What is Pre-Construction? A Comprehensive Overview

by Alexander Fraser

When we think about construction, it’s easy to imagine people in the field pouring concrete to create a foundation. Did you ever stop to think about what steps the contractor had to take before they could even pour? 

This industry considers the phase before any physical work on-site as pre-construction. 

So, you might be wondering, what is pre-construction?

Well, for the example that I gave above, before they perform the work, they would have to complete tasks such as:

  1. Obtain any necessary permits.
  2. Get approval on the rebar and concrete they will use. 
  3. Find the necessary material and labor to perform the work. 
  4. Schedule the work with the project owner. 
  5. Hold a pre-construction meeting before on-site work begins. 

Note that this does not fully encompass the pre-construction requirements, but I want to give you an idea for now. 

In this article, we will dive deeper into the different activities of the pre-construction phase so you can successfully prepare for a project!

What is Pre-Construction? 

Let’s look at a definition, shall we? 

Pre-construction is the phase of construction that involves preparatory work before the actual construction begins. The phase involves planning, cost estimation, scheduling, procurement, and more to ensure a successful construction project. Without proper planning, you can expect many surprises throughout the job.  

During this phase, you’ll set the foundation for the entire project, and it can also offer many benefits. 

One, it can lower construction costs because effective communication and proper planning help avoid costly mistakes. 

Two, it allows early involvement of the construction company, leading to better coordination and understanding of the project. 

Three, it ensures that obtaining the building permit and other related activities are taken care of before the start of construction.

But to understand how pre-construction can benefit us, we need to learn about the different activities associated with the phase. 

The primary activities consist of the following: 

  1. Planning and Scheduling
  2. Budgeting and Cost Control
  3. Procurement and Contract Management
  4. Risk Management
  5. Quality Control and Assurance
  6. Communication and Coordination 
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The first step is planning and scheduling. 

Planning and Scheduling

Your first order of business is detailed planning and scheduling. 

Here, you will work with the project team to get a solid understanding of the scope of work. Once you nail down the scope, you can outline the activities you’ll be required to complete before the construction phase. 

One primary responsibility of the project manager is to create a construction schedule. It gives the project team a good idea of when they can expect to perform the work. 

In the project schedule, you’ll need to identify critical milestones, display any long lead items, and, most importantly, the start of construction. 

It’s important to note that the first preliminary schedule you come out with will not be even close to perfect. Delays happen that are out of your control, and people understand that. It is essential to show these updates on your schedule and release them to your team. 

You’ll use the schedule as a compass throughout the project, helping you track the job’s progress.

The planning phase is also the time for you to validate the design. 

I get it; we’re the contractor; why are we checking if the design is correct? Well, you will be installing that system; if it doesn’t work, you are just as responsible. 

It’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s the truth. 

I spend a lot of time during pre-construction finding errors from the design phase and sending RFIs to correct them.

Make sure you thoroughly review the construction drawings and specifications! 

When the engineer agrees they are at fault, I send a change order because additional work is typically required.

That creates another headache because the construction manager (if employed by the owner) will nickel and dime your change order for a lower price. 

Getting a change order approved can be like pulling teeth sometimes, but we’re not in this business to work for free. 

It’s best to catch these issues during pre-construction. If not, and you find it when you’re performing the work, there’s a good chance that the project is getting delayed. 

Delays are the last thing both you, as the contractor and the owner, want. You can’t get paid for the work; the owner must wait for the finished product. 

Once you iron out all the design issues, you can now plan for the on-site work to begin. 

Confirm that there are no issues with your work sequencing in your construction schedule. You can do this by checking with your subcontractors and superintendents. 

Be careful not to jump the gun on particular tasks; it can be easy to become anxious when the chance for construction begins. To clarify, you must ensure you have everything in check before you step foot on the construction site. 

I’ll give you a specific example of what I mean. The event covered happened recently from the time of publishing this article. 

My Mistake During Planning

The general contractor had us on the schedule to complete some demolition work of an existing AC system, but hazmat abatement must be completed before the demolition. Not to mention, the project got delayed because they couldn’t get the abatement contractor on-site. 

We had guys available to complete the work, and now we had to reallocate our labor. We decided to see what could be done instead of relocating the crew. 

The specs for this job included a hazmat report, so I knew what was “hot” and we could not touch it. I forgot this involved the paint on the ductwork, so that was off-limits to us right away. 

Side note, we will sometimes consider hazardous material as “hot”.

