Construction project management in the digital age: a comprehensive guide

This article provides an in-depth look at construction project management (CPM), illustrating how an increasing number of industry professionals are using digital simulation technology to mitigate risk, improve quality control, reduce approval timeframes, minimise rebuilds and reworks, and increase return on investment. This guide summarises industry best practices and outlines the benefits of modern simulation software in construction planning and management. It is hoped that this material provides value for those seeking construction project management services, or for those wishing to bolster their learning about construction management theory with real-world examples.

An introduction to construction management

As a basic definition, construction project management (CPM) is the process of planning, coordinating, and executing a construction project from start to finish. The goal or objective is to manage resources, schedules, budgets, and stakeholders to ensure that a project is completed on time, within budget, and to the standard required. It involves management of all aspects of a project, including design, procurement, construction, and compliance testing. Successful project management requires outstanding systems and methodology, strong leadership skills, attention to detail, as well as the ability to manage complex tasks and relationships in a dynamic and fast-paced environment. Modern technologies make this process easier than ever before, and offer numerous advantages, as will be outlined in detail below.

The complexities of commercial construction management
Commercial construction management involves the complex interplay of many variables and moving parts, including human labour, materials, equipment, heavy machinery, assets, and existing infrastructure. The image above is from a digital simulation planning the logistics of an inner-city development, allowing project managers to visualise potential traffic and pedestrian flow, identifying potential bottlenecks and congestion points, while optimizing entry and access routes for construction vehicles.

What are the four stages of construction management?

Construction project management can be broken into four key stages, which are summarised below:

  1. Project initiation and preliminary planning: This phase involves identifying project goals and scope, conducting site evaluations, undertaking pre-contract or pre-tender planning, generating concepts, assessing project feasibility, and determining the budget, timeline, and resources needed. Digital simulations play a critical role in this phase, presenting design concepts to key stakeholders and investors in a captivating manner that promote high information retention. 3D simulations enable rapid testing of design alternatives, construction techniques, and materials within a virtual environment, reducing the risk of issues, errors, and rework when actual construction begins. Animated models are also invaluable for simulating impacts upon local communities, adjacent sites, and the surrounding environment.
  2. Pre-construction planning and design development: In this phase, designs are fine-tuned, working drawings prepared, permits and approvals obtained, and essential team members identified (construction site manager, contractors, consultants, etc.), along with the finalisation of schedules, budgets, and milestones. Digital simulations prove invaluable at this stage, transforming what is typically a tedious and frustrating experience of back and forth negotiation over static drawings into an open and engaging collaborative process with live simulations. As the design is refined, real-time digital models enable virtual testing of stressors, such as load testing, and simulate exposure to various lighting conditions and environmental elements, enabling rapid assessment of proposed design features, including the impact of the weather, time of day, soil conditions, space proving, or other logistical constraints upon the project.
  3. Construction or execution: Here, construction commences, and plans come to fruition. This stage involves procuring materials, coordinating workflow, and ensuring project tasks are completed safely to the desired specifications, with key performance indicators (KPIs) met. Digital simulation offers a number of advantages during this phase, including virtual walkthroughs of the construction site to ensure staff and operators are inducted and familiar with anticipated site operations (this is discussed in more detail below).
  4. Handover, close-out, or post-construction: The final phase involves testing and evaluating the project to ensure a high-quality outcome is achieved, before handing it over to the owner, along with accompanying information, such as manuals and warranties. Digital simulation tools are incredibly beneficial in this phase, improving communication and streamlining the transition. Virtual training allows the new operational team to familiarise themselves with the facility, equipment, and emergency procedures before assuming responsibility. Digital technology also assists in the commissioning process, ensuring all systems and equipment function as intended for final consents and approvals. Simulations often play a crucial role in performance testing the project, analysing energy usage and environmental impact, for example. 3D animations can also be repurposed and presented as part of compelling storyboarding and scripting to enhance engagement and promote the finished project to the wider community. Finally, digital models are useful for planning preventative maintenance, and simplifying subsequent alterations, retrofits, and renovations.
CAD Working drawing including tower crane load chart
Working drawings created during the pre-construction and design development phase often contain a wealth of digitised information (note the crane load chart in the top right corner), which can be transformed into live 3D simulations, allowing for virtual real-time testing and evaluation. In this example from Melbourne, Australia, the placement of a tower crane on an urban site is documented.
3D simulation showing construction site crane
In comparison to the 2D working drawings above, a 3D render or real-time simulation offers a more immersive, detailed, and realistic visualisation of the crane’s placement on the construction site, allowing stakeholders to quickly grasp spatial relationships, on-site dynamics, and potential logistical challenges. Whereas 2D CAD drawings are often complicated and require expert interpretation, a digital simulation can be rapidly understood. Unlike static Photoshopped renders, a real-time simulation allows the construction site to be viewed from multiple angles, times of day, and weather conditions, with digitised humans shown moving in and around the site, creating a true sense of how the project will be experienced. For more information about this particular project, please view our accompanying Tower Crane planning case study.

