construction workers

Most Important Construction Phase – Preconstruction!

One thing is always constant to the overall success of a project, final customer satisfaction, and profitability for all of the team members involved.  The most important phase of a construction project is preconstruction.

One of the unique aspects of operating a civil construction company is that we have a wide range of projects and clients. Our firm which is a 60 employee civil contracting firm often serves as a stand-alone or prime contractor on municipal, infrastructure, or development projects. We also play the role of subcontractor and work for a wide range of general contractors performing hundreds of millions of dollars of volume on an annual basis to small regional homebuilders.  Each of these worlds presents their own unique challenges, and opportunities. 

To those unfamiliar with the development and construction process this may be a bit of a surprise and you might be wondering why?  From an outside perspective the building stage is the “hard” work right? Well hopefully not!

Having personally managed large LEED certified projects for a general contracting firm, as well as serving as owner/developer on multifamily and commercial retail projects by the time a project gets to the “nail hammering” stage the hard work should already be in the rear view mirror for everyone involved from contractor to owner.

If this has not been your experience in the past then I apologize on behalf of our industry! These are some of the key issues that need to be considered in the very beginning of a construction project. Start by asking yourself these critical questions.

  1. Am I allowing myself sufficient time for all phases of the project from Design, Permits, Construction and do I understand the sequence of events?
  2. Are the people that I am working with capable of delivering on my timetable?
  3. Do I have a realistic budget verified by a professional?
  4. Am I allowing myself needed contingency and what is appropriate for my situation?
  5. How is my project going to be funded and do I understand the steps and cost involved in financing a project?
  6. Do I honestly feel like I have the financial and technical acumen to make good decisions or should I seek an advisor?
  7. What is more important to me time or money or a combination of the two?
  8. Are there any zoning related issues that will create hurdles or challenges for me in obtaining permitting for my intended use including setbacks, parking, restrictive uses etc..
  9. Are there any local taxes, utility availability, connection fees, or ordinances that will be a hidden cost to me or affect me down the road?
  10. Do I have the ability to expand my project over time if this is a potential consideration?
  11. Are there site related issues such as topography, wet lands, rock, utilities that need to be relocated or brought to the site for my needs, water quality treatment or detention that may be needed?
  12. Are there any concerns related to demolition or potentially hazardous materials like asbestos, contaminated or poor soils etc..
  13. Is the project well specified so that everyone understands EXACTLY what the finish product should represent. i.e. am I getting a $5000 Viking range or a $500 glass top stove? Am I getting $150 commercial door hardware or $15 door hardware and how do I know what is appropriate?
  14. Do I feel like I can truly conceptualize what I am getting? (for those not used to looking at drawings etc. this can be tough and where renderings become very helpful)
  15. Do I feel like I am working with a team that is communicating expectations clearly and working in a neat and well, ordered fashion, and most importantly do I have a high level of trust with them and their reputation.
  16. Are my team members presenting value added or alternate ideas to make the project go smoothly?

The reality is depending on the project dynamics I could probably draft several hundred questions to consider but the most important aspect is that the team that you are working with either as an owner, as a prime contractor or as a sub-contractor is well organized in answering and addressing all of these questions above and more. If someone is not asking and engaging you in these types of questions then that should raise caution!

In summary a well planned construction project in most cases takes as much time or more in pre-construction planning as it does during actual construction.  If a project is not “right” before the first Momentum Earthworks excavator and bulldozer hits the ground on your job site then it will NEVER get right and will be a potentially dreadful and probably costly experience leaving all involved unsatisfied because of poor planning, communication or organization.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”- George Bernard Shaw

Finally every construction project will present its unique set of challenges along the way. Selecting preconstruction project partners that have a high level of trust and integrity and who are capable or meeting your needs is the most important piece of the project puzzle.

Hans Harman

Hans Harman is the President of Momentum Earthworks located in Harrisonburg VA. Hans is an active member of the local community serving in leadership roles for the Shenandoah Valley Builders Association and AGC of Virginia. Hans also serves on multiple community boards and was recently recognized as the Harrisonburg Rockingham Chamber of Commerce’s 2016 Entrepreneur of the year. Please follow us on Facebook or visit us at