The Ultimate Guide to Construction RFIs: Everything You Need to Know
Construction RFIs (Request for Information) are critical for effective communication and problem-solving during every construction phase, from preconstruction planning to project completion.
Architects, engineers, general contractors, and subcontractors rely on RFIs (requests for information) to ensure every stakeholder understands the project plans, specs, and contract documents.
Learn why construction RFIs are essential, how to submit an RFI, how to use an RFI template, and how project management software facilitates the RFI process for fewer costly delays.
What is a construction RFI?
A construction RFI is a formal document used during the construction process to solicit information from the owner, design team, or general contractor.
RFIs ask questions, make suggestions, or seek clarification on details that are obscured or otherwise unavailable in the contract documents.
Project stakeholders rely on RFIs to resolve ambiguities, inconsistencies, or missing data in construction documents, such as plan sheets and specifications. But stakeholders also generate RFIs to seek direction when the existing site conditions are other than anticipated or prove unsafe.
RFIs are critical communications between the owner, architect, engineer, and contractors that ensure projects are constructed safely, according to their design intent, and in compliance with applicable codes and regulations.
What makes a Request For Information (RFI) so important?
According to the 2021 HKA CRUX Insight report, contract misinterpretations are one of the construction industry’s leading causes of claims and disputes, costing the industry billions.
An effective construction RFI process is essential in quickly solving these issues before they create costly delays and disputes.
RFIs serve as a formal communication channel between stakeholders to identify potential problems before they become serious. Identifying issues through formal communication is advantageous because it eliminates multiple questions concerning the same issue.
To avoid confusion, costly delays, and errors, all stakeholders must share the same understanding of the project details. Therefore, RFIs exist to ask questions, clarify ambiguities, settle uncertainty, and add detail to the contract documents for everyone’s reference.
Time, cost, quality, and safety drive the decisions in construction. It’s imperative to document anything out of the ordinary that might affect workforce safety, the project schedule, the cost, or the quality of the completed asset.
Uncertainty causes delays. RFIs resolve uncertainty and provide direction to keep construction projects moving forward safely, productively, and professionally.
An efficient construction RFI process ensures that everyone understands the project goals, design intent, and contract documents.
How are RFIs used?
RFIs are used throughout the construction process to request information, seek direction, or ask permission.
Stakeholders rely on RFIs to address poor site conditions and missing design elements. Contractors also submit RFIs to suggest alternative construction methods and materials.
A less common use for RFIs involves requests for additional information on codes, regulations, or other project requirements.
Generally, code and regulatory requirements are reviewed and approved before plan release. However, there are times when a contractor will discover something in the plan sheets out of alignment with the building code. In these instances, it’s better to submit an RFI to be sure.
Subcontractors typically submit RFIs to the general contractor and from the general contractor to the architect or engineer.
However, any stakeholder can generate a Request for Information.
For this reason, a formal RFI review process is essential to ensuring the project team only addresses legitimate issues.
Anything less will result in wasted time, effort, and unnecessary delays.
What are the different types of construction RFIs?
Stakeholders generate RFIs for many reasons, but here are the most common.
- Design RFIs: Contractors with design-related questions use RFIs to communicate with the design team. The RFIs seek clarity or further explanation than what is available in the project’s design drawings, specifications, or plan sheets.
- Incomplete Plans or Specifications: When stakeholders discover errors or omissions in the plans and specifications, they submit an RFI to the design team for clarification.
- Contract Language: Disagreements over project scope and responsibilities often generate numerous RFIs. When subcontractors bicker with one another or the general contractor regarding who is responsible for what element of work, they submit RFIs to seek clarity and resolve disputes.
- Material Change: Contractors submit material-related RFIs to request permission to use alternate materials or seek direction from the design and engineering team when problems develop with contract-specified materials.
- Constructability Issue: When the existing site conditions, specified materials, or design requirements prove unsafe or impossible to build, contractors submit a constructability-related RFI to ask for guidance and direction.
