It’s hard to think of an industry with more moving pieces and active stakeholders than the construction industry. From materials to suppliers, keeping your construction project in order, on time, and on budget is a task unto itself.
Luckily, that’s where construction project management (CPM) comes in. With effective CPM, you can track your work, your team members, and your deliverables in one easy place. While CPM won’t help your project build itself, it will help you bring cross-team clarity so you can work more efficiently and effectively as a team.
What is construction project management (CPM)?
Construction project management (CPM) is the process of managing, regulating, and supervising construction processes. CPM can vary from a single project to managing an entire construction management company. Either way, CPM can help your team plan your project work during the pre-construction phase, track deliverables during the construction phase, evaluate project delivery, and close out at the end of the initiative.
Construction project management is deadline driven—these projects always begin with a planning phase and always have a defined deliverable at the end of the project life cycle. And though there are a variety of construction-specific needs, many elements of the project life cycle are similar to general project management.
Unique challenges of construction management
In CPM, it’s particularly important to pay attention to project constraints and safety details. A construction project has many similarities and a few key differences to a more traditional project you might have worked on.
For one thing, construction projects often have a wide variety of stakeholders who need to work together closely but cross-functionally. This includes:
The project owner
The project supervisor
Construction project managers
Construction-specific project needs
As you can imagine, construction projects have specific needs that are unique to this type of workflow. As you begin thinking about CPM, make sure you have a way to manage:
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Daily, weekly, and monthly inspection logs
Bidding processes and contract negotiations
Job site monitoring
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General project management needs
At its core, every construction project is just that—a project. While you shouldn’t neglect any of the construction elements of CPM, make sure you’re also following project management best practices.
You can do this by:
Running a feasibility study before beginning the project.
Adhering to all of the steps in the project initiation phase to make sure your team is set up for success.
Setting up a proactive risk management process, like a risk register.
Creating a work breakdown structure (WBS) to capture all of your project deliverables and sub-deliverables.
Using the critical path method to identify the best timeline for the project.
Following cost management best practices both before and during the project.
Effectively communicating with your project team and stakeholders.
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Defining clear workflows in a centralized source of information.
The 6 phases of CPM
In general, there are six phases to any construction project. Some of these phases are longer than others, but follow this six-step process to set your project up for success.
The first part of any project, including a construction project, is the initiation phase. This is also sometimes referred to as the conception phase. During this phase, your team will work with the client to identify their needs and how your team will meet them.
Depending on the scope of the project, you may also want to run a feasibility study or do a full business case to analyze whether or not this project is doable. Even without a formalized business case, make sure you incorporate design sketches into your project plan to ensure you and your client are on the same page.
Once you’ve finalized the details with your client and signed your contract, it’s time to dive into pre-construction. This is when you start assembling your team—including general contractors—and field testing your construction plans if necessary.
The pre-construction phase is critical to a successful construction project—if you dive straight into the execution phase, you could miss important details that could lead to project failure. Instead, take some time to clarify:
When you should check in with your clients: Which project milestones do they want to be involved in?
What your communication plan is: Where and how will you share project status updates with your client?
Where your project information will live: What is your team’s central source of truth for all of your project information? How will you ensure all of your project team members are using the correct information, especially across project phases?
What your risk management plan is: What project risks have you identified, and what’s your plan for proactively mitigating them?
What your project roadmap will look like: What dependencies does your team need to look out for, and how can they visualize those dependencies?
What your project budget is: How will you track your project budget? Which cost control best practices will you put into place to ensure you don’t go over budget?
What you’re working towards: What is your end goal? Where can your team find your work breakdown structure listing all of your project deliverables and sub deliverables?
Make sure you’re keeping track of all of this information in a tool everyone can access. Project management tools make it easy to share information with team members and stakeholders and to visually track project progress. Use a Gantt chart to bring your roadmap to life, see progress in real-time, get notified if any project plans shift, and stay up-to-date on any project milestones.
3. Project execution
Now that you’ve planned your project to perfection, it’s time to put it into practice. The project execution phase is exactly what it sounds like—this is when your project team and general contractors are building your project!