What are the principles of construction project management?

The principles of construction project management are a set of best practices, strategies or standard operating procedures that help to ensure optimal project outcomes are achieved. These include developing a detailed project plan, setting clear objectives, establishing effective communication channels, documenting roles and responsibilities, managing project risks, monitoring progress, controlling costs, and ensuring compliance with regulations.

“[Mega construction projects] often involve various stakeholders of diverse occupational and professional backgrounds who have different levels and types of interests in the project. The complex and volatile nature of these projects require systematic approaches and appropriate skills of project managers to accommodate stakeholder interests and to achieve the best value of project outcome.”

– Ka Yan Mok, Geoffrey Qiping Shen, and Jing Yang, Stakeholder management studies in mega construction projects: A review and future directions (2015)

Time management in construction projects is of fundamental importance. Time control and workflow management can be approached in a number of different ways. Popular planning methodologies in construction project management include the following:

  • Waterfall model: This is a traditional linear approach, inspired by the concept of water flowing downwards in a sequential direction, and involves each step being completed before the next. This method emphasizes strict documentation and adherence to predetermined timelines. It offers a straightforward framework and organisational structure, with easily measurable progress. However, this model is often slow and lacks flexibility in responding to unforeseen changes and adjusting project scope.
  • Agile construction management: This is a popular, collaborative, and adaptable approach, which breaks projects into smaller, more manageable tasks or ‘sprints.’ After the completion of each sprint, evaluations are carried out and adjustments to project scheduling made as required, with priorities reassessed throughout the project’s life cycle, taking advantage of ideas for improvement as they arise. Agile project management in construction has numerous variants, including ‘Scrum’ where shorter sprints are used. These dynamic approaches result in faster response times and are particularly suitable for projects with high levels of uncertainty or rapidly changing circumstances – with micro and macro planning occurring in unison. Digital simulation plays a crucial role in agile construction management, with live project tracking enabling virtual models to be updated after each sprint cycle, testing and validating new approaches, and facilitating rapid comparison of options. This fast feedback loop lets management teams make data-driven decisions quickly, and adapt in real-time, resulting in improved efficiency and cost savings. Digital simulations can also be annotated during presentations or workshops, instantly capturing feedback, comments, and responses on the fly, with all data integrated within the one digital interface.
  • Lean construction management: As the name implies, the principles of lean construction planning are to minimise wasteful activities and inefficiencies throughout the project, such as via minimising transportation costs, excess inventory, unnecessary downtime, and so on. A task management technique derived from these principles is known as ‘pull planning,’ whereby scheduling and control of project tasks depends upon desired outcomes, rather than a predefined order. The benefits of pull planning include improved communication and collaboration among stakeholders, leading to better decision-making and problem-solving, as well as early identification of bottlenecks and issues. Lean management methods can be enhanced through automated inventory tracking, and digital simulation tools that enable continuous monitoring and modelling of positions, placements, and points of access for workers, materials, facilities, vehicles, and other assets upon the construction site.
Commercial construction project manager deep in thought viewing organisational chart showing construction project timeline
A commercial construction manager has the tough task of aligning all aspects of the construction process within a coherent timeline. Construction project planning and scheduling in Excel (with the creation of organisational Gannt charts, for example, illustrating when each stage in the construction process starts and ends) can lead to hiccups and frustration when numerous complex tasks are involved. Those employing more agile methods may prefer customisable ‘digital boards’ that are divided into columns representing each stage of the project. These can be marked-up with additional information, such as descriptions, staff involved, and priority level. Team members can access this from any location, and see at a glance what work is in progress, what work is coming up next, and what has been completed.