- Unforeseen Conditions: Unforeseen site conditions, such as loose, unstable soils, unknown utility crossings, or physical impediments to the work in progress, require design, engineering, or executive decisions to resolve.
- Schedule Sequence or Work Coordination: Resource constraints and safety concerns can hinder contractors from executing the construction schedule as planned. Contractors are encouraged to request information and guidance when these issues arise to prevent project interruptions and delays.
- Value Engineering: Contractors generate Value Engineering-related RFIs when they discover cost-saving measures, improved functionality, or other ways to increase the project’s overall value for the owner. The owner, design team, or general contractor will then make an informed decision about moving forward with the suggestion and changing the contract documents to reflect the change.
How does the Request For Information (RFI) process work?
Construction RFIs are typically initiated by a subcontractor or member of the general contractor’s site team, routed through the project manager for review, and then sent to the design team or owner for final review and response.
The design team or owner is responsible for reviewing the RFI and providing a written response within a specific timeframe–typically 10 to 15 business days.
The RFI response should address the issue and provide direction. Or, if the issue is still unclear, the respondent requests additional information to settle the matter and close the RFI.
The construction RFI workflow
The volume of RFIs tends to increase in relation to a project’s size, complexity, and value. And the longer a contractor waits for direction, the longer the schedule is delayed.
To avoid the risk of schedule delays, establish an efficient RFI workflow to ensure your schedule stays on track.
If the RFI process does not resolve the issue, it may be necessary to escalate it to a higher management level or involve legal counsel. That’s why it’s essential to carefully document all RFIs and responses, as these documents may be used as evidence in the event of a dispute.
Certain elements should always be included when creating an RFI.
The RFI should be
- Numbered for tracking
- Include the project name, number, and address
- Requestor and respondent information
- Clearly state the issue or request
- Include a requested reply date (and why it matters)
- Provide relevant background information and supporting documentation
- Include plan sheets, markups, photos, or video as applicable.
Using a standardized form or RFI template is wise for the best results.
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) provides contract documents and standardized RFI forms for owners, architects, and contractors to solicit each other for information.
AIA forms are not required, but the information they contain certainly is.
Construction RFI best practices
When used judiciously, RFIs can save time by effectively communicating and resolving most issues on a construction project.
The following best practices ensure your RFI process works as well as it should:
- Use clear and concise language: It is essential to be as specific as possible when writing or responding to an RFI. Clarity helps to avoid misunderstandings and ensure that all parties are on the same page.
- Include relevant supporting documentation whenever possible; having appropriate supporting documentation with your RFI is helpful. Supporting documentation may consist of drawings, plan sheets, specifications, markups, photos, videos, or other suitable materials.
- Please be timely: It is essential to follow the timeline for submitting and responding to RFIs. Delays in the RFI process can cause delays in the project.
- Use a standardized format: A sequentially numbered, standardized format ensures accuracy and that all parties know the information in question.
- Use an RFI tracking system: Tracking project RFIs throughout the process ensures stakeholders always know who has the RFI at any given time. And a transparent process encourages prompt response times.
- Maintain an RFI log: Maintaining an ongoing record of project RFIs serves several purposes. This log should include RFI numbers, dates received and responded to, and any relevant notes regarding the request or response. The RFI log helps all parties stay organized and addresses every request.
Advanced RFI Techniques
Once you have the basics down, several advanced RFI techniques can make your RFI process even more efficient and effective.
- Use RFI software: Specialized software built for the construction industry automates the RFI process. Cloud-based platforms let stakeholders create, submit, and track RFIs from home, the office, or the field. This functionality streamlines the RFI process by over 50% and greatly reduces the risk of errors and delays.
- Use a central repository: Greater than a simple RFI log, you’re collecting valuable data by maintaining a centralized repository for all RFIs across your entire project portfolio over time. Then you can use that data to identify patterns to watch for in future projects, potentially eliminating those issues well before construction.
