Breaking Down The 5 Phases of Construction: Beginners Guide

by Alexander Fraser

From a high-level overview, the life cycle of a construction process appears simple. It’s when you look at all the small details of what goes into a project does it become overwhelming. 

You’ll see why a project can take so long from conception to completion. 

In this article, I will cover the 5 phases of construction as I see it. 

The 5 Phases of Construction

These steps consist of the following: 

  1. Phase 1: Planning
  2. Phase 2: Design
  3. Phase 3: Pre-Construction
  4. Phase 4: Construction
  5. Phase 5: Post Construction

The process consists of numerous steps to complete before the other beings. Performing any of these steps out of sequence could result in undesirable outcomes in the project. 

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Let’s dive into the life of a construction project. 

Phase 1: Planning

We start with an idea. Often, it’s the project owner who has the initial vision. It could be a new building or perhaps a renovation. That idea then forms the basis of this phase, leading to the development of an important document – the project plan.

In the planning phase, the project’s scope comes under the spotlight. Here, the project manager, owner, and team outline the extent of the work. Understanding the project scope is crucial as it can influence future projects, time frames, and the resources required.

A critical part of the planning stage is the feasibility study. Here, the project team assesses the practicality of the project. Can it be done? What challenges might we encounter? These are questions that need clear answers. It’s important to remember that even the best ideas must be grounded in reality.

Next, we move on to cost estimates or budgeting. This part of the planning phase can be pretty complex. It’s not just about considering the cost of the project overall. 

We also have to think about possible cost overruns, changes to the original plan, or unexpected issues that could crop up.

Then there’s the matter of time frames. In construction, timing is everything. Starting a project without a clear schedule is like embarking on a road trip without a map. 

The project manager needs to develop a realistic timeline that considers every stage of the construction project.

And let’s not forget about the project stakeholders. These are all the involved parties who have an interest in the project. They could be the project owner, the investors, the construction manager, or even the local community. 

Ensuring effective communication with stakeholders is essential for maintaining transparency and trust.

While this might seem like a lot, careful planning in this phase pays off, particularly for larger projects. Indeed, the planning phase is more than just the first step. It’s the foundation on which the entire project rests. 

Phase 2: Design

As we move from the planning stage, the design phase comes into view. A dedicated design team in this phase guides the project’s strategic plan. Architects and engineers collaborate to transform the original plan into a tangible design.

In the design stage, the design team develops the construction documents. The documents that they create are called construction plans and specifications. It’s a critical document set that tells the construction manager and general contractor how to complete the construction.

Each design must align with the project scope outlined during the planning phase. Any changes to the design must also consider the project’s feasibility study, cost estimates, and time frames. Therefore, effective communication between the design team, the project manager, and other stakeholders is vital.

The design will go through an iterative process before you reach a version that is ready to issue for construction. Depending on the owner’s requirements, the design could go through a 60%, 90%, and final draft review. 

Each time the drawings will go for review by the owner and potentially a construction manager. They need to ensure that the design aligns with what they expect from the project.

After the drawings are complete, consider if the job needs to get a permit or not. If so, a physical copy of the drawings will go to your local county for review. 

Only after permit approval should you begin construction. Starting before you have a permit can result in the contractor getting fined. 

It’s important to consider that the drawing set submitted for permitting may require changes to be approved. Once complete, the design firm will revise the drawings and release a new set considered “Issued for Construction.”

Another thing to consider is that the final design doesn’t just address the project owner’s vision. It also considers the needs of the future users of the building or facility. 

Moreover, it considers the impacts on the community and the environment. Therefore, The design phase is about aesthetics, functionality, sustainability, and harmony with the surroundings.

The specifications are another part of the design phase. While tedious, they’re necessary for telling the contractor precisely what to provide for the project. 

Project specifications can run hundreds of pages long for a project, so it’s not uncommon for mistakes to arise from the specs. 

I often see these documents contain paragraphs regurgitated from other projects. As a result, some of the specs don’t make sense and do not apply to the project’s needs. You’ll need to submit an RFI to clarify what the engineer expects from the contractor. 

Depending on the response to the RFI, a change order could arise. So, consider carefully reviewing the construction specifications during the design phase. 

Now that we have the two vital documents for the project, it can go out for bidding if this is a design-bid-build project. If it’s design-build, we can roll right into the pre-construction phase.

Phase 3: Pre-construction

Next, we move to the pre-construction phase. This phase is when we prepare for the actual construction. It’s about ensuring everything is in place before the construction team arrives on the job site.

Most of the time, the lead time of your equipment or materials will drive the pre-construction phase duration. We are currently seeing lead times of over 40+ weeks for mechanical equipment. I’ve heard of some electrical equipment having a lead time of over 60+ weeks. 

The current state of equipment production prevents contractors from starting work sooner. I often wait 6+ months before we even perform any work on-site. One benefit is that it gives us time to pre-plan and get approval on all the necessary submittals. 

That brings me to another pre-construction activity, submittals. These are documents sent to the engineer or owner. It proves you’re ordering equipment and material that complies with the project plans and specifications. 

Submittals alone can be a lengthy process on its own. That’s because there can be back and forth if there are issues with the documents submitted for review. 

Here’s the kicker, you can’t order your equipment until the engineer approves the submittals. Well, you can order the equipment without approval but you take a big risk should the engineer reject the equipment used. 

