Project Route Map

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4.4 Construction Process

Most building projects go through the same basic stages. It is really helpful if both the leadership and the rest of your church understands how these different stages fit together – with this basic structure in mind you can get to grips with the process and the typical timescales involved. No-one will test you on this, but it is helpful in monitoring progress with the professional team.

The diagram above is based on the RIBA Plan of Work as revised in 2013; confusingly you may still encounter the previous system of letters. These RIBA stages are a subset of steps F-H of our Project Route Map. Please note that timings for different project types will vary – some will be shorter, some longer. There also may be additional time involved in pre-application discussions with the planners, or indeed in raising the necessary funds once the cost of the works is better defined.

Can’t We Just Get On With The Building…?

The actual building work takes place in Stage 5 – Construction; this is where most of the money is spent, and where you can see something real being achieved. Everything else up to that point is preparation for this. That preparation is hugely important; the motto is “Plan, Plan, Plan – only then Deliver”. In illustrating discipleship, Jesus used a very specific building analogy:

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ “(Luke 14, 28-30)

This is true of building projects as a whole, and of course not just in terms of money – for “estimate the cost” we could equally say “understand what is involved”. It is essential to start the project off with the right foundation, and that involves working through the preparatory stages of the project properly.

So What Are The Stages?

The system comprises 8 stages, numbered from 0-7 (!). Briefly, this is what each entails:

  • Stage 0 – Strategic Definition: This is the stage when you’re deciding whether or not you have a project at all – it may involve a feasibility study to explore whether a building project is a good idea, and if so what the possibilities are.
  • Stage 1 – Preparation and Brief: Here you decide what you hope the project will achieve (the ‘Brief’ part), and commission any surveys, for example of an existing building or piece of land (the ‘Preparation’ part).
  • Stage 2 – Concept Design: Here you start seeing some proposals, initially in sketchy form, and later with more formal drawings. At the end of this stage you will have decided what product it is they are trying to buy – how big the building is, what it looks like, and what you will be able to do with it.
  • Stage 3 – Developed Design: The design is developed further and a planning application is submitted.
  • Stage 4 – Technical Design: At this stage other members of the design team input and co-ordinate design information – for example the structural and services design.
  • Stage 5 – Construction: The contractor gets ready to begin work and then builds the building;
  • Stage 6 – Handover and Close Out: The builder hands the completed building over and after a period (typically a year) any subsequent defects related to the building work are addressed, and the building contract is concluded.
  • Stage 7 – In Use: This allows for post-occupancy evaluation and review of whether the project achieved what it set out to.


The programme shown is for a substantial project with typical timings assuming a fair wind; sometimes the stages may become more drawn out – for example there may be a pause while sufficient funds are raised to be confident making a start with the building work.

Also note that the diagram illustrates a sequential process. Where there is a specific deadline – eg ‘we must be finished by Christmas’ – stages may be overlapped so the overall timescale can be shortened. For example if you were very confident that planning approval would be forthcoming at the first time of asking, then it might make sense to start on Stage 4 while the planning process is still underway. The obvious risk is that if for whatever reason permission is not forthcoming, then some additional fees may be incurred – so the benefits of earlier completion must be substantial and the risks clearly understood.

Building Contracts

There are a number of different forms of building contract. So-called ‘traditional’ contracts assume that the client, through the design team, will decide all the details of the project and describe this to a number of builders, who will each give a price. In this case the pricing of the building work takes place at the end of Stage 4, when in principle everything has been decided.

There are other means of buying building work in which the choice of builder is made earlier in the process before the design is fully described – anywhere between Stage 2 and Stage 4. One form is ‘Design and Build’, in which the builder is appointed after Stage 3 and they take responsibility for working up the detail of the design, often with the same design team that was already involved. This has the advantage of earlier cost certainty, and the ability to incorporate the builder’s intelligence to value engineer the project; the disadvantage is that it can result in the ‘dumbing down’ of the design.

Another option that stands between these first two is a ‘Two Stage Tender’ in which a builder is chosen on the basis of preliminary information and a series of agreed rates, perhaps as early as Stage 2; the price for the works is progressively negotiated, with this process completed by the end of Stage 4. This enables the builder to be part of the design team while retaining greater control of the design, and is good where project timescales are compressed; if necessary, construction can begin before the design is fully described.

There are of course many variations on the above. Which is right for you will depend on the nature and sensitivity of the project, but it is good to discuss this with the design team from the outset.