Construction Management – the ultimate guide
Construction management (CM) is a long and extremely demanding process. It’s the foundation for every building project and the key to its success. The main purpose of construction management is to sharply control and monitor the progress of a project in terms of quality, cost and time. It covers a wide spectrum of responsibilities and it spreads to many different fields (construction, engineering, law, software etc).[clickToTweet tweet=”Construction management is the foundation for every project and the key to its success 🏗️” quote=”Construction management is the foundation for every project and the key to its success 🏗️”]
For that reason, the role of a construction manager is considered to be fundamental. To ensure a project’s progress, a competent project manager with a plethora of competences and skills is required. Building projects are in constant need for last minute changes and in that aspect a strong team leader who can maintain stability and facilitate the coordination between the team members is a must.
Without further ado, let’s have a close look at the core processes and principles of construction management. It’s going to be a long but very informative journey!
What construction management (CM) stands for
According to CMAA, construction management is ‘a service that implements specialized, project management methods to manage the design, construction and the planning of a project, from its start to its end’.
The project management process in construction can be extremely perplexed but its main core is always the same. The coordination, planning and completion of a project regardless of its type (e.g. commercial, residential, industrial, agricultural, heavy civil).
Solid construction management requires good real-time communication between the various project stakeholders. What makes construction management so challenging is the need for thorough knowledge on a vast number of areas such as budgeting, business, law and mediation. In the end of the day, though, the only thing that matters is the delivery of a successful construction project to the client.
Construction manager: Duties and responsibilities
In simple words, construction managers are the ones who are responsible for the project to proceed according to the existing plan. The primary mission for construction managers is to manage their project in a way that will ensure its completion on the agreed budget and time. Furthermore, they should make sure that the whole project is complying with the set building plans, codes and other regulations.
As CMAA reports, a construction manager has up to 120 different responsibilities during the execution of a building project. These 120 responsibilities can be divided to the following categories:
- Set the budget and run cost assessments.
- Plan the work timescedule.
- Select the right construction methods and strategies for their project.
- Maintain a close and good relationship with the clients.
- Negotiating contract agreements with workers and other project agents.
- Take good care of the workers on site.
- Work together with the numerous consultants of the project.
The role of a general contractor
The completion of the design stage signifies that the construction manager is now ready to search for the contractor who will handle the project. As Matt Plaskoff, Founder and CEO of One Week Bath, explains that the typical responsibilities of a general contractor are to coordinate more than three trades on a project.
In an effort to provide some more details, Matt Plaskoff highlights that a general contractors’ responsibilities cover four vital areas:
- Overall liability for the project
- Coordination of the trades
- Allocation of the resources
- Problem-solving expertise when issues emerge
There are two types of general contractors. On the one hand, it’s those who will execute based on the vision of the architect and the designer. On the other hand, there are design build contractors who are responsible both for the execution and the creation of the project’s design.
It is apparent, then, that general contractors are playing a fundamental role during the building process and that their role varies depending on their involvement during the design stage of the project.
Construction management 101: The key functions
Every construction project has certain objectives that need to be met. It goes without saying that in many cases these objectives may overlap. In such cases, the role of a construction manager is fundamental. S/he is the one who will have to provide clarity in regards to the given objectives and prevent costly disputes that could hinder the smooth progress of the project.
With this in mind, we could summarize the key construction management functions to the following four:
- Clearly setting the objectives and the scope of the project. Planning also a massive number of different parameters such as scheduling, establishing performance standards, budgeting, and choosing the participants of the project.
- Improving resource allocation by ameliorating the procurement process and the equipment management.
- Executing numerous operation as a result of the effective coordination and monitoring of the entire process (eg. design, contracting, planning etc).
- Building strong communication channels in order to either avoid or resolve project conflicts.
Winning a construction project
The bidding process can be in many times long and challenging. A parameter that can affect the perplexity of the bidding process is, of course, the total number of contractors who are bidding for the job.
A bidding process starts when the project owner shares information regarding the project with contractors and subcontractors in an attempt to plead for bids. First things first, a cost estimation is built based on the available material take-offs and blueprints. Like that, a client can have an overview of the budget that it will be required for the general contractor to execute the project successfully.
There are two main types of bids that contractors can anticipate:
- Open bid: Open bids normally attract a lot of attention and they are very common when it comes to public construction projects. In open bid projects, every contractor has the opportunity to place an offer.
- Closed bid: Close bids are normally preferred in private projects. In this case, the client (project owner) can invite a particular group of contractors to place their offer.
As soon as project owners receive all bids, there are certain selection methods that they can follow in order to decide who will eventually get the project. The same selection methods apply both to open and closed bids:
- Low-bid selection: Price is the most decisive parameter in the first bid selection technique. The contractor who places the lowest bid is the winner of the process.
