What Is Preconstruction? An Essential Guide

preconstruction what is it checklist

Investing in preconstruction is one the most significant ways to derisk and set up a project for success. This initial phase of the project serves to lay out the project’s entire scope and schedule for the construction team and the client.

In this post, we’ll explore preconstruction’s essential processes and give you the information you need to complete your preconstruction checklist.

Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at preconstruction.


What is Preconstruction?

Preconstruction services are preliminary planning and engineering services offered by construction companies before a construction job even begins. This preconstruction planning stage involves defining the project, identifying potential issues, planning and scheduling, the scope, cost estimation, and analyzing the job’s needs.

Quality preconstruction will help clients decide if they can follow through with the construction project. During this preconstruction phase, they may find the work too expensive or not feasible for their space.

If the contractor and client agree that the work is viable, the contractor will provide the client with a cost and schedule for the construction project.

The preconstruction phase should give the construction team a clear outline to follow during the job and educate the owner/client on what they will need to do to make their project functional and expect it to cost.

Preconstruction services come at a cost, which will depend on several factors, including:

  • Type of job
  • Location
  • Scope of project

If the client is unsatisfied with the contractor or isn’t feasible for the client because of cost or constructability, the client can terminate the relationship before construction begins.

This is a much better option (and less costly) than figuring out you aren’t happy with the work being done, aren’t confident with the contractor’s abilities, or realize the project’s scope is too large for the allotted space after construction has begun.

What Is the Preconstruction Process?

The preconstruction process is vital to the success of the entire construction project.

The preconstruction phase gives owners a complete understanding of the project’s cost, scope, and schedule. The project’s success will often depend on this phase before a single nail is driven or brick is laid.

Once you enter the preconstruction process, it’s time to become familiar with the preconstruction manager.

What Does a Preconstruction Manager Do?

Preconstruction managers look after the preconstruction phase.

It’s their job to:

  • Form an understanding of the project
  • Assemble a team to do the work
  • Create a strategy and schedule
  • Develop an understanding of the owner’s business goals and align the project to match

What Is the Purpose of a Preconstruction Meeting?

The preconstruction process should always start with a meeting between the client and general contractor.

During this meeting, the two will get a better sense of each other, and the general contractor will understand the client’s wants and needs. Goals and objectives will be defined, and any questions or issues the client has will be laid out for the general contractor to resolve.

The client will give the general contractor their vision for the project, and the general contractor will then work to determine whether that vision is feasible.

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A general contractor will determine the project’s feasibility and assess how much work is required to complete the job from this initial meeting. Deliverables will be appropriately defined, and the general contractor will outline a schedule.

What Happens After a Preconstruction Meeting?

Once the meeting has occurred, the general contractor gets to work on the project’s preconstruction design phase.

They will go into the field and visit the construction site to produce a digital schematic of the design and layout. This will then be presented to the client so that the client can visualize how the project will look after construction.

Helping clients visualize their project is essential for the general contractor to land the construction job. It will allow them to see that there will be sufficient space for all of the components, equipment, furnishings, and other elements that they want or need.

Output of a preconstruction meeting

Preconstruction meetings that are properly conducted to increase overall project efficiency. A tight network of workers or a workforce understanding their roles and how they fit into the project makes it possible. In addition, they should be able to see the entire project through the eyes of other participants and understand their responsibilities and rights.

These meetings minimize risks and work-related incidences and give room for more significant project profits. The goal is to complete the project on time and within budget while reducing risks and costly delays. Therefore, the preconstruction meeting makes the participants analyze their roles comprehensively and identify any likely pop-up problems in time.

Involving your project team initially helps you identify any sidestep traps in any construction project. A preconstruction meeting is vital so the production team, workers, and client are on the same page. They set the course for a successful construction project by setting an agenda, facilitating discussions between all key parties, and coordinating quality assurance and quality control reviews.

Assessment of Engineering

During this portion of the preconstruction phase, the contractor must examine the space or construction site's existing conditions and determine what needs to be done for the project.

