Pre-Construction Planning Process - What It Is And The Steps

Written by Bridget Cooper

DateApr 3, 2024
Reading time11 min read
construction worker

The preconstruction phase lays a solid foundation for the entire construction project. It’s where critical decisions, like material selection, project schedule, deadlines, and budget, are made. It’s also where the construction team meets and sets the tone for future collaboration. However, what actually happens behind the scenes in the pre-construction phase? What are the steps and different stages involved in the planning?

That’s what we will cover in this guide. We will dive deep into the pre-construction planning process and examine critical details in every step to help you understand this this crucial construction phase. But first, let’s define pre-construction. 

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What is Pre-Construction?

Pre-construction is the planning stage that happens before the construction phase commences. It’s where the construction team, including designers, estimators, clients, and general contractors, develop actionable plans for the entire construction project. The plans involve project schedules, designs, budgets, and other critical components of the construction project. 

The team creates a preconstruction checklist that includes every contingency and scenario likely to happen during construction. Think of the checklist as a guideline to help the construction team stay on course and achieve the project’s objectives. Every checklist is specific to a construction project. 

Let’s see what happens during the pre-construction phase. 

The Planning Stages of Pre-construction

Pre-construction planning stages are simultaneous and don’t follow a specific order, except for the initial meeting that happens first.  The preferred order depends on the team and what they deem as a priority. Let’s examine each stage. 

The Initial Meeting Between Client and General Contractor

The meeting kicks off the pre-construction planning phase, where the two teams meet face-to-face to discuss the project’s objectives and goals. The meeting is more of an icebreaker. The client shares more project information and addresses any questions and concerns in the pre-construction meeting from the general contractor. The two parties will discuss the initial budget and the proposed project delivery deadline. 

The contractor takes notes in the meeting and uses this information to formulate the pre-construction plan. The parties stay in touch through follow-up meetings to share more information and changes throughout the pre-construction planning process. 

The meeting presents an opportunity for the contractor to ask any questions or clarifications regarding the project. Addressing these questions ensures everyone is on the same page and helps contractors understand the project better.

Define the Objectives of the Project

The general contractor evaluates the architectural designs and blueprints to define the project and establish measurable goals. They start by determining the project’s primary purpose. Is it a new build or a renovation project? How will the end users utilize the space? What are the client’s desired outcomes?

The client also raises questions regarding planning and designs they suspect would be challenging during construction. For instance, they could raise concerns regarding logistical challenges and how the contractor plans to navigate the problem. 

A Detailed Project Scope

Understanding the project’s scope is the cornerstone of any successful project. It also helps the contractor be on the same page with the client. 

Complete scope coverage involves breaking down the entire project into smaller work units. The contractor must identify resources like construction workers, materials, and equipment needed to complete each work unit. 

A project’s scope is the heart of any project. Missing critical details results in scope gaps that lead to budget overruns, delays, and undesired project outcomes. Scope gaps also affect collaboration, where different construction teams understand the requirements differently. 

Let’s take a roofing project as an example. A subcontractor works with a roofing plan that doesn’t include a roof ventilation system. The sub doesn’t question this and carries on with their specific tasks, knowing very well it could lead to moisture buildup. The possible consequences would be a new budget to correct this error, causing a budget overrun. It could also lead to delayed construction because the project has deviated from the plan or deliver the project as is risking the client’s wrath. 

General contractors and clients must spend enough time evaluating the scope to minimize errors and achieve the objectives. The details should be clear and well-defined to avoid misunderstanding. 

Setting a Budget

Every construction project has a predetermined budget. It helps the project team determine the materials needed, labor costs, and which contractors to recruit. 

The initial budget set by the client is the figure they believe would be sufficient to complete the project. The contractor has three options. They could accept the contract price and try to figure out how to complete the project on that budget. The second option is to recommend budget adjustments, and the third is to modify the project to fit the predetermined budget. 

A good contractor conducts project estimates in the pre-construction phase before accepting the terms. They evaluate the project scope and the current market price for labor, equipment, and materials. They also set aside contingency funds for unforeseeable challenges, like material price hikes.

Estimates are crucial, and you can’t afford any errors. You must cover the scope entirely and identify all activities to be included in the budget. Take the guesswork out of scope detection by using our software to turn plans into detailed construction scopes. 

The project owners review the proposed estimates to either approve them or make adjustments. For instance, they may adjust the scope or explore alternative materials that will allow the project to stay within the budget.

Setting a realistic budget has several benefits. First, it ensures the project doesn’t run out of funds due to overspending or encountering unplanned expenses. It also ensures everyone gets paid, including workers and suppliers. The client and the contractor must work together to create an acceptable budget. 

Setting a Schedule

A project schedule helps to keep track of the project’s progress. Clients often have a start and finish date for the entire project. However, the deadline could be unrealistic, especially when dealing with complex projects. The logistic and material sourcing challenges could force the stakeholders to adjust the initial deadline. 

