Planning Guide for Each Phase in a Construction Project

by Alexander Fraser

When it comes to planning in construction, it’s critical that you plan early and often. By incorporating proper planning methods, you’re guaranteed to have successful projects. In this article we will look at the many phases of construction and the planning that is involved.

Construction planning involves developing a methodical approach to completing various tasks. These plans should involve discussing scope of work, site safety, resource management, and project closeout to name a few topics. Without planning, you risk costing your construction business more money to correct mistakes or pay for a workplace injury. 

So, now that you know a bit about construction planning, let’s cover how it applies to the different construction phases.

The beginning stages of a project

During this phase, a developer would work with a design team to generate a set of construction drawings of specifications. Once they’ve come to a final design, it would then be issued to a group of contractors to bid on. This would be in the form of an RFP or request for proposal.

This is where the initial stages of planning begin for construction firms. They now need to determine if they will take this project on and provide a proposal. There’s a few things that they will need to look at before they make this decision.

Is the project feasible for the company?

To determine this, they need to review the initial plan and specs. They need to get a good understanding about the requirements for the job and how complex the project is. They can also look at the risk associated with performing the work.

If the company has a large backlog of projects, then the more complex projects might not be a good fit for them. They can also decide to provide a proposal, but be on the passive side with their price. This means they would use higher margins and be less conservative with their labor and material estimates.

There’s some flexibility when making this decision, but ultimately it needs to be what’s best for the company.

What are the next steps if you pursue the project?

So, your company has decided that they’re going to pursue the job. You’ll now need to provide a proposal to the client that issued the RFP. Some planning is required to determine how you are going to set your margins.

As I mentioned above, you can take the more passive route, or be aggressive with your price. Also, when I talk about margins and referring to profit, overhead, and markup. This is usually in the form of a percentage of the proposal amount which is then added to the price.

If your company needs work, then they will likely go more on the aggressive side. The higher up managers will work with the estimator to determine the percentages they want to use.

What is required to develop the proposal? 

During the bidding phase, estimators thoroughly review the plans and specifications to provide a price. They determine the material and equipment that will be required by performing what is called the material takeoff. This process involves obtaining the quantity of all the material and equipment that you will need to complete the project.

The estimator will have a tool at their disposal to quickly calculate the amount of material that they need for the job. But again, this is just an approximation based on their interpretation of the project drawings. So, the estimator is responsible for making their best guess on the material required.

In addition to planning the material and equipment that is needed for a job. They also need to look at the labor requirements. They need to consider how many hours will be required for both the office and field staff.

The estimator needs to work with both project managers and superintendents to budget the appropriate amount of hours. Any hours missed will have to be absorbed by the contractor who provided the proposal. This applies to materials and equipment as well.

Estimators also need to determine if any subcontractors need to be hired. If so, they need to reach out to them to obtain their pricing. A judgment call needs to be made on which subcontractors price they will include in their proposal.

This can be a tough decision, because they trust that the subcontractor has covered their scope. Some factors that help with the decision making are work history, reputation, or relationship.

Generate the proposal

Once the material and hours have been accounted for, the estimator can finalize the proposal. The last few steps involve deciding on the overhead, profit, and material/subcontractor markup to apply. Then it’s ready to be sent back to the owner to decide on which contractor will complete the job.

After you’ve gotten your proposal out, it is just a matter of waiting to see if you’ve been accepted for the job. Once you’ve been awarded a job you can begin planning for the pre-construction phase.

The pre-construction phase

This is the first step in the project and there’s just as much if not more planning than the active construction phase. This is when the project manager needs to review the project, plans and specifications to determine the scope of work. Once they know the scope, they can begin to visualize how the work will be carried out.

The construction project manager will work closely with the superintendents to gather their input on individual tasks. Asking questions such as what kind of heavy equipment they might need or tools. This way when it comes time to build, there will be nothing left out to delay the project schedule.

New construction vs renovation projects

In the construction industry, there’s typically two types of projects that you will come across. One is new construction and the other is renovation projects. Renovation projects can also be referred to as retrofits, improvements, or modifications.

I bring this up because the way you plan for these types of projects varies. With new construction, you have a little bit more freedom to perform the work. Whereas with renovation jobs, you need to consider the occupants and facility, and how your work impacts their operations.

For a new building I mentioned that there’s more freedom, but you still need to comply with your local laws. You need to consider the working hours because typically construction work is noisy. Also, if you impact any nearby utilities, then there is careful planning required with your local utility companies.