This will include checking on existing components such as:

  • The electric
  • Plumbing
  • HVAC systems

These checks are necessary to ensure they will be performed during the new construction. If not, they must recommend that these items be updated or replaced.

Cost Estimating

The contractor will then assemble a preliminary construction budget based on their design and engineering assessment. But how does the contractor come up with a number?

Beyond materials needed and whether or not the components listed in the step above are required, they will also factor in the budgets used for comparable projects. While this estimate will be another vital part of the process, it’s important to note that the cost estimation is not necessarily a bid.

The bid document will be prepared later after other parts of the preconstruction phase are complete, as different elements, such as the final design, will help create a more accurate bid. Here, the contractor is mainly looking to get a close ballpark to the actual price so the client can see if the project will be feasible.

Forming a responsibility matrix

The responsibility matrix is used in preconstruction to identify deliverables by all parties involved and will specifically outline:

  • Who is responsible for what
  • Who is providing what item
  • Who will be handling the installation

When the project is underway, the client, contractor, and building owner may all have a part to play, and this responsibility matrix will keep all parties involved on the same plan and give a clear outline of who has signed up for what.

Define an initial schedule

Now that most of the project scope has been laid out, it’s time to formulate a schedule.

The preliminary schedule serves more as a guide to show the client when certain aspects of the job will begin and end. As final decisions for the project are made, this will be fine-tuned, giving the client a better idea of the construction timeline.

The contractor will estimate the number of days it will take to complete each task and provide a rough idea of the project's duration.

Guidance & leadership

Preconstruction services involve more than just documents that the general contractor provides to the client. The contractor also needs to guide the client through every step of the process and educate them on what is going on.

The contractor should discuss the client's options and recommend what the contractor thinks will be best for their budget or meet their goals.

The ongoing consultations should help the client feel more comfortable about the construction process and ultimately help the contractor win the bid based on their familiarity. Not only will it give the client peace of mind, but it will also save time during the construction phase.

Despite the initial investment, preconstruction also saves money on construction projects because of the value it provides. Good preconstruction allows for value engineering and helps prevent arising issues, each of which can be too costly on a construction project.

Good contractors can provide this guidance because they are the project leaders. They lean heavily on their expertise to anticipate potential issues and provide solutions to any problems. They will effectively coordinate efforts between the owner, client, architect, and contractor and manage any subcontractors needed for the project.

The contractor should have vast knowledge of all legal issues, permits, and building codes so the project stays straight and narrow. They will also be mindful of controlling costs and assessing risk throughout the preconstruction and construction process.

Preconstruction Checklist

Here are some of the items you can expect to cover during the preconstruction phase:

  • Initial meeting to discuss the project
  • Planning the design
  • Estimating costs and offering cost-saving options
  • Managing project scope
  • Identifying potential issues & outlining solutions
  • Determine any options for value engineering
  • Site selection and study feasibility
  • Evaluating soil condition on site
  • Checking existing utilities
  • Determining equipment required
  • Check for green building options and viability
  • Life-cycle analysis
  • Outlining contingencies for both client and contractor

Benefits of Preconstruction

Preconstruction offers many benefits to both the clients and contractors. The top benefits of preconstruction include:

  • Removal of many unknown variables for the client
  • A clear picture of what the project will look like and how it will get done
  • The completion date for the work can be assessed
  • Potential options for cost savings that benefit the client.

Evaluating all possible scenarios upfront gives the client confidence that the contractor they are working with knows what they are doing. Having realistic expectations helps avoid issues while the project is underway.

Output of Preconstruction

A critical element for a successful construction project is selecting a great project team. This includes the selection of the design team and construction partner. Early involvement with a construction partner allows the owner and design team to benefit from the contractor's cost history, feasibility, construction methods and materials, subcontractor input, and construction experience.

The preconstruction process requires the following: project scope, budget, details, team, materials, permits, inspection, and communication.

