How To Plan A Construction Project: Your Step-By-Step Project Plan
The principles of planning any construction project are the same, regardless of whether it’s a large or small project. If you’re undertaking a project – maybe you’re planning a self-build, an extension, or commercial premises – there are certain steps to follow to meet your goals on time in full.
So many construction projects fail due to inadequate planning, which leads to scope creep, productivity delays, poor communication, and overspending.
It’s not enough to simply plan. You need to plan properly and follow a set of tried and tested steps in the correct sequence.
The Five Phases Of Construction Planning
Broadly speaking, there are five phases of construction planning. Understanding these will help you know what to expect at each stage to deliver a successful outcome.
- Initiation: Project conception and determining the budget, stakeholders, and resources required.
- Planning: Defining the work activities and creating a schedule with specific and measurable goals.
- Execution: Assigning contractor teams tasks and implementing the project plan.
- Monitor: Tracking progress and performance.
- Control: Wrapping up the project and evaluating the performance.
Right now, you’re likely at the initiation or planning stage. If you’re further along, and if the execution phase is already underway, it’s a good idea to halt any further site activity until you’ve got a robust plan of action together.
Your Construction Management Plan
Now that you’ve got a general idea of the main phases, it’s time to break down the steps you need to take to bring your conception to life.
1. Define The Project Scope
First, you need to understand what your project is, that is, the project’s purpose, goals, and what you aim to achieve. In short, what’s your vision?
At this stage, you should be able to specify the outcomes, such as the building’s size and boundaries, including any exclusion zones.
After defining what the project is, it’s also worthwhile detailing what the project isn’t. You should have a firm idea about exclusions, such as:
- Site preparation
- Decoration and furnishing
You should enlist the services of an accredited architect to create your initial design concepts, sketches, and technical plans and drawings.
2. Define Your Project’s Budget
Once you’ve decided where to carry out the construction (for instance, you may have had an offer accepted on some land), it’s time to work out your budget to see if it’s financially viable.
The main costs associated with your project are:
- Architect services
- Equipment and tools
- Land acquisition
- Loans and financing
- Construction project management
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3. Get Planning Permission
Okay, so now the ball is rolling, you should seek planning permission for your build.
There are two main types of planning application: full planning permission and outline planning permission.
Outline planning permission is far less detailed than full planning permission. You are essentially asking the local planning authority to agree to the principle of development – with specifics called “reserved matters” to be addressed later.
Whichever type of permission you require, it’s important to get it before proceeding to the next stage. If you’ve had an offer accepted on some land or a property but the planning application is unsuccessful, and if contracts haven’t been exchanged, you can legally pull out of the process, sparing yourself huge expenses.
It usually takes around eight weeks to get planning permission, so you’ll want to submit your application early to avoid delaying completion.
4. Create A Project Schedule
Once you’ve got visibility of your costs, you’ll then want to pull together a construction schedule. Some people swear by construction planning software, and that’s something you’ll want to take a look at if you’re in the habit of planning multiple construction projects.
For someone planning an individual project, a Gantt chart more than suffices. In fact, construction management software always includes one of these as a main feature.
If you’re new to this, a Gantt chart is essentially a visual snapshot of all the tasks that need to be completed by a certain time.
When mapping out your construction activities, you should avoid listing individual tasks and instead think of the Gantt chart as a snapshot of smaller projects.
So instead of listing things like “connect waste pipes”, “plumb in toilet”, and “install bath and shower cubicle”, just write “complete second fix plumbing” which encompasses all the aforementioned.
Keep it simple. Nobody likes a micromanager.
5. Complete A Risk Assessment
While most people immediately think about health and safety when it comes to risk assessments, there are other risks you need to consider that could disrupt your project.
- Weather conditions such as wind, rain, and heavy snow.
- Supply chain disruptions and shortages can drive prices up of raw materials.
- Contractual disputes with subcontractors and disagreements with stakeholders.
- Natural disasters, mainly flooding and storms in the UK.
- Financial issues such as cash flow bottlenecks and funding shortages.
There are also other specific risks to your project that you need to be aware of. For instance, environmental protestors blocking a proposed warehouse; or your project may involve bridge or viaduct repair, meaning work has to be carried out during off-peak hours to minimise traffic disruption.
And believe it or not, if a bird’s nest is found on-site, in accordance with the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, any works with the potential to damage the nest, egg, or young birds must stop until the young have fledged.
The sample also applies to other protected species, such as bats, otters, adders, and red squirrels.
A full risk assessment should include details of the technical, managerial, environmental, social, and commercial risks.
6. Assign A Project Manager And Assemble Your Team
Getting the right people in the right place at the right time is key to executing your project. Work out who will be accountable for what, and come up with a plan of action to communicate regularly with your project team.
7. Execute The Construction Phase Plan
The goal of the construction project manager is to manage the relationship between the project budget and schedule. That’s easier said than done, of course, but stray from the schedule and you’ll likely wind up throwing money at your problems to make up for lost time.
Delivering a project on time is one thing, but quality control is another. The internet is saturated with new-build horror stories with shoddy brickwork, rising damp, leaks, and countless snags.
Cutting corners will only cause you more problems in the long run.
8. Measure Project Progress And Rework The Plan
Sometimes there are some hidden nasties you can’t foresee during the planning process. One example is the regulatory change that came into effect in June 2022 that requires all new-build homes and commercial buildings in England to be installed with electric vehicle charging points.
For those building an entire estate of new-build homes now, the average cost per installation is between £500 to £1,000.
Other things to be mindful of are:
- Hidden structural issues
- Changes in client requirements
- Safety concerns
How To Make A Construction Plan – Bottom Line
From conceptualisation to execution, a well-structured project management plan guides every aspect of your construction project, ensuring efficient resource allocation, realistic timelines, and smooth coordination among your stakeholders.
If you or your construction manager follow the steps in this guide, you’ll have all your main bases covered before, during, and after your project.
Construction Project Plan FAQs
What is the most common problem in construction projects?
Cost overrun is the top construction industry problem, that is, when a project exceeds its pre-planned budget. A McKinsey study estimates that 98% of big construction projects incur cost overruns of more than 30%.
So, if you’re planning a big project, factor that 30% in on top of your initial budget to see if it’s still viable.
How can I avoid scope creep in my construction project?
The best way to avoid scope creep is to set clear and measurable project objectives that are defined at the outset. If there’s any risk of scope creep, you should clearly communicate this with all stakeholders and discuss contingencies.
Some flexibility is important for minor changes to the plan, but you should know when to say no. Otherwise, the scope of the project will continue to grow arms and legs.
What is the design-bid-build method?
The design-bid-build method involves the completion of three distinct phases in sequence. In essence, the construction process doesn’t start until the design and bid phases are complete, so there’s no overlap between design and construction.
This gives the owner greater control over the design quality and scope. They can review and approve the design before the project is put out for tender (or bidding). There are typically fewer change orders, and there’s much greater cost certainty from the outset.
As for the design-build method (a more traditional method of delivery), the design and construction services are awarded to a single entity that oversees the entire scope of the project. The benefit of this is a shortening of the delivery schedule due to overlapping the design and construction phases.