The risk of purchasing equipment before submittal approval is high, so I recommend waiting for a response. It can be challenging to wait for the review, especially if the turnaround time is several weeks or months. 

If there’s a delay in equipment orders due to the owner, make sure you document this. Follow up regularly with them via email; it will be your backup if you need to request a time extension. 

The pre-construction phase also involves finalizing the construction schedule. This schedule is a roadmap for the construction manager, the project team, and the stakeholders. A well-crafted schedule helps to manage expectations, facilitates coordination among team members, and ensures that the project stays on track.

Another thing to consider during this phase is the associated risk. It is essential to ensure the safety and smooth execution of the construction project. Potential risks could range from safety hazards to logistical challenges, and identifying these in advance allows the team to propose solutions and contingency plans.

The project gets the green light by the end of the pre-construction phase. But this isn’t just about permission to start construction. Instead, it’s about assurance. Assurance that the project is feasible, that you’ve assessed the risks, the resources are ready, and that the project team is ready for the next phase.

Right before you begin construction, you’ll need to conduct a pre-construction meeting. The meeting will ensure the project team is on the same page for the project. The meeting is a must in the pre-construction phase.

Phase 4: Construction

Your equipment and material arrive, and you’re ready to start construction. Everything is set and ready to begin; this is where the fun part begins. 

You get to see what all your work up to this point was for. That’s the reason why I have stayed in construction. Getting to see the building come together is what it’s all about!

As the pre-construction phase concludes, the construction or execution phase takes place. The construction site begins to hum with activity as the project shifts from planning and design to actual construction.

Throughout the construction stage, the construction manager plays a crucial role. They oversee the work at the construction site, ensuring that the construction team follows the construction documents. The construction manager also coordinates with the project manager to monitor the project schedule and handle any unexpected issues that might arise.

During this phase, quality control becomes critical. It’s not enough to complete the project on time and within budget. 

Additionally, there are numerous things that you need to be ready for. As a project manager, you will spend most of your time coordinating on-site work. 

You will need to address issues during construction; if you can resolve them on-site, great. If not, you’ll need to submit an RFI to the engineer to clarify the issue. 

There can be some items that go missing during the design phase that eventually come up during construction. For example, these are items such as conflicts between trades or an incomplete design. 

These issues are best resolved on the job site and you’ll redline the drawings for the as-built drawings.

Also, the project’s general contractor (GC) follows a strict schedule. If you’re not there when you need to be, there’s a chance you can get buried. 

Getting buried is not a fun time. If the drywall contractor comes in and closes a wall, but you still need to run your conduit, you have a problem. They need to open that wall now so you can go and do your work. 

The next question is, who pays for the additional work? The guy who did not follow the schedule, that’s who. The GC should also actively inspect the work to ensure these things don’t happen, but it can be difficult to catch everything. 

Your main takeaway is that you’ll focus your efforts on coordination in the construction phase. Regardless of whether you’re the general contractor or subcontractor, you’ll coordinate with the different trades to complete the job. 

Now we’re getting close to the end of the construction phase. The final deliverables must meet the standards in the original plan and construction documents. A successful project is about completion and meeting and exceeding expectations.

Phase 5: Post Construction

As the construction phase wraps up, the project life cycle continues into the post construction phase. This is the final step, which is just as important as the other phases.

Here you must provide various closeout documents required by the contract specifications. The standard closeout documents are as follows: 

  • As-built Drawings
  • Installation, Operation, and Maintenance Manuals
  • Contractor Contact Information
  • Test Results
  • Warranty Information

Closeout documents are just one of many steps in the post-construction phase. 

If the project requires commissioning, there’s a good chance you’ll have a third-party agent hired to perform this work. The commissioning agent checks to ensure the building is functioning per the plans and specs. 

They will develop a report and provide it to the owner and GC to include with the closeout documents. You must address any issues found during this inspection before project turnover. 

We then move on to our pre-final inspection for the project. Here a walkthrough is held with some of the stakeholders and engineers of the project. They will look for any issues with the work and add the items to a punch list for rework and discrepancies. 

The project team goes through the punch list for the final tasks to complete. This could involve minor repairs, cleaning, and other finishing touches to ensure the project meets the agreed-upon standards. 

You can have your final inspection once all the punch list items are complete. You’ll invite the team to review the job once more and sign off on the work. 

But wait, we’re not done yet! We haven’t turned over the building to the owner yet. 

Before we turn over the building, everything needs to be tidy. Construction can get things messy, so we want to make sure there’s no evidence of dust or trash from the work. 

Once you have completed this step, you can finally hand the keys to the owner. 

Pat yourself on the back because the bulk of the project is complete. 

Some small items still need to be closed out on the office side. Everyone needs to get paid and all the paperwork fulfilled. 

One thing to consider is conducting a project closeout meeting. This is when the project team, led by the project manager, reviews the entire project. 

They assess the project’s success against the original plan, goals, and objectives. Lessons learned during this process can prove invaluable for future projects.


Remember, a successful project isn’t just about the final product. It’s also about the journey, the stages of construction, the challenges overcome, and the lessons learned. Each phase of the construction project life cycle holds its importance. And it’s the careful navigation through each of these phases that sets the foundation for a successful project.

I hope this detailed walkthrough of the construction project life cycle provides a comprehensive understanding of the process. With careful planning, design, preparation, execution, and review, any construction project can succeed.

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