Project Scope

A client should define the scope of their construction project. This is important as it outlines your objectives, indicating what you want accomplished post-construction, the schedule, space, and the personnel needed in each phase. Be aware of the requirements you need for your project and any limitations that may hinder your success.

Project Budget

After defining your project objectives and goals, analyze your budget to ensure you finish the construction. Then, work with your design and construction team to understand the cost implications and design intricacies, track expenses, and formulate means to cut costs without reducing the project’s standard.

Project Details

Once you have a clear project scope and budget, you can discuss the design plans, including layout, size, style, systems, floor plan, quality, building materials needed, and more. These details help in the better execution of each construction phase and the completion of the whole project.

Project Team

The team set to work on a construction project will influence its practical completion. Based on the project scope, you can decide on the number of people required to attain all the tasks needed. As a result, you may require a variety of skill sets.

Based on the scope of your project, you can build the teams needed to accomplish all the tasks required. Depending on the type of project, you may require different sets of teams to meet your goals. It would help if you had a design and construction team at the bare minimum, but consider adding other groups as needed.

To accomplish all your goals. As a contractor bidding out the work, you should identify subcontractors that align with your project goals. Then, with proper communication, ensure that each team member knows their expectation and will create time to bid on the project properly.

Project Materials

In preconstruction, you must know the materials and equipment needed. Therefore, a contractor or subcontractor should see the number and type of materials in detail before any procurements. This will ensure proper delivery and minimize any delays in the construction schedule.

Project Permits & Inspections

Permits and inspection requirements provided during preconstruction help assess the project and mitigate any construction risks. Ensure that all safety precautions are adhered to before constructing.

Project Communication

All construction projects need proper communication to be completed. During the preconstruction phase, a client must create a communication plan to guide the entire team throughout the construction. To meet project objectives and goals, project teams should use the best communication methods and constantly exchange information and ideas.

A well-communicated construction team will solve issues and ensure all client needs are met per the budget and schedule.

The Future of Preconstruction

Preconstruction is evolving significantly as stakeholders are becoming more involved in the process at an earlier stage. Drawings are being sent to subcontractors earlier, and general contractors are being asked for budgetary numbers more quickly. With shrinking margins in the industry, the ability to estimate budgets swiftly and accurately is essential.

To address these challenges and stay ahead, top contractors are leveraging connected construction platforms and data-driven tools to assess costs at an early stage, improve decision-making, and manage budgets more proactively. The need for connected systems and data has never been more important to a project’s success.

FAQs: Other Common Questions on Preconstruction

How much does preconstruction cost?

Preconstruction costs will depend on the scope of the project, the location, and other factors, but they will usually be one to three percent of the project’s total cost.

Preconstruction’s cost is a separate fee from the construction cost, as it comes before a bid for the actual construction is even in place. However, as mentioned above, the potential savings it can provide and the peace of mind make preconstruction worth it.

How long does preconstruction take?

Again, the length of the preconstruction process will depend on the project's scope. This phase can take anywhere from two to 12 weeks. While 12 weeks may seem like a long time, it isn’t when considering the value the preconstruction phase adds to the project.

Supercharge Preconstruction Today

Preconstruction is considered a promising approach to construction. By aligning the scope and expectations, clients can save on various margins and ultimately own property they are pleased with.

Want to accelerate your preconstruction foundation and processes further? Check out our guide: The Digital Builder's Guide to Preconstruction Collaboration.

Jeff Gerardi

Jeff Gerardi is the general manager of preconstruction technology at Autodesk. In his role at Autodesk, Jeff oversees the vision and strategy of Autodesk’s preconstruction portfolio of products. He is involved in the development, marketing and driving the success of these products. Prior to Autodesk, Jeff founded ProEst Estimating which was acquired by Autodesk in late 2021. Under Jeff’s leadership, ProEst grew into a thriving, cutting edge SAAS technology firm that served thousands of contractors across the globe. Born into a family of business owners, Jeff has long had an entrepreneurial spirit which helped this company’s growth and success. Jeff is based in San Diego with his wife and three children. They are all avid athletes always looking for life’s next adventure.