Long before any loaders or excavators show up to a job site, the construction process begins with preconstruction planning. Not only is thoughtful and strategic preconstruction planning essential to the success and profitability of a project, but it also is essential for construction managers to build or maintain trust with their clients. It may be self-evident that beginning construction without a clear plan can be deleterious. Less obvious, however, are the necessary components of such a plan.

Fundamentally, the objective of preconstruction planning is to develop an execution plan to achieve a project’s scope and target deadlines given the context in which the project will be constructed. A project’s context refers to the conditions in which the project will be executed.

Project Objectives and Conditions

A construction execution plan cannot be developed until project objectives (e.g., scope, deadlines, budget, safety measures and quality standards) and project conditions are determined and understood.

Project conditions are complex and require careful research. Some examples:

  • The relevant labor and material markets.
  • The risk of adverse weather conditions at both the project location and key locations of supply chains.
  • Job site logistical constraints due to existing operations and conditions.
  • Current adopted building codes and requirements of local Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJs).

As part of the information-gathering process, it is critical for construction managers to collaborate effectively with members of the project team, including architects, designers, engineers, the owner and any other stakeholders. In addition, construction managers will consult with entities outside of the project team — such as union representatives, AHJs and local subcontractors — to understand the environment in which the project will be constructed.

Key Elements of Construction Execution Planning

Once project objectives and conditions are defined, the next step in the planning process is to create a construction execution plan. The plan should establish strategies for the following elements:

  • Site-specific safety plan: Collaboration between the construction manager, owner and their respective safety management groups should result in a safety plan that incorporates requirements of the owner and policies regarding any unique conditions of the project.
  • Quality program: It is imperative that the project team understands the expectations of the owner regarding quality management, as alignment is key to a successful and efficient installation and turnover.
  • Procurement and subcontracting plans: Defining how equipment and construction scope should be separated into different purchase packages early in the project is very beneficial, as this structure will influence design, estimating and construction management efforts. Additionally, the quantity and characteristics of equipment and subcontract packages will determine office staffing needs and can influence job site staffing makeup.
  • Subcontractor/supplier selection: Consideration needs to be given regarding how the project team will prequalify and select prospective bidders, and if the owner will be involved in the selection process. It is necessary to understand the subcontractor market for the region and type of work being executed; understanding the characteristics of qualified companies, including size and capabilities, will be important to the development of the subcontracting plan.
  • Site logistics plan: The configuration of required facilities, travel paths, material staging areas, craft parking, available infrastructure and other aspects of the job site to accommodate construction personnel and work processes greatly influences efficiency and safety on a job site. Such planning requires collaboration with the owner, especially on job sites located near existing operations.
  • Construction manpower: Without understanding staffing levels and construction trade stacking throughout the project timeline, the subcontracting plan, site logistics plan and productivity assumptions could be significantly flawed. Additionally, this is a driving factor when determining the makeup of the construction manager’s site staffing plan.
  • Project management tools and procedures: Project management software platforms should be selected for administrative functions to support submittals, requests for information, document distribution, quality and cost management. This software and its associated processes will help determine office and job site staffing.
  • Construction management staffing plan: Although it may not be possible to identify specific personnel during the creation of the execution plan, the inputs described above will help establish an organizational structure for both office and job site personnel. This effort should involve coordination between the construction management team, field operations personnel, and the safety and quality-management groups.

Project Control Systems

Outlining the strategies for these key elements is the core of the construction execution plan. However, another pivotal step must be taken to execute an efficient project with predictable outcomes. Construction managers must establish project control systems to track performance against project objectives throughout construction. Examples include:

  • Schedule performance tracking:
    • Critical path schedule analysis: Inevitably, as a project progresses actual dates will differ from planned dates. A sufficiently detailed baseline schedule should be created to proactively assess project progress, in order to facilitate early identification of negative trends and promote timely correction.
    • Earned value management system: Quantity-based progress tracking can offer enhanced objectivity and precision in the evaluation of productivity and progress earned versus planned.
  • Budget performance tracking: Using software or other organizational tools, managers should track expenditures against their budgets and endeavor to find alternative solutions if labor or materials are trending unfavorably. Starting with a well-organized budget, itemized in sufficient detail, can greatly support this effort.

With system controls in place, a project team can obtain early indications of performance deficiencies and respond with more comprehensive corrective strategies before the windows of opportunity to effect such change close.

Agility in the Face of Change

Project objectives and conditions are often subject to change in the dynamic business climates of owners. Project teams that develop strong execution plans and establish the right project controls systems are better prepared for change. When forecasting project health using controls systems that include financial and schedule data, teams are able to confidently and efficiently make informed decisions when potential impacts are identified.

By defining the key elements of a project early on and involving multiple parties, construction managers can develop an execution plan in which they establish appropriate metrics for success, identify management plans and strategies, and enhance their ability to execute the project in a steady and predictable manner, even in the face of adversity and change. Finally, executing a well-planned project will enhance the owner’s experience, which is an essential objective for any project.


Learn how project controls can support efforts to stay on budget and reach target deadlines.

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Kevin Sepulveda is a construction manager at Burns & McDonnell. He has led successful construction projects for major food and consumer clients and has served as a key manager for a greenfield plant construction project, multiple plant expansions and several capacity improvement retrofits.