A contractor starts by breaking down the entire project into smaller work units. They identify the number of workers needed to complete each work unit and the timeline. They also account for present and unforeseeable challenges and how they’re likely to impact project delivery. For instance, heavy rain could delay certain construction activities like pouring concrete. A muddy road could also delay material delivery. All these challenges affect the delivery timeline. 

Setting up reasonable deadlines after accounting for everything that could go wrong ensures the project stays on course. 

There are two ways to create a clear project schedule. 

Critical Path Method (CPM)

The CPM method helps to identify crucial tasks that impact the project the most. Any delay in such tasks results in the overall project delay. You must prioritize these tasks by assigning them enough resources and time until completion. 

You must also account for task dependency when calculating project schedules using CPM. It’s basically identifying tasks that must be completed before others begin. For instance, rough framing must be completed before plumbing can begin. 

Finally, each task must be assigned a time frame for completion. Using CPM, you can sum up individual task durations to create a complete project schedule. 

The Milestone Approach

Contractors also prefer working on milestones. In construction, milestones are basically major project accomplishments. For instance, foundation completion is a milestone, signifying the groundwork is laid. It also means the building’s structure can begin. 

Some contractors also include payment terms under milestones. Instead of receiving a lumpsum payment, they prefer to be paid in bits after completing every milestone. This way, they have enough money to keep the project going, while still tracking its progress. However, payment terms must be discussed in advance and included in the contract.

Milestones are perfect for progress tracking, identifying issues, and guaranteeing project cash flow. However, the approach requires extensive construction experience and relying on historical data to develop a project schedule. 

The Initial Schematic Designs

Also known as Schematic Designs (SD), they are the initial fleshed-out ideas of the project. They serve as the visual representation of the entire project, helping to bring the client’s ideas to life. The blueprints capture the vision and help the contractor understand the client’s needs, wants, and budget. They lay the foundation for the entire project, helping contractors deliver it according to the client’s requirements. 

Besides capturing the client’s vision, the schematic designs have other goals, like initial cost estimates. They help the contractor understand the project requirements and the best construction methodology to adopt. 

The client reviews the SD after the designer submits them to ensure they align with their vision. They also provide feedback for improvements or rectifications before adopting them. 

What Is Included in the Schematic Designs?

The contents of schematic designs vary with projects. New construction projects have different schematic designs from renovation projects. Here are the basics you should expect in almost every schematic design.

Site Plans

It’s a basic layout of the project and its placement along the property lines. It also shows other infrastructures, like roads and existing structures. 

Floor Plans

It contains two-dimensional drawings to demonstrate every floor layout. The plans include major fixtures like windows, walls, and doors. 


They form the different exterior views of the structure to demonstrate the architectural style. The information helps the contractors deliver a project that resembles the architectural designs. 

Notes and Specifications

The designers include notes highlighting the ideal materials required to complete the project. They also provide finishes ideas and any special features. 

Schematic designs have several benefits. They help identify potential errors and problems earlier, giving the team enough time to make the necessary adjustments. They also serve as the foundation for more detailed designs to follow. Contractors rely on them to create construction documents and additional plans. 

Schematic designs are also used for cost control. Clients use them to determine the total project cost and select the winning bid. Contractors use the designs to come up with estimates and submit winning bids. 

Analysis of the Construction Site

Before the construction process begins, contractors are required to conduct site visits. These visits help them determine the land’s feasibility and whether the construction will be possible. Construction site analysis goes through various steps, including:

Soil Testing

The contractor takes a soil sample of the construction site to the lab for testing. The tests help determine if the land can provide a solid foundation. 

Site Condition

It includes the land’s physical characteristics, like topography. They check the elevation and slope as they affect the foundation design, logistics, excavation needs, and drainage. 

Site Vegetation

They check for existing trees and other vegetation that might require conservation. The contractor also considers the best removal process of the root systems to facilitate proper construction environments. 

Procurement Management

Material availability determines the progress and successful project completion timeline. Any delays in material transportation to the construction site halt the construction, leading to delays, budget overruns, and frustrations. 

Procurement management is one of the most important aspects during the preconstruction phase. The construction industry is resource-reliant, and no work can be completed without constant supplies. The team identifies potential delays and develops solutions to counter them. 

A good contractor has several suppliers, as relying on one is not smart. They establish contact with all these suppliers before construction begins to know about material prices, availability, and delivery time. Vendor management involves managing relationships with key vendors in the construction industry. 

Procurement management isn’t limited to construction materials. It also involves construction equipment, their repair parts, and fuel. It also involves sourcing qualified subcontractors to help with the project, and accruing construction permits. Check out our directory of vetted and qualified local subcontractors ready to take on tasks.

Final Thoughts

The pre-construction planning process is preparing for construction before it begins. It involves the initial meeting between the client and the contractor, defining the objectives of the project, and reviewing a project scope. The team must set a realistic budget and project schedule to ensure the construction runs smoothly. They must also review the initial schematic designs, conduct site visits, and handle procurement management. Pre-construction planning determines the overall project's success.

Written by Bridget CooperUpdated on Apr 3, 2024

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