Simply put, preconstruction is the phase of construction prior to construction.
That’s obviously overly simplified. Preconstruction is the initial planning stage of a construction project where the project owner, designer (architect and engineer), and contractor (whether construction manager, design-build contractor, or general contractor) builds out a road map for the project. This process is generally quite interactive. The team works to define the project, prepare cost estimates, and identify potential construction issues and solutions. Ultimately, the goal of preconstruction is to determine the most efficient use of the money and resources (time and materials) required to complete construction. Thus, it is imperative that every party involved share pertinent information to make the best decisions for the project.
Preconstruction lays a solid foundation for the construction project’s success because success measurements are established and important decisions are made to maximize project efficiency and minimize potential obstacles during the project. In fact, the World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology (WASET) found that preconstruction leads to faster construction schedules, which can provide the property owner a quicker return on the investment by utilizing the property sooner.
Although involving the builder in the design phase may sound more expensive, that engagement usually more than pays for any fees the contractor earns consulting early on in the project. An experienced construction company can offer the most value when engaged before the shovel hits the ground by guiding the design, budget, resources needed, and schedule. We’ve found that 95% of the value engineering opportunities happen during the design phase. Because of the value, our construction management expertise offers our clients, we prefer to work as a construction manager or a design-build contractor.
A relevant example of real savings for one of our clients recently was recommending we use a prefabrication building process instead of traditional onsite building methods, which shaved four months off our client’s 18-month construction schedule. This change did not alter the architect’s design much and allowed our client to start collecting rent on their mixed-use development sooner than initially expected.
Unforeseen issues happen during the course of a construction project. Preconstruction allows the team to bring concerns to the table earlier and discuss different ways to overcome those challenges while time (and patience) is on our side, including developing contingency plans for expected project risks. We cannot predict every issue that may occur, but our preventative measures can drastically reduce their impact on the budget’s schedule and budget.
Other Phases of Construction
If the term preconstruction may be new to you, you may be wondering what other phases exist in construction. Clearly, you have the construction phase, which is what most people think of when they hear the word construction due to the visibility of this phase. The construction phase is “where the magic happens” and is the period when the physical construction begins until it ends. This phase includes everything from site preparations and building the structure to installing plumbing and painting. A contractor may reach Substantial Completion, where the construction project is deemed sufficiently complete to the point that the owner can use it for the intended purpose, even though a few small items may still need to be completed like touch-ups and landscaping (known as the Punch List).
The construction phase is followed by the post-construction phase, which is the period between when the physical construction ends and the owner takes over the project. This phase consists of decommissioning the jobsite, cleaning the property, returning trailers and equipment, demobilizing subcontractors and laborers. During post-construction, the construction manager trains the operator on how to operate all of the systems and equipment and hands over all documents related to the project.
What Happens During the Preconstruction Phase?
- Strategic Development Plan – First and foremost, the owner needs to get organized internally and picks a project manager for their end. For owners that do not build often, this project manager may be a business owner or a key company leader while a real estate developer, most likely, has a designated construction manager on staff. During this initial phase, the owner develops their big picture goals, selects potential sites, and forms ideas regarding the use of the property and a basic feel for the design. This plan serves as a reference for the design and construction team members throughout preconstruction and the life of the project.
- Select Designer – Oftentimes, the designer (architect and consulting engineers) is picked before the builder, but that depends on the complexity of the design needed and the comfort level of the owner with construction.
- Select Builder – More recently, many owners pick the architect and construction company together, known as Design-Build, or may pick the construction manager first, who then picks the architecture and engineering firms. If owners wait for the designs to be completed to pick the construction company, the contractor cannot be involved in the preconstruction phase.
- Design – The architectural and engineering teams work together to create a design that adheres to local codes such as safety and regulatory requirements, meets agreed-upon sustainability or design requirements, and is aesthetically pleasing to the owner.
- Value Engineering & Constructability Reviews – The construction team stays engaged throughout the design process to offer cost and time-saving recommendations or changes to improve quality. In many cases, these cost savings allow the design and construction team to add the owner’s wish list items into the project.
