The 5 phases of construction projects: A Roadmap from Idea to Completion

Discover the 5 key phases of construction projects, from idea to completion. Learn how to navigate each step for smooth, successful project delivery. Dive in to master the process!

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You've just partnered with a client to build their new office building. You have a list of their needs, a promise of funding, and if you are new to the industry, a whole lot of confusion about what comes next. But don’t worry, understanding the construction project life cycle can help you organize the complicated construction process and keep everything flowing smoothly. 

Five phases make up the project life cycle of a construction project and serve as a relatively standardized chronological step-by-step breakdown of the construction process. These 5 phases are Pre-design (Project initiation), Design (Pre-construction), Procurement, Construction and monitoring, and Post-construction (closeout). Nearly every construction company in the world uses some variation of the lifecycle and it has a track record of success.

Some in the industry claim there are 6 phases, some say 3, others 5. Then there is the terminology. Many use terms like “construction project life cycle phases”, “stages in a construction project”, and “project steps” somewhat interchangeably. For our purposes, we’ll stick with the term “phase” since that best fits the larger scope of tasks needed, and the number 5 as outlined by the Construction Management Association of America. Now, let's look at the phases while we walk through the construction of that office building.

Construction Project Phase 1: Pre-design (Project initiation)

First, identify the needs of the project. 

Why do they need to build a new office building?  

Are they expanding to a new city? 

Is their old building unusable? 

Is it a logistical issue of employee workspace? 

Discuss with clients and make a detailed list - you’ll need it. Now define the project. Use that list of needs to write up a general estimation of the size, location, and functionality of the building. So, for our purposes, let's say we need a five-story office building in a downtown area that can house 120 offices. A feasibility study comes next. This is where you look at the budget they have to spend on the project, the timeline they're suggesting, and consider regulatory constraints. 

Now assemble a team of project owners, architects, engineers, and potential contractors and present them with your project definition and feasibility study. Get their input and use it. Often, they will spot things that you missed. Depending on the scope and size of a project, it's often a good idea to create a project charter. This is a formal document that outlines project goals, budget, timeline, and other relevant factors.

Construction Project Phase 2: Design (Pre-construction)

Start this phase with conceptual designers developing rough sketches and basic layouts of the building's space. Conceptual designs serve as an important connection between vague ideas and actionable blueprints. So, for our office building a conceptual design might be a sketch of a lobby featuring an open-air atrium and lots of ferns.

Architects step in and create detailed schematics of the proposed office building. They lay out floor plans, put exact measurements on room sizes, and include the location of any other building features like plumbing, windows, and utilities.

An example of a schematic would be a blueprint of the atrium with exact dimensions, window sizes, and locations of entrances and exits. Now the design team prepares documents and organizes them for use during the construction phase. In addition to schematics, these documents include things like material takeoffs and estimates of labor costs. So, for our office building project, documents include complete blueprints for all five floors as well as outer structures, along with estimated amounts for materials and labor hours needed for the project.

Finally, we need permits and approvals. If our office building is going into a historical district or one that has a lot of local and state government requirements, this can be a long and drawn-out process. But, if you are building in a more development-friendly area this process is relatively easy. 

Construction Project Phase 3: Procurement

First, get your materials – this is where you pray that your materials take-off was accurate. Securing necessary building materials like steel, wood, concrete, fixtures, plumbing, and so on can be a tricky process for a larger project like an office building. If prices have changed since the material takeoff, you might find yourself over budget.

Next, you need to either buy or rent all of the equipment needed for the project – this includes everything from bulldozers to wheelbarrows. Often, subcontractors will provide their own equipment, but not always. Finally, line up specialty subcontractors for the electrical system, plumbing, and so on. With the ongoing labor shortage, you also have to consider how available these subcontractors will be. 

Construction Project Phase 4: Construction and Monitoring

We’ve made it to the execution phase of the construction project. Start by preparing the site. This involves clearing the land of major obstacles to laying the building's foundations and setting up utilities and other essential infrastructure for the construction process. A site preparation checklist is helpful here. Next comes the construction itself – everything from laying the foundation to interior finishes.

Throughout this process, you need to adhere to strict quality control and inspections to ensure the project sticks to the schematics and stays on budget. This phase also entails progress monitoring through daily reports and safety monitoring to protect workers and the public.

Construction Project Phase 5: Post-construction (Closeout)

There are still a few more important steps before finishing the project. The post-construction phase is the part of the build where you verify quality on all fronts. Your office building will undergo intense inspections and testing to ensure systems function correctly.

Record any problems encountered on the punch list and deal with them before closing out on the project. This is also the phase where you would secure warranties from contractors and suppliers for the material and workmanship. Finally, hand the project over to the client and workers can start to move in.

The five phases of construction provide an excellent framework for mapping out a project. That said, it's important to remember that not all projects are the same. For some projects, the first three phases take a few weeks and the construction phase takes years. For others, mapping out schematics could take a very long time while the construction itself is quick. Multiple other variables impact how much time and effort go into each phase.  Whatever the project, tools like Outbuild can help you navigate the five phases to get you started on your project with confidence.

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Lee Evans
Michael Boling
Content Writer
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