The Definitive Guide to Managing a Construction Project

by | 6 Apr. 2017

 10 min read

Managing a construction project can be quite complex and requires several responsibilities and skills to pull it off. The ultimate goal is to deliver a successfully completed project to your client on time and budget while turning a profit for you and your subcontractors. But getting to that endpoint isn’t easy.

It requires several important functions such as planning, coordination, design, budgeting, tracking, managing, reporting, and continuous alterations. In fact, the average construction project manager has 120 responsibilities according to the Construction Management Association of America.

While all of those duties can make your head spin, technology makes the job much more manageable. Digital solutions that help manage schedules, coordinate responsibilities, track progress and improve communication simplify the project management process.

This guide will help you better understand how to successfully manage a construction project.


Construction project management involves directing, regulating, and supervising a project from early development to completion. It includes the planning, coordination, and management of various tasks of a project. It also can include a wide variety of projects such as agricultural, residential, commercial, institutional, industrial, or civil.

Construction managers need to have a diverse skill set that includes communication, people skills, knowledge of the building process, problem solving, technical proficiency, and organizational skills. It’s not just about wearing a hard hat and looking at architectural designs. You’re responsible for managing contractors, communicating with stakeholders, overseeing the budget, and running the construction site.

All those responsibilities can be consolidated into these seven core functions:


This involves planning the entire project and documenting all the jobs and tasks that must be completed. It sets the framework for budgeting and procurement of necessary materials.


The project’s expenses must be properly managed throughout the process to make sure the project is on budget. Managers must make account for adjustments due to unexpected issues or difficulties. You’ll have to consider all aspects of cost including design, materials, labor, and administration.


Much of the manager role includes keeping the project on track and anticipating delays. Scheduling is critical to time management as it helps you keep track of project milestones, evaluate work progress, measure the impact of work suspension, and anticipate extension claims.


Construction management is more than making sure the job gets done, but also making sure it gets done right so clients will be satisfied. Managers ensure contractors’ work meets quality standards.


Construction projects involve extensive contracts with the client and other parties involved in the process. Managers ensure contract provisions are met for legal and financial purposes.


It goes without saying that a construction site has many hazards that can result in property damage, or worse, injury to workers. Construction managers must work with the building manager to ensure safety and environmental regulations are properly followed.


CM professional practice includes activities such as defining the structure of the project management team, implementing project controls, defining roles and responsibilities, developing communication protocols, and identifying elements of project design and construction that may cause disputes or claims.


Now that you have a better understanding of the skills and responsibilities of managing a construction project, let’s take a look at the process of obtaining a construction project.

The process starts with the project owner reaching out to a large group of contractors to requests bids. Interested contractors will offer a bid that includes a cost estimate for everything from blueprints to materials.

There are two types of bids:

  • Open bid: These are used for public projects and entail an auction where any contractor can make an offer for the project.
  • Closed bid: These bids are sent to a specific number of contractors and aren’t advertised publically.

After receiving bids, the project owner selects the contractor by one of three selection methods:

  • Low-bid selection: Contractors submit the lowest possible cost at which they can complete the project, and the project owner chooses the lowest offer among the bids.
  • Best value selection: The project owner chooses the bid based on factors such as contractor qualifications, quality, and budget.
  • Qualifications-based selection: This type of selection process is solely based on contractor’s qualifications.

After selecting a bid, it’s time to negotiate the contract. The project owner will typically agree to one of four types of contracts:

  • Lump sum: The owner and contractor agree to a fixed price for the entire project. The price remains the same regardless if the project ends up costing the construction company more or less.
  • Unit price: When the parties can’t decide on a final price in advance, they choose this structure, where the project owner offers materials with a particular unit price to reduce spending.
  • Cost plus fee: This type of structure benefits contractors. It requires the project owner to agree to a fixed price and pay a fee percentage for any unexpected expenses at the end of the project.
  • Guaranteed maximum price: This contract structure is similar to the cost plus fee, but sets a limit on the additional costs the project owner has to pay for unexpected expenses.


Once a bid is accepted and the contract is signed, the construction management team can get to work. Construction management closely resembles traditional project management in all other industries.

Every project has a standard life cycle, which includes the five phases of project management as developed by the Project Management Institute (PMI). Those phases are initiation, planning, execution, performance and monitoring, and closure. The PMI suggests that the phases of the project life cycle define the following:

  • What work must be accomplished
  • What deliverables must be generated and reviewed
  • Who must be involved
  • How to control and approve each phase

Answering these questions help project managers define what must be accomplished before moving on to the next phase of a project. Now let’s take a look at the individual phases.


The first phase of the project helps define the objective and feasibility by evaluating the business case. You’ll research whether the project should be undertaken or not, and may conduct a feasibility study.