Site management in construction projects

An important aspect of any construction project management plan is coordination and management on-site. A certified construction project manager supervises workers, ensuring safety regulations are followed, monitoring progress, scheduling and coordinating subcontractors and suppliers, managing budgets and resources, and addressing any issues or challenges that arise during construction.

The benefits of digital simulations within project site management are similar to those discussed previously within this article, but there are specific occasions when the value of this technology really comes to the forefront. For example, when there are sensitive landscape constraints, such as trees that must be protected, or human factors surrounding the site, digital simulation provides an unmatched opportunity to model these in a cost-efficient and timely manner. Furthermore, because construction companies often employ hundreds or even thousands of staff, sometimes working across multiple sites, virtual models provide a highly efficient and cost-effective method of site orientation and induction training, which can be carried out remotely, before employees even arrive at the site, offering tremendous time savings.

Virtual induction training ensures that effective, consistent, and uniform site familiarisation can occur, regardless of weather conditions, or training staff present. Virtual site induction does not require goggles; just a digital survey model in the right interactive CGI twin platform – available via the cloud. Audio and imagery can be refined, so that instructions are simple and well-understood – providing a clear overview of the construction site layout, emergency exit points, entrance and access routes, toilets, first aid locations, and existing structures and groundwork (site clearance, excavation, grading and levelling, foundations, and underground utilities, such as drainage, water, and gas pipes), and so on. Training videos can also be replayed where further clarity is required, and can employ gamification strategies, ensuring a higher retention of knowledge than in-person training.

Imagine you have to fly in specialists for your construction site, such as heritage consultants or structural engineers. In traditional SARC induction, this can take hours and days, adding high cost to staff. Now, with digital simulations, staff can do this at the airport, online in their hotel room. This includes site inductions at the current and/or future state of the site, as well as other forms of railway training, such as training in the rail corridor.

Traditional construction site induction
A traditional construction site induction involves many manhours. 3D simulations can transform the sluggish, cumbersome, and costly ‘engineering-centric’ site planning experience into a nimble, achievement-orientated approach.

Resource management

Resource management within the construction industry refers to the planning, allocation, scheduling, and utilization of human labour (such as skilled workers, project managers, and engineers), materials (such as precast concrete, prefabricated steel frames, wood, gravel, formwork, steel reinforcing, scaffolding, and other items), equipment and plant (such as power tools, hoists, cranes, excavators, drill rigs), time, and financial resources. Managing resources requires estimating quantities involved at each phase of the project, and assigning the right volumes and quantities at the right time, tracking usage against expectations, and adjusting amounts as required to avoid bottlenecks, overruns, or delays.

Asset and resource management in construction
Digital simulation streamlines resource management in construction. Relocating heavy machinery, bulky materials, equipment, and plant requires significant time and effort. Strategic organization is crucial to avoid wasting days on inefficient resource allocation.
industrial construction management
Optimising site layout in construction planning and management often involves consideration of complex plant and heavy machinery. By incorporating accurate data inputs, these elements can be simulated with a high degree of precision, enabling the effective planning of their movements through three-dimensional space.
Building project planner organising position of crane on-site
This illustration is captured from a 3D simulation generated using our building project planner, depicting the positioning of a crane, temporary fencing, and other site infrastructure.

Waste management

Waste management on a construction site requires a proactive approach, prioritizing waste reduction, reuse, and recycling to minimize environmental impacts and expenses. A comprehensive waste management plan should detail strategies for waste prevention, segregation, storage, and disposal. Digital simulations make this process easier than ever before, saving significant amounts of time, as is readily communicated in the images below.

Railway construction project management
In this railway construction project example, the placement of ladders, excavated material, diggers, dumpsters, and worksite staff is thoroughly examined and tested to ensure efficient operation within the confined space available. Virtual testing allows for easy adjustment of unsuccessful layouts – the same cannot be said when large piles of rocks and rubble are dumped in the wrong place upon a site in reality, resulting in days of lost time, expense, inconvenience and frustration to rectify.

