Some clients who we start working with don’t fully understand the typical commercial construction process. I don’t really blame them as when I was even interviewing for jobs in the construction industry (granted that was over 15 years ago and I was still in college) I didn’t actually know the difference between a design firm and a construction firm. Guessing some of the firms that I interviewed with at the time were NOT impressed when I told them I didn’t care if I worked for an engineering firm or a general contractor: i.e. please offer me a job I don’t care what I do!
So I am writing this post to give everyone a quick description of the commercial construction process. Now, I like to write, so I am going to going into more detail about each step farther down in this article, but I am going to provide a simplified description of the process first and then describe the numerous steps that fall into each section of the commercial construction process farther down the. There are also two methods of building a project, the traditional way of building (design-bid-build), and the “newer” way (design-build), and then many “hybrids” in-between:
A Brief Summary of the Traditional Commercial Construction Process
The first step in the commercial construction process is design. Traditionally someone who wants to build a new building, buildout a tenant space, or complete a remodel of their existing space will need to start with an architect. The architect will sit down with the client, figure out what they need in terms of the use of their building or tenant space, and will take steps to work toward providing the client a final design that can be built by a construction company or general contractor. After the design is finalized then the plans typically need to be submitted for permitting. At the same time, the project can enter the “bidding” phase.
Now that the design is complete it is time for the project to be “bid”. This is when one or multiple general contractors will review the design (we usually call them “Contract Documents” and they usually include at least plans and specifications) and prepare a proposal. General Contractors can build the project with their own labor force but most commercial general contractors nowadays tend to hire out a lot of the labor to subcontractors. Regardless of how they do it, we have to provide a “maximum price” that we can build the project for and then the client (sometimes with the assistance of the architect) will select who they want to build the project.
Wow this process seems so simple when I write it down! After a GC is selected then they sign up with the client, they procure all of the materials that are needed for the project, and when it makes sense to start they begin to install the materials onsite. Keep in mind that before a general contractor can do anything onsite they typically have to have a building permit (and most of the time other permits) in place with the local jurisdiction. This is typically the longest portion of the project and a lot of activities occur on a daily or weekly basis, so many times a general contractor will develop a detailed schedule to show the client how the project will progress, and most projects will have weekly meetings so everyone (client, architect, contractor) can coordinate questions that may come up along the process.
That is the process in a nutshell! Let me know if you have any questions!