- Best value selection: This is a more inclusive selection method as the client is taking two distinct elements in consideration: the price of the bid and the qualifications of the contractor. In other words, it’s a value for money selection approach.
- Qualifications-based selection: Similarly to the first method, in this case there is again only one decisive factor. But this time instead of money this time is qualifications that matter the most. Except for their bid price, contractors should submit a report that documents their experience, their workflow and the management plans that will allow them to keep the project within the set schedule and budget.
The final stage of the bidding process is the selection of the contractor who will execute the project. As soon as the contractor is chosen, the two sides (client and contractor) should find the payment model that fits better to their project. There are four distinct models they can choose from:
- Lump sum: This is the number one choice in most of construction projects. The client agrees with the contractor on a set price which the first should pay regardless of the project’s outcome.
- Unit price: When the two parties can’t agree on a specific price, a unit price is decided for every phase of the project.
- Cost plus fee: That’s the most beneficial agreement for contractors. Simply put, in this case the client is the one who should cover any additional costs during the building process.
- Guaranteed maximum price: There is a standard price decided by the contractor and the project owner which cannot be surpassed.
Construction management phases
Now that the bidding process has reached to its end, the construction project should officially begin. The management of a building project is quite different than the management of another type of project. Nevertheless, there are some core project management principles which remain the same.
A construction project typically consists of five basic phases:
Prior to the beginning of a building project, a construction manager should compile a business case that examines the feasibility of the project. A feasibility report is necessary in many projects. After its submission, the different project sides can determine whether it’s a good idea to proceed with their plan. If everybody agrees that they should go on with the project, the construction manager puts together a PID (Project Initiation Document) which covers the scope of the business as well as business needs.
This is where all the core guidelines are established. The manager of the project is building a PMP (Project Management Plan) which includes information about several crucial aspects of the project, such as an execution roadmap and cost estimations. What is challenging when it comes to planning is that it’s a long process that is never over. There will always be project alterations until the project is completed.
Planning is also a heavy phase in terms of documentation. More specifically, there is a need for four different types of documents in the course of the planning stage:
- Communication plan: A strong and very thorough communication scheme should be built. The document should cover the different aspects of communication in order to establish a smooth information flow during the execution of the project.
- Scope document: It is regarded as one of the most basic documents for every construction project. It includes and comprehensively analyses the purpose, the advantages, the needs and the key elements of the project.
- WBS (work breakdown structure): This is a document that represents the scope of the whole project in a straightforward and understandable manner.
- Risk management plan: A risk management plan document entails all the potential threats for the project. It is a powerful document which can help project managers to plan in advance and handle the project resources in a way that doesn’t put the whole elaborated plan in danger.
This is where the execution of the construction project actually begins. This stage of the process typically consists of two distinct processes: a) the project execution and b) the project controlling and monitoring.
During this phase, the project team continuously ensures that all the tasks progress as they should. Meetings are held on a regular basis in an effort to cover every aspect of the construction process.
Construction managers dedicate most of their time on supervising the project and adjusting its schedule according to the latest changes and/or issues that have emerged. In that way, a manager can maintain project control.
Last but not least, the closing phase of the project. This stage represents the completion and the delivery of the project. At this point, the construction manager examines whether the project has met its initial objectives and whether the initial budget estimations were successful. In the end, s/he compiles a report which presents the final outcome of the project and which can be a valuable source of knowledge for future building projects.
How digital tools can empower construction management
By now, it’s evident that construction management can be remarkably perplexed. The bright side is that digital tools have simplified the construction process a lot during the last years. And that’s only the beginning. As technology progresses, digital tools are expanding their presence in the industry.
In a nutshell, here are the main ways in which digital tools can optimize the construction management process:
- Real-time communication
Being able to communicate the latest information about your construction project in real-time is considered to be fundamental. Live construction management can help both the construction manager and the project team to remain well-informed about the latest issues and changes in the project. Thanks to this, they will be able to tackle any costly project delays and prevent harmful mistakes before they happen.
Furthermore, real-time communication can decrease the administrative burden. For instance, by the use of a reliable real-time project management tool a construction manager would be able to create automatically generated progress reports instead of spending countless hours every day in order to create them manually.
What is more, digital tools can accelerate the material ordering process keep everybody in the team updated about the current needs on site. Lastly, the project plan can be hosted in the cloud where the different project agents and stakeholders can have access whenever they need to.
GenieBelt app is an excellent example of how digital tools could empower communication in construction:
- Connecting site and office
One of the biggest dangers during a construction project is poor coordination between the people who work on site and those who work in the office. By implementing trustworthy digital tools, a project manager can maintain better control of everything that takes place on site.
At the same time, the workers can easily report back to the office any problems that they may have encountered. In that manner, a stronger bond between the two project sides is created, productivity is boosted and project delays are easily avoided.