For example, say you need to close a portion of the road to stage a crane. Before you can do this work, you will need to obtain a permit from the state. If not, you risk having your project shut down, then you’ll be in some serious trouble.

new construction
New construction may be less restrictive when you need to carry out your work.

Renovation work is a bit more complex. This is because you need to consider how your work impacts the building, in addition to your local laws.

Let’s take a hospital renovation for example. This type of building would require minimal interruption to continue their operations. Meaning if you have any HVAC or electrical work that requires an outage, it will need to be done during off hours.

renovation construction project
Planning for renovation jobs can be challenging because you need to consider how your work will impact a running building.

This also needs to be planned well in advance, to eliminate any surprises. Since it’s a major coordination effort to even conduct the work, the last thing you want is for something to go wrong. You will have both the general contractor and building owner upset with you if you plan poorly.

Projects with vs without an engineering firm

Depending on the company, you might work on commercial projects that have not been designed by an engineering firm. This means as the contractor you become the engineer and the installer. It might seem a bit daunting, but you have a lot more flexibility on how you can complete the scope of work.

With a standard plan and specs job, you need to use the design as a guideline for how to carry out the work. But if there’s no plans, then you’ll need to use your expertise to perform the installation. Often a project without an engineering firm will not be too complex.

For example, I have a current project where the customer wants us to replace their air handler. They didn’t consult an engineer because the new equipment specs just needed to match the existing. The local vendor was able to find them equipment to meet their existing specs and that was sufficient.

The nice thing about this project is that without an engineer, we have options on where to obtain our power source. If the project had an engineer, we would need to RFI any request to use a separate power supply. This can be a lengthy process with a lot of back-and-forth emails before a decision is made.

With a plan and specs project make sure you carefully review the engineer’s design. Engineers are not perfect, and they will miss things, but best believe they will point the finger at the contractor. If you find any issues with the design, you need to bring it to them immediately by sending an RFI.

The engineer will be required to provide a response to the RFI with instructions on how to proceed with completing the work. You can then plan accordingly based on the response.

Conduct Site Visits

By performing a site visit, you can best visualize how the work will be carried out. This is also a good opportunity to identify any existing conditions that are not shown in the project drawings. If you find something that requires additional work to complete your scope, then you are entitled to a change order.

job site visits
Conduct site visits to visualize the project and identify any potential issues that you may face.

Involve the project superintendents for these jobsite visits as they can provide any insights they have. They can identify any obstacles they may face and try to carry out the work. This is something that the project manager will need to address before construction starts.

Additionally, you might get the opportunity to meet with the client if you visit the construction site. Whether it’s the general contractor or a direct to owner project, it’s good to meet face-to-face. Personally, I feel it makes it easier to speak to them when you’ve developed a relationship.

Submittal planning

Nearly all construction projects will involve some sort of submittal. A submittal is a document that either contains equipment specs, shop drawings, certifications, safety plans, and more.

The planning process that’s required here involves determining what submittals you’ll need to send for approval. Also, you need to find out when you need to send the submittals for review and approval. You’ll work with your vendors and subcontractors, providing them deadlines, so any equipment and material can be ordered on time.

Construction schedule development

Putting together a construction schedule can be challenging because you need to make projections on when the work will commence. So, you’ll need to be familiar with the construction process of how the work will be carried out.

Quick tip: Develop your schedule in a descending fashion so it’s clean and easy to read.

The gantt chart
Develop your construction schedule in a descending fashion so it easy to read and track the tasks.

In the schedule you will identify any major milestones for the project. This can be items such as notice to proceed, construction start date, substantial completion, and contract completion. By setting the project milestones, you give the construction teams clear objectives and an end date to strive for.

The schedule is also critical because the owner and stakeholders will want to know the project timeline. This way they can plan for things like occupying the building, or when an activity might impact building operations.

Along with milestones, it’s good to identify major activities. These are things such as crane lifts, testing fire alarm systems, hazmat abatement, etc.. This allows the project team members to plan accordingly and prepare for these tasks well in advance.

A schedule is also a good way to gauge if your project is on track to meet the deadline. If you find that you’re behind, you need to develop a plan to get caught up. This is typically done by either working longer hours or additional days during the week, sometimes both.

Playing catch up is not ideal but it happens out of necessity. It increases project costs to have construction crews working longer hours. Once a worker goes past 40 hours, they will then need to be paid 1.5x their normal rate.

