The Language of Construction Management

Alright, alright, I know what you’re thinking. No, this is not going to be a post about the cliche, catcalling construction worker with a NSFW vocabulary. Instead, consider this an introduction to the subtle and varied language of construction management. As a manager, you’ll need to know all of these codes and keywords. Construction projects are necessarily time sensitive, and the faster you can communicate, the better: every second counts.

A term like “project” or understanding what zoning codes are may be intuitive to you already. But there’s a whole language of more obscure terms and phrases specifically related to construction that don’t come up in every day conversation. Let’s first take a look at some phrases that may seem identical, but have different meanings:

  • Project leader (PL) vs. Project director (PD): The PL is responsible for achieving the project’s objectives. The PD is in charge of how a large project can be broken down into sub-projects.
  • Construction management (CM) vs. Real estate management (REM). CM refers to the form of delivery and management of the site. REM offers professional property advice.
  • Prime Contractor vs. Subcontractor. A prime contractor has a contract with an owner, while the subcontractor has a contract with the prime contractor. In general, a contractor is an organization or individual who undertakes responsibility for the performance of the work. A prime contractor is also an example of an independent contractor, one who is free from the control of another.
  • Vendor vs. Supplier. The vendor sells materials or equipment not fabricated to a special design, while the supplier fabricates materials or equipment for a specific portion of a construction project.
  • Multiple prime contracts (MPC). Here is one term that has two different meanings depending on your location. In the US, it is a client that may have five or six prime contractors. In the UK, an MPC is when just one contractor takes responsibility for the development.

Other Useful Acronyms and Abbreviations

  • GMP, guaranteed maximum price. A contract-specified upper limit to the project’s final price.
  • JV, joint venture. A collaboration between two or more companies from the same or different backgrounds and/or fields to complete a common project.
  • CPM, Critical Path Method. A scheduling technique used to plan and control a project. CPM combines all relevant information into a single plan defining the sequence and duration of operations, and depicting the interrelationship of the work elements required to complete the project.
  • PERT. An abbreviation for Program Evaluating and Review Technique (related to CPM)
  • T&M. An abbreviation for a contracting method called Time and Materials.
  • FF&E. An abbreviation for furniture, fixtures, and equipment.

More Must Know Lingo

  • Bid. An offer to perform the work described in contract documents at a specified cost.
  • Contingency. An amount of money reserved by the owner to pay for unforeseen changes in the work or increases in cost.
  • Lien. A form of security interest granted over an item of property to secure the payment of a debt or performance of an obligation.
  • Specifications. Detailed written descriptions of materials, equipment, systems, and required workmanship and other qualitative information pertaining to the work.
  • Warranty. Assurance by a party that it will assume stipulated responsibility for its own work.

And the most important word of all: work! Knowing exactly what it takes to get a project from start to finish is ultimately what will make you the best construction manager out there. Accurately communicating with contractors, engineers, architects, and your crew is an essential skill. This list should give you start in the right direction of expanding your construction vocabulary. If you’re looking to get more in depth with the language, check out the glossary on the Construction Management Association of America’s website.