Small Construction Projects Part 1 –  Before the Work

by Mateusz Kuczera

Published July 10, 2023

“How is this still happening?!” shouts Gerald as soon as Laurelyn picks up the phone. “Why is Conpro calling me again asking why Billy is still not on Main Street? It’s friggin noon!!”

Shaken, Laurelyn stays silent a few seconds while thinking of what to say. But as soon as she opened her mouth, Gerald burst in frustration again.

“This is not acceptable! It’s the third time this month we tell clients we’ll send people and we don’t! What’s going on Laurelyn? What’s the issue?!”

“Uhm,” starts Laurelyn, “Billy was starting the rough on 9th avenue this morning.”

“Laurelyn,” says Gerald, suddenly eerily calm. “Who was supposed to go to Main Street?”

“Well, uhm, I wasn’t aware of—”

“Laurelyn,” interrupts Gerald, “we talked about this a month ago…”

Laurelyn starts thinking of the conversations that happened over the last several weeks, then says “I… I think I forgot…”

“Right,” says Gerald as he shakes his head. “You have to do something about this Laurelyn, this cannot continue. Think about is and we’ll talk later.”

“Sorry,” says Laurelyn.

Gerald hangs up the phone in silence, his head continuously shaking left to right in front of his computer screen.

The situation above is not complete fiction. And while it is not only caused by a lack of structured project management, it certainly did not help that Laurelyn had no training nor experience in how to approach multiple projects at the same time. This article and its second part will provide an extremely abbreviated introduction to project management in small service companies for projects with small scopes.

Implementing a Project Management Software

Whether small or large, no company should manage projects without a software system which helps coordinate and document everything related to a project. With a software which tracks all the concurrent jobs, tasks can be assigned to different employees, Gantt charts will provide visibility on scheduling, and all project related data can be stored in one place. Additionally, if set up right, project management software can also be integrated with an invoicing system, making billing even easier. For a small construction company managing even a few concurrent projects, a project management software is a must.

Scoping & Quoting

Before even accepting a project mandate, the first thing to do is to evaluate the scope of the job. The best way to do this is to get the project plans and to visit the job site to see its current state. There will obviously be a different analysis between a six-plex to six condos conversion and a simple kitchen reno, but having plans and visiting the job site is important in both cases. An experienced worker should always be present to correctly evaluate what materials will be needed, how much time will be required and what skills the workers must have to do the work.

Once the scope is defined and understood, clients will usually require either a full quote or a project budget. It is up to you as a contractor or project manager to correctly assess what is better depending on the type of client and the type of job. A quote is usually more appropriate for clients who challenge invoices or for jobs with clearly bound scopes. Budgets can be used for projects with slightly more uncertainty or clients who pay reliably.

If there is significant risk in correctly assessing the scope, or that scope risk is perceived, the budget method is recommended. But even with a budget done correctly, some things will add onto the work. It is strongly recommended that as the scope creeps (i.e. the scope expands and becomes bigger), approvals are requested from clients before starting the work, whether for unknowns popping up, or extras being requested from the client.

Scoping is the most important part of the preparation phase. If done right, the risk on all subsequent steps will be reduced to manageable levels.

Obtaining Permits

Nearly every construction project requires a permit before the work is begun. However, some subcontractors are allowed to execute work under the permit obtained by the general contractor. If that is the case, subcontractors do not need to take steps to get work permits. In some areas though, subcontractors are required to get a permit solely for subcontract work. In this case, like for all general contractors, applying for a permit with local authorities (usually the city) is necessary. Plans for construction will be necessary as well as all information specific to the local municipality.

Preparing Materials

After the scope is defined, materials should be prepared. It is recommended to order the materials required for the specific project to track the exact amount of money spent on the project. With this method, past projects will help understand if the quoting practices are accurate or not and will help the company adjust how the quotes or budgets are made. As the job progresses and additional materials are needed, they should be ordered on a need basis. All purchase orders and receipts should be attached to the project file as materials are ordered.

Scheduling the Work

For a contractor or even sub-contractor, scheduling work can be a challenge. Between clients changing their minds on when they are available, to durations being modified because of unforeseen situations or extras, timelines will inevitably vary from the original estimate. Because of this, it is recommended to include reasonable time buffer within project schedule, approximately 20%. It is also strongly recommended to schedule work based on the availability of project teams. If there are two teams available, do not schedule more than two projects simultaneously. To help with visibility on schedule, using a Gantt chart linked to a project management software is strongly recommended.


Part one of this project management article was a brief introduction to using a project management software, initiating, planning and preparing a project job. And despite its short length, scoping, planning and preparing are the most important aspects of projects. If done well, it is highly likely that the rest of the work will go well. Read more in part 2 of Project Management, which focuses preparation as well as the execution and closing.

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