Companies decide to perform this catch up construction method mainly to avoid liquidated damages. This is a fee that is set by the owner and also listed in the RFP. If the contractor can’t meet the deadline, they pay the owner a set amount each day until the project is finished.

This is typical on commercial construction projects because the owner loses money when they are unable to occupy the building. So contractors will do anything they can to avoid having to pay this fee. The larger the contract value, the greater the fee.

Resource planning

Planning for your necessary resources is also a major part of a construction project. This involves planning for labor, necessary materials, equipment, and if you need to hire any subcontractors.

When it comes to labor, you need to review the scope of the project and determine how many crew members are needed. Review the project schedule and see if your crew is sized to meet the deadline. If not then you’ll need to plan for increasing the crew size.

When it comes to material and equipment, you will work closely with vendors, ordering to your project needs. In addition to ordering the correct material, you will need to time the order.

material procurement
You’ll need to plan for what materials you will need for the project and when you will need them.

If you have some items that are long lead, then it would be best to order right away. This can dictate the schedule and when the work will occur. But, ordering everything at once is not ideal because you’ll need to store anything that arrives before the long lead items.

The pre-construction meeting

Once you’ve finished the items that I listed above for the pre-construction phase, you’re ready for the pre-construction meeting. This meeting is held to discuss how the project will be carried out. After this meeting, everyone should be on the same page for the project.

This is key because you’re discussing your plan for the project with the owner and stakeholders. Once you get their buy-in to your project plan, it can make the job run much smoother. So, make sure this project is completed before construction starts.

Active construction

Pre-task planning

Pre-task planning is done before each major task or when starting a new activity. The goal is to discuss the project scope for the activity and the expectations to complete the work. This way you reduce the chance to perform rework, but you can also implement safety measures to protect the crew.

Project update meetings

This is a meeting that you hold on a regular basis to discuss the status of the project. By holding this meeting you can plan to make changes to the project. Changes such as adjusting the labor crew or if there’s anything impacting their work and slowing them down.

You can make these decisions by looking at the project budget and comparing it to the actual percent complete. If you see that you’re approaching your budget but the construction is 50% complete, there’s an obvious issue here. The project manager will have to work with superintendents to determine what changes should be made.

Planning for client/stakeholder update meetings

Throughout the construction phase, the customer will expect updates. The quickest way is to hold a meeting to discuss how the job is progressing and if there’s any issues encountered. It’s also a good opportunity to cover any assistance you might need from the owner/client.

If they need to perform some coordination on their end then this would be the time to do it. Remember to mention these types of items early on to give them sufficient time to plan on their end.

You need to carefully plan what you will want to mention in these meetings. Last thing you want is to set expectations that can’t be met.

These meetings are also good for discussing close out of the project. This can allow the owner to prepare for occupying the building. Sometimes, they may have independent contractors that need to complete some work for the building’s operations.

Keep these in mind as you continue through the job and approach the project closeout.

The post construction phase

Once you’ve reached this part of the project, the planning is not complete. Now you have to think about what you’ll need to close out the project. Typically, there’s a list of important documents that you need to provide to the owner for their records.

Additionally, you need to figure out what kind of cleaning will need to be done to turnover the facility. If you’re performing an interior renovation job, you want that place looking spotless when the owner takes over. It’s all based on your project needs, so plan accordingly here.

job site cleaning
Plan for cleaning the jobsite before turning it over to the customer.


This is something that will also require some thought because you need to work with the owner on when the warranty period starts. While it’s simple to determine, both parties have to come to an agreement on this. For the contractor, pushing out the warranty start date does not work in their favor.

If the project is phased, then you need to consider starting the warranty period with the phasing. This needs to be planned in advance and accepted by the owner.

If you have subcontractors working under you, consider their warranty terms and work with them on the start dates. Their warranty period should begin on the substantial completion date along with your warranty.

Key takeaway

As you can see, planning needs to be completed during every phase of construction. While some phases require more planning than others, it’s important to plan consistently.

Understand what type of planning you’ll need to perform during each phase. Know that there are three major phases, pre-construction, active construction, and post construction. Each phase consists of different types of planning to carry out the work.

By consistently planning you can ensure project success. Hold meetings instead of sending emails when you have issues, you get things done much more effectively this way. These meetings can be used to plan and brainstorm solutions to issues.

Remember, planning is critical to any construction project.

Thank you for reading.

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