home construction planning

The Magic Triangle of Construction

All successful construction projects, large and small, new construction and renovation, commercial residential, production or custom, are successful because of careful attention to triangle of  Quality, Time and Cost. Focusing on any one of these categories too much, or conversely, focusing on any one of these categories too little, results in a project that falls short of expectations in some way.

The beautiful simple visual symmetry of this triangle diagram results when equal time and attention are given to each category, and the inherent beauty of a properly constructed project, with equal time and attention given to each category, is unmistakable. If each choice during planning, construction and warranty, is made with all factors considered, the result will be a timeless, durable, beautiful functional home or building. If, however, any of the three elements are improperly weighted, the result is an imbalanced triangle, and a structure that reveals this compromise in some way, either through an unattractive aesthetic, poor performance, high operating costs, and above average maintenance and repair costs.

Quality is the most difficult of the three magic corners to quantify. What is considered “good quality” by one Contractor or customer, may not be considered the same by others. The National Association of Home Builders  has published a document entitled: Residential Construction Performance Guidelines, which can be helpful for both Contractors and customers, so that reasonable benchmarks for quality in new construction and renovation can be established. Simply put, perfection is not a reasonable goal, but establishing expectations early in the planning phase of any project ensures that unreasonable expectations for quality will not bring imbalance into the magic triangle. Additionally, if a customer has stated expectations for quality that are above and beyond the industry standard, the magic triangle diagram provides and framework for how those expectations will impact the cost and time required to achieve those expectations. The level of quality attainable in any project, is related to the time and cost that can be allocated to it.

The project schedule is the source of much anxiety for both contractors and customers. Every customer asks, with great excitement and anticipation “when can I move in?” and soon excitement and anticipation is replaced with anxiety and frustration as every Contractor looks
at the ground, stutters and stalls, shuffles his fee, then looks to the heavens and replies “well it depends.”


Even the most detailed project schedules change from the time the contract is signed to the delivery of the keys, as many factors work against a fluid schedule, from weather delays, to non-performing sub-contractors, to materials selections and delivery schedules. Similar to quality, reasonable expectations for time must be established up front, with candid explanations of the many moving pieces of a construction project, and their respective potential impact on the schedule. If a customer is willing to pay expedited shipping on unique materials, and if contract payment is arranged to allow the Contractor to pay the subs in a timely fashion, it is possible to shorten the construction schedule. However, if quality expectations require the very best trades and luxurious unique materials, the time line for the project must be adjusted accordingly, and fit into the magic triangle, relative to these expectations. Custom handmade cabinetry from locally and sustainably harvested stock, built and installed by skilled artisan craftsmen, simply cannot be fabricated and installed for the same cost and in the same time line as stock cabinets from a national retailer. The time it takes to complete any project is dependent upon the level of quality that is expected, and the cost that the customer is willing to invest.

Cost is perhaps the simplest of the magic triangle concepts to grasp. Better quality appliances simply cost more than lower or poor quality appliances. Just like better quality cars cost more than lower or poor quality cars and just like an exquisitely prepared filet costs more than a Big Mac. Customer budgets are often just as unique as the projects themselves, but still impact the other two corners of the triangle; a customer with an unlimited budget can most likely expect a truly magnificently crafted project of the highest quality, but may have to compromise on schedule expectations. Likewise, a customer with a very limited budget, may still be able to achieve their desired outcome in a project, but should be prepared to make reasonable concessions of both time and quality to achieve their budget goal. Ultimately, establishing a budget goal early in the project, and managing those expectations carefully throughout the project will allow the project team to make decisions along the way that honor the budget, without ignoring time and quality. Successful projects of any type, function and size require the magic triangle to be balanced. Focus too much on any one corner, and the other corners (and the project itself) will become irregular and asymmetrical. Discuss the magic triangle early and often in your project. Establish expectations with your entire project team, and follow up regularly to make sure no one area of your project is dominating the others. And when your beautiful, durable comfortable and wonderful project is complete, celebrate with a nice triangular piece of pie, to honor the power of the magic triangle!

Aaron Yoder
AM Yoder & Co. Inc.

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