- Permitting & Entitlement – In many cases, securing permitting and entitlements runs concurrently with the design process and may involve multiple authorities permitting the project. Entitlements focus on the structure’s intended use in relation to the zoning requirements and may require meetings with local officials and the general public.
- Procurement – Usually the construction manager procures all resources needed for the projects including materials, specialty contractors, and subcontractors. Having long lead times for materials can eliminate construction delays and work change orders.
The key aspect of preconstruction is being proactive. Getting ahead of issues such as design conflicts, material shortages, subcontractor schedules, etc. can drastically affect design decisions and shape the outcome of the project, including the client’s satisfaction.
With everything involved in preconstruction, this construction phase has clear deliverables including:
- Project Scope – Defines the overall goal the team is trying to accomplish, such as the building’s usage, space requirements, schedule constraints, and level of desired finishes for the project to be considered a success.
- Initial Schematic Design– Measure the available space and produce an initial digital layout to help the client visualize the space. This step is vital to ensure sufficient space is provided for necessary equipment, furnishings, accesses, and to perform the building’s function.
- Preliminary Construction Budget– The design and construction team work together to develop a preliminary budget based on the initial design and comparable spaces. The contractor will usually provide the client with alternative solutions and cost scenarios. The owner will use this initial budget to secure financing (if necessary).
- Project Details – With a clearly defined scope and budget, the design team will elaborate on the design including the building’s style (character), layout, quality, building materials, and other project details. Once these details are approved, the construction team can provide the owner a Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP). [If this is a Design-Bid-Build project, construction documents would be provided to potential builders to provide bids to construct the project.]
- Responsibility Matrix – The larger project team, which includes specialists and subcontractors, is identified and a responsibility matrix defines who is accountable for each aspect of construction. The general contractor may self-perform some or all (although unlikely) of the construction trades or purely manage the entire project, known as construction management.
- Preliminary Construction Schedule –This initial schedule identifies lead times and building sequences and provides an estimated number of days to complete each task to produce a rough idea of how long the project may take to construct with some contingencies built in.
- Materials & Equipment List – Having the right materials and tools on hand when you need them can make or break any construction schedule. The construction team identifies everything needed throughout the project during preconstruction, with special attention on hard-to procure items or high-demand subcontractors. The master construction schedule incorporates the procurement of materials to maximize efficiency with proper staging during each phase of construction.
- Obtain Permits & Entitlements – The construction phase cannot start until the team obtains all of the necessary permits and the entitlements are taken care of. Additionally, the contractor will work in inspection requirements into the overall scope and schedule.
- Risk Analysis – During the preconstruction phase, the contractor assesses potential risks, such as physical safety concerns like powerlines overhead, and other concerns that may derail the project’s budget or timeline.
Seeing all that is involved before breaking ground, you can see why we recommend engaging the construction team early.
Benefits of Preconstruction
- Higher Quality of Work – When time is on the construction manager’s side, better materials can be procured and the right subcontractors can be scheduled. Additionally, engaging the construction team earlier allows more time to develop a more accurate construction schedule.
- Faster Delivery – Preconstruction provides more cost-effective processes and drastically reduces last-minute change orders, delays waiting on approvals, and constraints from supply shortages so projects are completed more efficiently with fewer hiccups.
- More Impactful Value Engineering – As we stated previously, 95% of the value engineering opportunities occur during the design phase. Small changes like moving air ducts to prevent conflicts with fire suppression systems take minutes to alter in the design phase and days during the construction phase.
- Less Materials Waste – Good planning provides more accurate procurement and materials can be staged more precisely instead of having materials sitting on-site for months, which are exposed to the elements and have the potential of being stolen.
- Fewer Budget Fluctuations – The ebbs and flows of the project budget are minor when construction consults with the design team because they can work together to work through challenges and provide value engineering throughout the process.
Overall, everyone is happier, especially the client, when the builder is involved in preconstruction because it reduces the hecticness associated with construction projects with fewer change orders and budget alterations while delivering a better-quality product faster than the Design-Bid-Build construction delivery method. The only downside to preconstruction is having a smaller pool of qualified construction companies that can truly perform preconstruction well.