Sustainability in construction management

Sustainable construction management, often referred to as ‘green’ construction management, embraces a holistic approach to design, resource management, and execution. The objective is to minimise a project’s environmental footprint by emphasizing energy efficiency, implementing waste reduction strategies, and incorporating eco-friendly materials and green building practices (such as passive solar design and rainwater harvesting).

Building decarbonisation has become a significant focus in the construction sector, particularly following recent UK policy: Building to net zero: costing carbon in construction (see also Decarbonising Construction: building a new net zero industry, a report published by the Royal College of Engineering, UK). This policy aims to facilitate the transition to a low-carbon future and achieve the ambitious goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. The UK government is committed to public procurement for low-carbon products, whole-life carbon assessments for public projects, and retrofitting existing buildings to minimize emissions. The aim is to introduce increasingly stringent carbon reduction targets and incentives for buildings and infrastructure, taking into account embodied carbon and whole-life carbon assessments associated with the manufacturing, transportation, construction, use, and end-of-life disposal of building materials and products. Strategies for decarbonising building materials include initiatives such as cement decarbonization, promoting steel reuse and recycling, increasing timber use in construction, and supporting low emissions industrial products.

Digital simulation significantly enhances the sustainability of a construction project by enabling more efficient resource planning, waste reduction, and improved energy management, including evaluations of insulation, ventilation, and solar impacts. Virtual simulations can also model complex interactions between a project and its surroundings, minimising environment disruption, as illustrated below.

environmental management in construction industry
Digital planning tools can assess the impact of a proposal on the landscape and existing environmental features, such as the effects of excavation and resulting changes to landscape morphologies and geometries. In this railway example, construction occurs alongside a protected tree belt. Our digital simulation effectively demonstrates to stakeholders that the construction can proceed with minimal disruption to the established trees. (For more examples of how digital simulation is integral to planning in the railway industry, please refer to our accompanying article about railway operation planning.)

Design management

Design management in the construction industry includes overseeing and coordinating associated professionals such as architects, engineers, and interior designers, and integrating feedback from stakeholders to accomplish a cohesive, functional, and aesthetically pleasing design. Digital simulations play a pivotal role in this process, allowing proposals to be visualised, analysed, and adjusted in a virtual setting. These simulations enhance design coordination, clash detection, and resolution of potential issues, ultimately resulting in cost-effective, higher-quality final designs. Virtual CGI models give clients and leaders communication and project control because now every element is visible and clear to the leaders, making communication and change a virtual breeze.

An example of how commercial construction design management is improved by 3D simulation
It is now common practise to utilise virtual simulations in large construction and architecture projects. These allow commercial building design plans to be supplemented with realistic renders and 3D animations. Exceptional levels of detail can be achieved, accurately representing different surface qualities, such as textures on the white building façade, reflections on glass, realistic trees and shrubbery, an precise shadows cast upon the asphalt.

How is BIM used in construction management?

A Building Information Model (BIM) is a digital representation of a project’s physical, spatial, and functional characteristics. This includes 3D geometry and associated data, such as materials, schedules, and performance attributes. Basic 3D BIM modelling can be extended by incorporating additional dimensions, such as 4D, 5D, 6D, and 7D. 4D planning, for example, includes the representation of time.

In recent years, construction project management with BIM has become more widely considered a useful way for managing large projects. Many jurisdictions recognize the advantages of BIM and have implemented policies or guidelines that mandate or encourage its use, especially for public sector projects. However, the trouble many are finding with BIM tools in civil construction is their level of accuracy and agility in complex and dynamic project management. For example, the Cross River Rail project used Revisto BIM models to try and do signal sighting construction planning but due to the basic colourisation of materials, the 1-frame-per-second experience, difficulty in updating the model, and lack of confidence in the process used in construction planning for complex areas, it failed and the construction alliance had to remove signals, rebuild works, delay commissioning, and introduce complex levels of training for unsafe conditions – costing time, money and reputation. CGI virtual models running at 30-frames-per-second with high accuracy and photorealistic materials avoid all these problems, as has been proven, for example, on the NELP Greensborough project.