One of the most important things to carry through into the project execution phase is communication. Poor communication is one of the most common reasons for project failure, especially in the construction industry. Think about all of the stakeholders involved in a construction project. Without a clear way to keep everyone in the loop, especially as people roll onto and off of the project, you’ll never be able to finish the project on time and on budget.
Good communication starts with a clear communication plan, but it doesn’t stop there. Make sure you have a way for team members to access important project information—including the lessons you learned during previous phases. Documenting your client conversations, your team updates, and your project progress reports in one place makes it easy to avoid making the same mistakes you’ve already made. That way, you’re more likely to hit your deliverables on time and on budget.
Once the final product is built, you move on to the commissioning phase. There are three steps to the commissioning phase:
1. Do a final walkthrough
Before you present the finished product to your client, you want to make sure you didn’t miss anything. Take some time to walk through and test your finished product to ensure there are no errors. Document anything you find in a construction punch list.
What is a punch list?
A punch list is a CPM tool that documents all the small tasks that need to be completed before the overarching construction project can be considered done. Project owners typically use the final walkthrough and punch list as an opportunity for quality control. If there's a part of the build that doesn't meet contract specifications or if something wasn’t installed correctly, the project manager can list it on the punch list to rework.
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2. Present the finished building to your client
Once you’ve finished your internal walkthrough, it’s time to present the finished deliverables to the client and walk them through everything you’ve created. The client will want to inspect the construction site and test systems and equipment. Hopefully you’ve caught all of the errors ahead of time, but if they find any new errors during their walkthrough, it’s your responsibility to fix them as quickly as possible.
3. Train the client on any systems before you leave
Even without errors, make sure the client and building manager know how to operate any relevant systems so they can maintain the building once you’re no longer on the premises. This can include things like electricity, plumbing, software, and more.
5. Occupancy and warranty
During the occupancy and warranty period, the client actually moves into the building. You will no longer be on site, but you may still be responsible for the construction project depending on your contract and your local or federal warranty policies.
There are two types of warranties depending on your situation: contractual warranty and implied warranty. Work with your internal legal department to figure out which warranty you have and how long the warranty period lasts.
6. Project closure
Once the warranty period is over, the project is closed. You’ve fulfilled your obligation to the client, but you’re not quite done yet. In order to ensure your team got the most out of the project, hold a project post mortem meeting to review what went right and what could be improved. Catalog lessons learned in a shared tool. That way, the next time you have a similar project, you already have a head start on the planning process.
Now that you understand the six phases of construction project management, you need to execute on those phases. That’s where construction project management software comes in.
What is construction project management software?
Construction project management tools are tools to help construction professionals execute their work and hit their deadlines. There are two types of tools you can use:
Traditional tools, which offer features specific to construction teams but can be difficult to learn and require a project manager to manage the tool.
Modern project management tools, which are flexible for any team and can be run by anyone.
What are modern project management tools?
Modern project management tools make it easy for you to coordinate work, stay in sync, and hit your deadlines. Unlike traditional project management tools, modern project management software is easy for anyone to use. These tools have everything you need to succeed and mold a project exactly to your requirements.
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Key features to look for in your construction project management software
Regardless of what type of tool you use, make sure you select a tool that lets you do the following:
Set clear deadlines
In CPM, deadlines are of utmost importance. Missing a deadline has a cascading effect and can delay the entire project completion schedule. If your team doesn’t know who’s doing what by when, and who’s responsible for the work being done, deadlines are much more likely to fall through the cracks. In fact, according to our research, 26% of deadlines are missed each week.
The key to setting good deadlines is clarity. Make sure your team knows exactly who’s responsible for the work being done, what project dependencies they need to be aware of, and any stakeholders they need to loop in. If you haven’t already, draw out the critical path of your most important work. The earlier you can clarify this information, the more time your team has to make sure they’re prioritizing the right work at the right time.
What is a critical path?
A critical path in project management is the longest sequence of activities that must be finished on time in order for the entire project to be complete. Any delays in critical tasks will delay the rest of the project.