For all the above to happen, though, a construction manager needs first to search the market carefully and find the right reporting tool which can enable the connection between the office and the site.
Here are some of the most indispensable features that a project manager in construction needs to look for when it comes to mobile field reporting:
- Simple to use: It has to be an easy to use app, so every member of the project can use it fast and without any problems. Moreover, the simpler it is the more possible for the workers to use it.
- Real-time updates: We already mentioned this above, but it is really vital. Both project stakeholders and the personnel on site should be able to receive instant notifications when there is a change on the project schedule. Like that, everybody can stay on the same page and remain productive.
- Daily progress reports: Being able to create daily reports about the progress of the project is another element that should always be part of your mobile field reporting tool.
- Photo reporting: Pictures can speak volumes and in that sense, being able to take photos on site and add them automatically on your progress report is powerful. Construction apps, such as GenieBelt provide construction managers with the opportunity to take and upload photos on their projects:
- Providing live overview of the project
We noticed earlier that construction projects can be really messy. Especially when we are referring to large-scale building projects, construction managers can easily lose track and put the development of a project in danger.
A top-performing reporting software can tackle this problem and help project stakeholders to regain control. That being said, live project overviews and functional Gantt Charts are regarded as crucial parts of the building process.
Such tools can help the project manager to monitor their projects and constantly remain informed about their status. This will allow them to receive alerts about any problematic situations and will offer them valuable project insight.
Here is how a Gantt Chart looks like in GenieBelt app:
- Project insight
Data is the last, but extremely important, element on our list. The biggest gift of digitisation for construction is project intelligence. Thanks to the use of construction software, project managers can be effortlessly preserve critical project information based on which they can decide the next steps for their team.
On top of that, they can generate and collect valuable project intelligence which can be very useful for future projects. Predictive analytics could be a great example. To be more specific, just by analysing the gathered data for the weather conditions of a particular are, a project manager can adjust the project tasks accordingly. Like that, you can feel confident that no poor bricklaying tasks will take place under ice-cold temperatures for instance.
Below you can see how a weather report looks like in GenieBelt:
Construction progress documentation
Many different tasks are executed on site on a daily basis. That being said, it’s really important that everything is well-documented and that any points of concern are reported. It comes as no surprise, then, that a normal day on site requires the update of numerous documents.
In short, these are the construction progress documents that are updated daily:
- Diaries: Keeping a project diary is regarded as a ‘must do’ for every project agent. Summaries of everything that happens on site are included in project diaries. Many times, they are used as the basis for the resolution of project disputes. It is worth-mentioning that handwritten diaries can be accepted in court as evidence.
- Logs: There are different types of logs. All of them are used in order to monitor the progress of routine activities on site. Some examples of construction logs are the following:
1. Phone logs
2. Delivery logs
3. Transmittal logs
4. Request for Information logs (RFI)
- Daily field reports: Daily progress reports is regarded as a more official project document. It describes everything about the day’s tasks, weather, delivered materials or equipment, and site visitors that day.
- Other documents: There also a few more documents that should be filled on site every day. A nice example could the labor planning documentation (PERT CPM).
Excessive paperwork is one of the most critical problems of almost every project in construction. Thankfully, with the advent of digital technologies things are beginning to change. The automatic generation of daily field reports and the ability to keep detailed track of your daily task activities on your mobile have accelerated decisively the documentation process in construction.
This is an example of a daily progress report in GenieBelt:
The larger a construction project is, the higher probability for a legal conflict to arise. A construction manager should always be ready to provide project stakeholders with solutions to project disputes that may emerge.
In a nutshell, here are the three main ways in which a conflict in construction can be resolved:
- Mediation: The appointment of a mediator can be the way to go many times in construction. A mediators is a neutral party who helps the two conflicting parties to find some common ground and reach to a mutually beneficial agreement. This is a soft type of dispute resolution, as no attorneys are involved.
- Minitrial: A minitrial is more demanding than a mediation both in terms of money and time. An attorney or an independent advisor is involved. The resolution of the dispute can come after an agreement between the two parties in dispute or the advice that the third independent party will provide. Minitrial agreements are non-legally binding and can be cancelled.
- Arbitration: Arbitration is the most pricey method of conflict resolution and it can take a significant amount of time. Both parties have an attorney and the right to call witnesses. All the evidence have to be presented during the hearing. In the end, the arbitrator will announce the final verdict. The decision is binding for the two disputing sides.
Unfortunately, disputes will always be part of the picture in construction. However, the collection and smart use of project data can prevent many unpleasant disputes and ensure that the conflicting parties will eventually reach to an objective and fair decision.
35 questions all construction managers should ask
Being a construction manager is probably one of the toughest jobs in the market. There are countless details that should be taken into consideration for a project to run smoothly. That’s why there are certain questions that project managers in construction need to ask in order to keep their project under control.