Simulation tools, such as our CGI Digital Twins software, pull BIM data from Revit or ArchiCAD etc., and use this to power highly accurate physics-based virtual models, with tiny margins of error (we have many millimetre accurate 3D city urban BIM models pre-loaded within our system, making this simple for users). This enables projects to be viewed at street level, with human characters moving about the project on foot, bicycling, or driving. It also allows rapid and precise testing of alignments, clearances, gradients, volumes, curvatures, and so on.

Daylight analysis in a simulation illustrating lighting conditions at different times of day.
BIM and Construction Management: Virtual animations utilising BIM can include sophisticated daylight analysis, simulating lighting conditions at different times of day. This allows designers to examine the effect of natural and artificial lighting upon different surfaces and materials, within interior and exterior spaces, optimising for the use of natural lighting to reduce energy consumption. These images are captured from an induction training simulation prepared for a client as part of a metro tunnel boring project under Melbourne.

Cost control in construction projects

Construction budget management is a crucial aspect of project planning and execution, involving the estimation, allocation, and control of financial resources to ensure that a project is completed within the established financial parameters. This process includes the estimating and costing of building materials and services, monitoring expenses and accounts, inventory management, asset tracking, contingency planning, and regular financial reporting to stakeholders. Effective cost management of construction projects necessitates ongoing assessment and adjustment to account for unexpected cost fluctuations, potential risks, and changes in scope. By employing robust financial planning and maintaining open communication among stakeholders, projects can achieve successful outcomes while minimizing cost overruns and budget blow-outs, maximizing return on investment.

Value management in construction is a systematic approach to optimizing a project’s value by identifying and eliminating unnecessary costs while maintaining or improving quality and performance. It is a collaborative process of analysing and prioritising a client’s needs and objectives, while identifying cost-saving opportunities, minimizing waste, and increasing efficiency.

Digital simulations revolutionise this process in several fundamental ways, such as:

  • Reducing the number of required meetings, with shareholders quickly brought on board due to a clearer understanding of what the project entails.
  • Accelerating project speed and approvals by reusing data models between projects.
  • Avoiding expensive and unforeseen difficulties through clear simulation of design options in virtual space.
  • Implementing virtual training for staff on a large scale, with significantly lower cost and time-investment per staff member.
A project manager for construction company
Traditionally, a project manager for a construction company faced the daunting prospect of facilitating endless meetings with workers, staff members and stakeholders to convey dense, technical information. Digital simulation substantially reduces the need for these meetings, while enhancing understanding and efficiency, leading to immediate cost savings.

Quality management in construction

A quality management plan outlines goals, expectations, policies, procedures, and guidelines addressing quality assurance, control, roles and responsibilities, compliance with standards and regulations, documentation, training, and communication. It defines procedures for monitoring and controlling the quality of work throughout the project, including inspections, testing, and verification of materials and workmanship. Maintaining quality assurance requires an impeccable system for tracking and reporting, along with corrective and preventive actions to address non-conformances. The goal is to enhance project quality by streamlining processes, maintaining accountability, and fostering effective communication among stakeholders.

Quality management in construction projects depends upon outstanding systems for communicating, documenting, recording, collating, processing, evaluating, migrating, viewing, and exporting feedback, performance metrics, and other data. Communication management in construction projects is hence of vital importance, and is made ever easier by the use of intuitive 3D interactive digital CGI models. Fly-through simulations are becoming industry standard, due to their hugely valuable communicative power, and with CGI virtual models, can be captured and updated daily or weekly at marginal cost.

A construction quality manager inspecting the building site.
A Construction Quality Manager is responsible for ensuring that a project meets required quality standards and specifications. This role typically involves reviewing construction plans, specifications, and other relevant documentation, before conducting inspections of the building site to identify any potential quality and safety issues. Site auditing traditionally requires numerous in-person visits, which takes time and can involve safety challenges, particularly when difficult to access parts of the site need to be examined, or environmental conditions do not cooperate. Simulations enable digital quality management in construction, enabling a manager to visualise different aspects of the projects, virtually inspecting any areas of the site, identifying potential issues and clashes before construction begins.

Construction risk management

Risk in construction projects is high, necessitating comprehensive emergency strategies and site-specific safety plans. Potential risks encompass safety incidents, design errors, cost overruns, schedule delays, material shortages, environmental impacts, and regulatory non-compliance. Ensuring the safety of people, resources, and assets is a critical duty within a construction project. Effective risk management requires proactive planning, implementing risk control measures (such as minimising and isolating worksite hazards), continuous monitoring, and prompt response to evolving challenges.

