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The Importance of the Pre-Construction Phase

The pre-construction process should be simple, so why does it always seem to get so complicated? A lot of different factors often end up impacting the pre-construction phase: construction drawing delays, unrealistic timelines, budget restrictions, capacity issues, the list goes on and on. Let’s face it, the additional pressure to start a project as soon as possible doesn’t help. Additionally, more often than not, there’s a lack of focus by one or more parties involved of the importance of systematically building a project correctly from the ground up, with all factors considered and clearly outlined well ahead of a shovel hitting the ground. So how do we work to resolve what seems to be an ongoing theme when it comes to pre-construction planning woes?

Well, let’s start by taking a clear look at exactly what pre-construction is. Pre-construction has to be looked at as much more than merely a cost estimating tool, a simple formality to ensure that everyone knows in advance what the spend is for each element of the project. It has evolved dramatically over the years to encompass the expectations of each party involved in the project, to foreseeing negative technical, logistical, or creative gaps within the scope of the project. This is often comprised of non-cost-based line items such as; design works, assessing alternative materials, systems and/or method approaches, as well as managing the overall intent of the design team and as in most cases, the requirements of the owner. It is the role of the Pre-Construction consulting team to provide feedback, not only in advance of the project but throughout the entire project. At the end of the day, it’s all about mitigating risk and reducing cost, without sacrificing quality. Additionally, it’s also about ensuring that everyone involved in the project enters it confidently and that it closes on a positive note.

Using a geotechnical investigation as an example, you don’t want to sacrifice the future foundation of a multi-million-dollar project by skimping on a low-ball geotechnical investigation for the future of any project, one, that if not done correctly will most likely come back to bite you later.  Similarly, you also want to be sure to have a thorough and reputable pre-construction consulting team as the solid foundation steering your project in the right direction, not only in the pre-construction phase, but right up until the last brick has been laid.

What to Look for in a Pre-Construction Firm

A few things to keep in mind when selecting a pre-construction consulting firm is:

  • What is their track record of staying within proposed budgets?
  • How often do their proposed schedules meet targets?
  • Do past projects fall in line with the scope of your intended project?
  • Does the firm present innovative solutions?

Avoid pre-construction consulting firms that:

  • Don’t follow through on the entirety of projects from start to finish
  • Focus solely on budgets and expenditures
  • Don’t appear to be collaborative in nature
  • Are not wholly involved in the design process

Remember, keeping a project on budget, and on time is critical, but when selecting a pre-construction firm to team up with, the project’s success is relying on much more than simply numbers on paper and calendar dates, it’s also relying on a quality pre-construction team to see it through, no matter what challenges may arise.

Pre-Construction Process = Post Construction Success

Establishing proper pre-construction processes with the right firm helps to eliminate construction claims, reduce stress, lower risk and helps to establish a clear path and plan for all involved. Having a plan that leaves all parties happy at the end of a project is the ultimate goal. Looking at all possible angles to provide the best solutions and strategies is key and communicating these strategies early in the process allows for a collaborative and amiable state in which all parties are working in the same direction. Assisting the consulting team to communicate constructability and/or methodology concerns early on to proactively incorporate true value into the design at an early stage of the project, rather than going back-and-forth to the drawing board when project estimates are over budget. Establishing periodic budgeting updates at various milestone stages throughout the design process is important in providing ongoing pulse checks to the overall budget in order to maintain cost control. Incorporating “engineering for value” strategies early in the process to eliminate any design duplication too late in the document development stage.

Pre-construction management lays the foundation for success in the construction and post-construction phases of a project. It provides for constructability principles as an extension of the design disciplines, streamlining the transition from inception into the construction phase, and creating an alignment between the client, design, and construction teams. This process creates a realistic roadmap that reflects critical milestones, goals, and objectives, and identifies the activities required for successful project completion.

When you work with a firm with a values-based culture, that focuses less on what they do and more on how they do it, you’re bound to come out winning. Having strong professional relationships and genuine conversations are what ultimately leads to project success.

Kim McCarthy has over 22 years of construction estimating expertise, building science experience and over 15 years of senior management experience within the construction sector. She currently serves as
Co-executive for XGC Consulting Inc. and provides owner representation throughout the pre-construction, construction and post- construction development process. If you would like to reach out to Kim with any questions, she can be reached at

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