In short, these are 35 questions that every construction manager should be ready to ask:
a) About the scope of the project
- Does the project brief identify the scope of the project, and provide all the necessary information in regards to the required project documents (e.g. bid documents, master plan, job cost reports?
- Has the project brief been reviewed and updated in close collaboration with all the different project agents?
- Is there a complete and detailed list of the numerous project works? Have the distinct tasks been assigned to the project stakeholders in a clear and understandable way?
- Have you established an effective collect requirements process (e.g. timeframes, budget etc.)?
- Are project limitations and constraints successfully identified and analysed?
- Has a detailed and comprehensible standards and quality report been built?
- Is there an effective project risk management strategy in place?
b) About the procurement process
- What payment model (e.g. lump sum, guaranteed maximum price, cost-plus-fee, unit price) was chosen?
- Is the consultant selection process (e.g. engineering consultants) completed?
- Are all client-consultant agreements properly executed?
- Are all payments to consultants being carefully managed?
- Have you received all the necessary material and service requirements by the client and the project stakeholders? Are those requirements included in the project schedule?
- Are all project reports (e.g. feasibility report) and drawings (e.g. sketch drawings) finished, checked and approved?
- Is the project contract documentation reviewed and signed?
- Are site visit requirements set by consultants successfully met?
- Are contractors properly informed about those requirements?
c) About the cost of the project
- Is a TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) ran and managed?
- Have any cost concerns been addressed timely?
- Have project stakeholders been informed about these cost issues?
- Are contract payment orders executed on time?
- Is there a functional alternative plan to protect the budget of the project in case that cost pressure emerges?
d) About the time-schedule
- Is the project program established and analysed in detail by the project team?
- Is the progress of the project closely monitored and are any delays reported on time?
- Is there a functional alternative plan to keep the project rolling in case that task delays emerge?
e) About the communication process
- Do all team members have a good understanding of their role and duties during the project?
- Is real-time communication with the other project stakeholders possible?
- Are progress meetings hold on a periodic basis? Are the meeting minutes accessible to the whole team?
- Is there a well-established and coherent hierarchy through the whole construction process?
- Are progress reports generated and distributed regularly?
- Has the project team found and implemented an efficient, yet easy to use, scheduling tool?
- Is there good collaboration with the local authorities (e.g. project is progressing according to the local building regulations)?
There you have it! 35 questions that can turn your construction management process into a success. But we aren’t done yet. Keep reading in order to find out what are the best books and universities for construction management.
Top 5 construction management books
You may think that construction management books are old-fashioned, but truth is that books remain a valuable source of knowledge. With that in mind, we did our due diligence and we present below the top 5 five books about construction management:
The International Association for Contract and Commercial Management (IACCM) have published a great book on how to manage contractual relationships in a smart and productive way. If you want to acquire valuable knowledge on how to communicate efficiently with project partners, customers, suppliers and subcontractors, then this book is the perfect choice for you.
Our next choice is a book written by Edward Allen and Joseph Iano. It provides readers with an excellent overview of the different construction materials and the best ways to use them. Learn some smart tips about thermal insulation, masonry and concrete. But that’s not all. The book has also some great ideas about material and building management.
David Gerstel did an amazing job on this one. Thanks to his long experience in the building industry, he put together a roadmap for construction company management. In this book, you can find tips and information on how to run a building firm in a proactive and beneficial manner.
- Building Construction: Project Management, Construction Administration, Drawings, Specs, Detailing Tips, Schedules, Checklists and Secrets Others Donʹt Tell You
In the second place of our Top 5, we have chosen a book written by Gang Chen. It is considered to be one of the most valuable knowledge sources for construction management. The author offers to the readers an insight to the construction sector. He reveals essential tips and principles on how to manage issues and bottlenecks that emerge during the building process.
This is a ‘must-have’! Barbara J. Jackson guides us through the whole construction management process and clearly explains the numerous phases of a building project. More analytically, the book focuses on subjects such as cost estimation, winning a construction project, safety, risk management and scheduling. Last but not least, it provides information about BIM and the change that it is expected to bring on the industry.
Top 50 construction management schools
Books are great but in order to become a construction manager, you also need the right university degree. Finding the right construction management school can be tough, but there is no reason to worry.
Here are the 50 best construction management schools. The selection was based on the six metrics below:
- International student ratio
- Academic reputation
- Faculty/students ratio
- Employer reputation
- International faculty ratio
- Citations per faculty
All in all, it is apparent that project management in construction can be quite painful and demanding. Construction managers should always be prepared to guide their team through tough situations and to make sure that every aspect of the project is progressing according to the plan. Hopefully, this article can provide some value to the construction industry and help the readers solve some of their daily pains on site.