Once the stakeholders approve the project, you can create a project charter or a project initiation document (PID), which provides the groundwork for the construction plan.


In the next phase, you develop the roadmap and create the project management plan that includes the timetable, costs, and resources for the project. The plan also includes performance baselines to ensure the project is on track. Other key documents created during this phase include:

  • Scope statement: Document that defines the project’s business needs, benefits, objectives, deliverables and milestones.
  • Work breakdown structure: Breaks down the scope of the project into manageable sections for the team to follow.
  • Communication plan: Outlines the communication goals and methods and establishes an efficient flow of information for team members and stakeholders.
  • Risk management plan: Identifies all foreseeable risks, including unrealistic time and cost estimates, customer review cycle, budget cuts, changing requirements, and lack of resources.


The project plan is put to work in this phase. The project manager assigns resources and responsibilities, and the work gets started. Much of the manager’s work in this phase involves monitoring progress, setting up tracking systems, updating schedules, and modifying plans as needed.


This phase coincides with the execution phase, and involves monitoring and tracking the project’s progress and performance. You’ll also make adjustments to schedules and resources to keep the project on track and on budget.


The final phase of the project represents the official completion. You’ll evaluate what went well and identify failures. The team creates a project report, calculates the final budget, and provides information on unfinished tasks.


Though a construction project can be broken down into five, tidy project management phases, there’s plenty of tasks involved in all of those phases, and if you’re not organized, you can’t properly track and manage the plan.

But don’t worry, here are some organizational strategies you can use throughout the project life cycle to help you.


There are plenty of documents and records you’ll have to keep track of during a project, and having a system to manage these files is critical. A software system that helps you track all incoming and outgoing documents—whether digital or hard copy—as well as store them securely in a central library simplifies records management.


In addition to the agreement with the project owner, there are several other contracts that help define roles and responsibilities of team members. A contract management plan helps you set expectations and procedures, particularly dealing with who approves contractor work, how it’s monitored, payment protocols, and modifications.


Among those 120 responsibilities of construction project managers is procurement activities. You’ll have to make sure they fit the project plan, and you’ll also have to set contract prices, create a scope of work for contracts, standardize procurement documents, and ensure contracts align with the project schedule. A software platform can also help with juggling procurement responsibilities by tracking contracts and costs.


A commissioning plan provides direction for the commissioning process during construction and helps resolve issues in scheduling, roles, responsibilities and helps in reporting, approvals, and coordination. The plan should be implemented during the design stage of the project to ensure buildings are constructed according to the owner’s requirements.


This plan helps track and manage the scope, cost, and schedule of the construction project, as well as establish baselines for monitoring performance and identifying changes.


Documenting work and processes throughout the project’s life cycle is critical. It acts a reference to explain what problems arose, how they were solved, and what other issues or conditions may have affected work. This includes daily logs and reports on the project’s activities.


Effective scheduling is the crux of construction project management. With so many moving parts, poor scheduling can cause delays and drive up costs. Reliable scheduling eliminates risks, identifies problems before they occur, and allocates resources and materials properly.

There are several scheduling techniques that can help project managers:

Gantt charts: These are one of the most effective and intuitive ways to create a construction schedule. A Gantt chart is a type of bar chart that shows the start and end date of several elements in a project, helping you keep track of progress. For more on Gantt charts, check out Six Powerful Reasons to Use Gantt Charts for Scheduling.

Line of balance scheduling: This technique is helpful for repeated tasks and assists in meeting deadlines and assigning resources. It measures data relating to time and allocates resources for each step.

Critical path method: The most common scheduling method, it’s a step-by-step technique that determines the timeframe of each task and identifies critical and noncritical tasks. The process helps prevent delays by identifying the tasks that must be finished on time for the success of the overall project.

Q-scheduling: This technique addresses the sequence of activities and their relationship to each other. In other words, it prevents two competing activities from occurring at the same time in the same location. It also streamlines repetitive activities in a similar manner as line of balance scheduling.

The utility of Visual Planning

Managing a construction project involves many complex tasks, including managing people, equipment, schedules, and finances. The good news is digital tools address the specific needs of construction managers by streamlining communication, simplifying scheduling, and improving document management.

Visual Planning provides a collaborative platform that allows you to manage and monitor the planning and progress of your construction projects efficiently. It’s a flexible tool that manages time, resources, and workforces while providing vital information to stakeholders in real-time. Most of all, it’s adaptable to your project needs. So no matter the size of your project or your team, Visual Planning has a solution for you.


Endless possibilities

Testimonial Marc G.

“Easy to use, it ensures a quick start without constraining training.”

Marc G. | Project manager

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