Communication via 2D drawings can lead to a poor shared understanding with limited comprehension of the risks, increasing the likelihood of errors and oversight. In contrast, digital simulations provide advanced tools for analysis and visualisation, enabling the simulation of various emergency scenarios, identifying issues and testing mitigation strategies before actual construction. For instance, light reflection or dust clouds can cause dangerous distraction or vision impairment for nearby motorists – a virtual visual impact assessment can swiftly pinpoint where issues may arise. Leveraging digital simulation allows managers to make better-informed decisions, reduce uncertainties, and reduce risk. It also offers an efficient and cost-effective method for enhancing staff understanding of safety procedures. (Australian readers may wish to visit the Safe Work Australia website.)

Female construction project manager on building site
A professional construction project manager must ensure that all staff, labourers, and personnel upon a construction site operate in the safest conditions possible, through meticulous planning, monitoring, and adherence to safety protocols.

Construction project management software

There are many digital tools that aim to streamline, automate, and optimize various aspects of the construction process, enhancing collaboration, communication, and decision-making among stakeholders. Construction project management systems typically include features for organising tasks, scheduling, budgeting, resource allocation, document control, and reporting. These tools provide a centralized, online, cloud-based platform for information sharing and real-time updates, with digitised information systems ensuring that all team members have access to the latest data.

Senior construction project manager helps with risk management
Whereas traditional methods of project management may involve numerous meetings, with senior construction project managers poring over complex technical drawings, 3D simulation provides quick and easy method for identifying, communicating, and mitigating hazards.

Many construction management solutions integrate with other industry-specific software, such as computer aided design (CAD) programs, delivering a comprehensive and seamless project management experience. However, it is important to note that while these tools encompass many essential project management features, they do not always incorporate cutting-edge ‘smart’ technologies.

What is smart construction technology?

Smart construction technology integrates data from BIMs, drones, sensors, virtual models, virtual reality, augmented reality, real-time data analytics, robotics, artificial intelligence, and so on. By leveraging these complex information systems, construction managers can make faster and more accurate decisions, streamlining workflows, and developing profitable, timely, successful, creative, and innovative projects.

This article introduces just a few of the ways in which smart simulation software takes planning in construction management to the next level. Now, let me introduce our CGI Digital Twins technology, which employs intuitive, physics-based systems to offer an unrivalled advantage to our clients.

Road construction project management example
Our Digital Twins technology aids a wide array of construction and infrastructure projects. In this highway overbridge and road construction project, our Digital Twins software generated highly realistic massing of road networks and bridges (cycle lanes and tram lines can also be included), infrastructure, and surrounding green spaces and landscapes. By simulating traffic patterns, environmental impacts, and construction phasing in a virtual environment, project managers can quickly identify potential issues, optimise resource allocation, and minimise disruptions.

The Urban CGI Digital Twins software

For over 25 years, we have collaborated with some of the top construction project management companies in Australia, New Zealand, and around the globe. Our 3D simulation technology is used by a growing number of government and industry bodies, construction developers, and various project management professionals. Our Digital Twins technology generates a lifelike, photorealistic, interactive replica of your project, which can be used for instant test-and-learn scenario planning and is beneficial at all stages of the construction process. You can walk, cycle, drive, or ‘fly’ through the project, use tools, place plant, and make changes – bringing your vision to life at a human scale as easy as a child’s computer game. Simulations can be exported as 2D renders, converted into training videos, or captured as promotional animations that inform, instruct, engage, persuade, and inspire stakeholders and the broader community.

Our custom-built technology is unrivalled in terms of flexibility, speed, and reliability, and is accompanied by urban project management services that include facilitated discussions and collaborations with staff. To see why our clients frequently return and recommend us to others, you might be interested in viewing some of the planning projects and individual case studies we have been honoured to participate in.

If you would like to discuss how our technology can help resolve your construction management challenges, please reach out to us for a no-obligation conversation. We would love to hear from you! A member of our team from our Melbourne office will be in touch to discuss the ways in which we can transform management of your construction project into a rewarding process for all.