A construction RFI or request for information is often used to get a written clarification on any number of doubts or to fill in any gaps in information, and these may be found in plans or specifications or contracts or other such documents.
Who is the party to an RFI?
Whenever a question arises about a document, the general contractor or the subcontractor submits an RFI to the person who provides the report (designer, client, etc.). The receiving party sends a response to the contractor with a detailed answer to the question asked.
When do you need an RFI?
The need for a construction RFI arises when the information from designers, clients, or other stakeholders is inadequate and brings forth all the questions or needs clarification.
There are three main reasons to submit a project RFI:
- Modification or Substitution
- Additional information or Clarification
- Deficiency in Construction
Why is project RFI so important?
You must accept this that an RFI is an integral part of a construction communication process. With the complexities each construction project is created with; there is no way no question will arise. There would be instances information will be left out, and hence the need for clarification will appear.
The Aftermath of An RFI Response
The reply answered the question of the stakeholder. The issue gets resolved. It is recorded in the database.
The reply did not answer the question of the stakeholder. It is often found that the RFI which doesn’t receive answer can be a massive roadblock in a construction project. When such a thing happens, the one who had submitted the RFI should request a meeting with the stakeholder who receives the RFI. Even a telephone call can hasten the RFI process and thus reduce the delays. In addition to this, it can resolve the confusion in place of creating a beeline of back and forth communication. In some cases, an approval or a verbal directive is received as a response to an RFI, yet the contractor should document the instruction or approval. It plays the key role in important documentation in case any conflict or questions arise due to work performed.
However, the RFI is an essential tool to ascertain that everybody stays on the same page, it can be misused or abused for making false claims and design unwanted paper trails and blame other parties for lack of information or delays. Some find it an unnecessary tool for clarification and communication.
When not to send an RFI?
RFIs are generally used in many industries apart from the construction such as design and engineering worlds. The primary purpose is to collect information or details of the project. But, a construction RFI should not be used in the following cases:
- As a routine during the project
- Add engineering or design elements. It should not account for the preliminary planning or bidding
- Share protocols and plans
- Submit plans for scheduling
- Seek approval on changes in a project
- Provide general commentary on a project
- Verbal communication on replacement or project instruction or job site
To eliminate the possibility of abusing an RFI, the subcontractor must read the following tips to deal with RFIs:
Contracts, when written correctly carry the information necessary for the project and include specifications for the submittal process of RFIs. It consists of the format, the right time to write an RFI vs another document and the expected timeframe to get a response. When someone doesn’t read the contract properly, the RFI may be sent for seeking information already provided, and it won’t be submitted as per the specifications laid down in the agreement. Both the things result in undesired costs and delays and these can be avoided easily.
Address Contractor RFI Early On
In a design bid build project, construction is a linear process. Usually, the design is first completed and then delivered to the contractors. And this is where the disputes may take birth. The pits in design and construction can pose as roadblocks for collaboration. On the other hand, a more open collaboration process has the potential to slash project RFI in construction.
Some integrated delivery models in the construction industry such as Integrated Project Delivery, Design Build, or Integrated Labor Delivery are garnering massive support from the owners and contractors. These models motivate the early participants of construction experts, trade contractors, to furnish inputs into the design process. It lets the issues to be addressed during the design phase versus the construction phase when the problems and alterations turn costlier.
Use RFI tools
Keeping a track on the RFIs is tedious as the manual work takes a lot of time of the contractors. Generally, a project manager prepares the construction RFI in a word document. After doing this, the individual logs and tracks the RFIs on an excel spreadsheet. These are some challenges for the company. Communication and approvals are taken through emails. It lacks visibility and standardisation. The field teams and project managers call for RFI status or updates.
Fortunately, there are a lot of construction project management solutions or RFI tools to let the subcontractors track the RFIs from the subcontractor right from creation to being answered and then store all the information at a centralised place from where it can be accessed at any given point of time by the user. An RFI tool has a standardised RFI form so that all the submitted RFIs are identical and on par with the agreed specifications making it easier for the recipients to read and respond to.
RFI is a highly useful tool when used properly to provide communication. Therefore, to deal with the RFIs, do ensure you use the best practices for the RFI.
- One issue, one RFI
- Use a standard form for submitting RFIs
- Specify timeframe in the contract for providing the response
- Store all project RFIs in a central database with the essential information such as time, date, sender, and the receiver.
- Maintain a record of all RFI deliveries in a central database
- When you respond to an RFI, make adjustments to the budget and schedule when needed.
- Make and automate a permanent RFI audit trail
- Read the contract and the related documents
- Evaluate the contract and the associated documents
What does it mean for the subcontractors?
If it is used correctly, RFIs play the role of a communication tool, and this allows for an effortless communication and smooth execution of the project. It depends on the general contractor and the subcontractor to evade the issues surrounding the RFI by utilising the best practices such as RFI tools and submit all the RFIs.
Consider the cost of the RFI for the Receiving Party
The subcontractor should think of not just his costs but also of the related stakeholders. On an average, the price of each RFI for the recipient is approx. $1000 after professional and administrative expenses. It should not stop the subcontractor from submitting necessary RFIs, but the subcontractor should take the pain to submit RFIs when there is no answer provided in any document.
In this manner, the subcontractor will create a positive working relationship with all the stakeholders working on the construction project, and this can lead to long-term business relationships and a positive word of mouth.
Due to the possible cost and time impacts that surface with the RFIs, they get a bad reputation. Nevertheless, RFIs take care of the quintessential questions or get clarifications before the work begins. It is vital as when the action starts without an RFI, issues such as change orders and re-work will be commonplace.