What needed to be clarified was the insulation on the chilled water piping that we needed to remove. The insulation was wrapped and painted with what could’ve been the same paint used on the ductwork. 

Because there were no test results for the insulation, the safe thing to do is assume that it’s hazardous. Yet another item that becomes off-limits for our crew. 

We could’ve taken the risk and tried to conduct the demo under the radar, but we could be in trouble if it came up later. So, I decided to call off the work and requested a meeting with the abatement contractor to determine each other’s scope. 

In my opinion, it’s best to be safe than sorry later on in the project. While we wasted some time prepping, the trouble for performing the unsafe act would’ve been much worse.

Budgeting and Cost Control

On to the financial side of the project! 

To start, you should establish your initial budget before doing any work. This is because you want to allocate the costs in the project and set up any cost codes to use as well. 

After all, the team must bill their time to the job. Using cost codes is an effective method of tracking project costs. 

Managing the project’s financials is a significant part of your role as a project manager. Developing a project budget involves creating detailed cost estimates, including labor, equipment, building materials, and other expenses. 

To prevent costs from spiraling out of control, you must monitor and manage them closely. This involves identifying cost risks and developing strategies to mitigate them, ensuring that the project stays within the set budget. 

Regularly reviewing and updating the budget is crucial in maintaining financial control and ensuring the project remains viable.

Procurement and Contract Management

You’ll identify the resources needed during the pre-construction phase and start the procurement process. This involves selecting vendors, negotiating contracts, and managing procurement. 

When I talk about procurement, I mean obtaining the materials and equipment required for the project. You’ll need to go through the submittal process and get these items approved by the engineer before purchasing anything. 

Typically, the estimator selects who the vendor and subcontractor will be for the project. During the bidding process, they get pricing from multiple vendors and subcontractors. They must select based on the best price and who can meet the project specifications. 

You’ll be responsible for engaging with the vendors and subcontractors, issuing subcontracts and purchase orders as needed to prepare for the job. 

Compatibility between the general contractor and subcontractors is crucial. Ensuring a good fit during the bidding process can save significant time and costs during construction.

Part of this process is contract risk management. By identifying and managing contract risks early on, you can prevent potential legal complications that could delay the project or increase costs.

Risk Management

Risk management is a critical part of pre-construction. This involves identifying and assessing potential issues and developing strategies to mitigate them. 

These risks could range from safety concerns on the job site to potential budget overruns or delays. Addressing these potential problems early in the job can prevent costly and time-consuming issues later on.

It is best to catch the risks during the pre-construction so you can address the issues without stopping the project. 

Quality Control and Assurance

Quality control and assurance are integral to the pre-construction phase. Regarding federal projects, these jobs have detailed requirements on construction quality control (QC). 

You must submit a QC plan to the construction manager for approval. Additionally, you’ll need to figure out who will be your project’s quality control manager. 

While this is an extreme example, most projects should have a basic level of QC planning done before construction. The most fundamental quality control method is to have a running punch list. It lets everyone know you’re monitoring the work and correcting issues as needed.  

Regular quality checks, monitoring of construction methods, and careful selection of building materials can help avoid rework, save time and costs, and ensure the final product meets the construction documents’ requirements.

Communication and Coordination

The pre-construction phase sets the stage for clear, effective communication and coordination among the project owner, general contractor, design team, and other stakeholders. Should concerns with the design or specifications arise during this phase, you can expect to hold meetings to explain the issues. 

I find that it is easiest to have a meeting to settle issues that arise rather than sending emails. What could take weeks to resolve over email could be done in an hour or two just by meeting and discussing the issue and finding a solution together. 

Communication is vital in ensuring everyone is aligned and working towards the same goal. It helps prevent misunderstandings, ensures problems are quickly addressed, and allows for a cooperative environment contributing to the project’s success.

Effective communication is the basis of a successful project. You should establish how you will communicate with your team during pre-construction for the job moving forward. 

What Comes Next?

With the pre-construction phase behind you, it’s time to navigate the construction phase, where your project will start to take shape physically. Post-construction follows, where you’ll finalize contracts, conduct final inspections, and resolve any lingering issues.

This journey is intensive, but it can be rewarding with thorough preparation and a comprehensive understanding of each phase. Each stage offers unique challenges and opportunities for learning and growth. 

Remember, your success hinges on the construction phase and your ability to effectively navigate and manage the pre- and post-construction phases.

Before you go, consider checking out my article on the five phases of a construction project. There you will learn about the life cycle of a construction project and how everything ties together. 

Thank you for reading. 

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