps that are dependent on others as chains of varying lengths.

A task that relies on many other sequential components is one that makes up part of a longer chain. This management approach identifies the longest chains and which components are necessary for their completion. If a lack of resources would prevent a task from getting done, the critical path method recognizes that influence and finds a way to take action. Efficiency and productivity are the main ideas here.

Construction Management and The Cat® Rental Store

For all types of projects, construction management is a crucial component. It aims to ensure the project moves efficiently, materials are procured appropriately and everything remains within budget and time constraints. Though there are many different methods, the tasks tend to be similar and follow the typical stages of construction management.

A big part of project management involves cutting costs and finding the right tools for the job. The Cat® Rental Store can help in both of those areas. Our dealers offer a wide selection of equipment and accessories to get the job done right and at an affordable cost. Oftentimes, renting your equipment can be much more efficient and cost-effective, especially if you only need it for one project.

Our machinery is well-kept with strict maintenance procedures. If you need help with a machine, we also offer on-site support. Browse our selection or contact your dealer today to find equipment that can improve your construction management plan.

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