Especially when it comes to large construction projects, you may need to schedule tasks out weeks or even months in advance—especially when it comes to large pieces of equipment or specialty items. In the moment, a short delay doesn’t seem like a big deal, but if these delays impact your critical path, they may lead to larger issues down the road.
Visualize the project timeline and dependencies
There are a lot of moving pieces within CPM. With Gantt charts, you can visualize all of this work in one place. Gantt charts are bar chart-like tools that represent each task as a horizontal line. You can see how long each task is expected to take, connect dependencies between tasks for added clarity, and even add project milestones on key dates.
The power of dependencies
Even with the clearest deadlines, sometimes, things get delayed. Maybe your shipment didn’t arrive on time because of a storm, or a team member was out sick unexpectedly. When these delays happen, it’s critical that you and your team can clearly understand the impact of the delay.
If something gets delayed, ask yourself the following questions:
What other tasks and dependencies will need to be pushed back as a result?
Will this delay impact our overall project deliverables?
Is there work we can do in tandem to make up for the delay?
Having this level of clarity immediately when a deadline is missed makes it easy for your team to adjust and hopefully, make up for lost time. Alternatively, if someone completes a deliverable early, the person waiting on that deliverable to start their work can get notified about it and start right away.
Coordinate across multiple projects
If you work at a bigger construction company, you may have many projects in the air at once. When team members are working across projects, one of the most important things for you to keep track of is what each team member has on their plate, and when.
No one can keep all of this information in their head—and with effective construction management tools, you don’t have to. Instead, capture all of your team’s work in one place and view team member workload across multiple projects. That way, you can avoid overbooking team members and ensure that they have the bandwidth to complete work for your project on time.
Clear communication is critical—but in CPM, it’s even harder to coordinate than in traditional project management. Not only do you have a variety of stakeholders and a job that takes you away from the computer, but you also have team members rolling on and off the project. Without clear communication, it’s easy for things to fall through the cracks.
To prevent this from happening, make sure your entire project team is communicating in the same place—your construction project management tool. By maintaining a single source of truth, there will never be any questions about who’s working on what or the latest status on a piece of work.
In particular, you need software that updates in real-time so your entire team is updated on the status of work—whether they’re at the office or on the job site. With modern construction project management software, you can also add stakeholders to the project so they get real-time project status reports without having to attend a meeting.
Track project costs
A huge element of whether or not your construction project succeeds is whether or not it ends under budget. This is especially important in CPM because you may be paying for large, upfront material costs that you need in order to build your final deliverable—whether that’s a house, a building, or something even bigger. But keeping track of budget is really hard to do.
Like communication, it comes back to viewing information in real-time. When you can visualize project costs in real-time, you can not only see the budget you’ve spent, but quickly course correct if it seems like you’re veering off track.
The construction industry is vast—but most construction projects your team works on are probably pretty similar. In addition to following the six steps of CPM, you’ll have your own sub-steps in place to help manage the work and keep your team on track.
The difference between a successful and unsuccessful construction project often comes down to how well you can execute on those small sub-steps. With a million moving pieces, a diversity of contractors and team members, and potential project risks that could jeopardize your final deliverable, it’s critical that your team stays on top of all of the little details, every time.
If you’re working on a project similar to a past initiative, there’s no reason for you to reinvent the wheel. Instead, look for a way to templatize your processes. That way, you can plug and play when you have a new construction project—without worrying that you’re going to miss a step. By streamlining the project process, you’re also giving your team more time to execute, rather than plan.
Real-time updates on the go
A lot of the time, you need access to information when you aren’t at your desk. Walking through the construction site and notice something amiss? You need a way to log that information into your project management software so you can solve the issue as quickly as possible.
Look for a tool with a really good mobile app that allows you to update your work in real-time. That way, everyone—in the office and on the job site—are on the same page.
Better project management with Asana
Construction management is a high-intensity field, and you need a way to keep up with all of the changing plans and unexpected changes. There are construction project management tools out there, but that’s not what we focus on. Asana is a work management platform—which means we think about processes, not just projects.
With Asana, you can plan and execute any project. From centralized decision making to streamlined information sharing, Asana is an all-in-one tool to help your team get their best work done and hit their goals.
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