- Standardized digital templates: Project management software includes RFI templates to make the process faster, easier, and more efficient. Digital templates ensure that requests include all the necessary information.
And the software has prebuilt workflows that track the RFIs and alerts stakeholders when their response is required. Digital systems reduce RFI process times and minimize the risk of misunderstandings and delays.
- Assign an RFI coordinator: Designate a single person or team to coordinate, monitor, and manage the RFI process. An RFI coordinator can provide a preliminary review and ensure stakeholders have accurately completed their requests.
- Hold regular RFI meetings: Regular stakeholder meetings can help resolve issues before they become problems or delays. Reviewing open RFIs help identify problematic trends or patterns.
Does your project management software include RFI management?
Project management software can make the RFI process easy.
Templated RFI forms provide a simple, easy way to submit requests, track their progress, and document RFI responses, all in one easy-to-access platform.
Software specifically designed for managing construction projects ensures that requests are submitted accurately and promptly answered while providing real-time progress updates throughout the project lifecycle.
Project management software also includes collaboration tools like chat, schedule updates, and alerts. And the document management feature can be invaluable when dealing with large projects with multiple stakeholders.
What is the future of RFI processing in the construction industry?
The future of construction RFI (Request for Information) processing will likely involve greater use of technology and automation.
Building Information Modeling (BIM):
One example of this is Building Information Modeling (BIM) software.
BIM allows real-time collaboration between the owner, design team, general contractor, and team members. The promise of BIM software lies in its ability to give the project team deeper insights into possible ambiguities, design clashes, conflicts, or errors in the design.
With foresight like this, many instances that generally require a lengthy RFI process will be resolved before construction begins.
Increased use of mobile technology:
Additionally, digital tools such as mobile apps and cloud-based software for RFI tracking and management can help streamline the process and improve communication between team members.
Stakeholders can access the construction schedule, contract documents, plan sheets, and specifications from anywhere.
Overall, using mobile technology and automation to process RFIs will lead to increased efficiency, fewer schedule interruptions, and more significant cost savings for construction projects of all sizes.
As the construction industry becomes increasingly complex and project teams become more diverse, there is a growing emphasis on collaborative project delivery.
RFIs will play a central role in this process. They provide a structured means of communication, requesting and receiving information, and real-time feedback from stakeholders wherever they are and however they’re involved in the project.
Increased use of data analytics:
Construction projects generate large amounts of data, but much of that data is lost.
Technology makes capturing, storing, and analyzing this data more manageable and far more cost-effective than manual processing.
As the RFI process goes digital, design and construction teams will benefit from the trends and patterns that emerge from previous projects.
- Which are the most frequent questions?
- What are the most common design conflicts?
- How can our contract be clarified to avoid more misunderstandings?
Analyzing the data generated through the RFI process will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our project delivery systems and support better decision-making in future construction projects.
Effective construction RFIs begin with an effective system
Effective RFI management is crucial for the success of any construction project.
Ensure that every project team member works with the same information and that conflicts, questions, and discrepancies are addressed promptly by establishing a fast, effective, easy-to-use RFI management process.
The Linarc RFI management system makes it easy to manage your project, empower your team, and keep your project on track.
Prebuilt RFI templates and automated workflows improve your RFI process and reduce response time by more than 50%.
No more losing scheduled time to missed, ignored, and unprocessed RFI requests.
Linarc’s RFI module is effective independently or when used in conjunction with other modules like schedule, budget, change orders, and project financials.
And the best part?
Getting started is simple.
Don’t let the construction RFI process get you down
Get a free, custom demonstration of the Linarc construction management system today.
Linarc is a cloud-based project management system built solely for collaborative, data-driven construction management.
- Seamless collaboration
- Easy file sharing
- Common communication platform
- Real-time updates on project progress
- …and so much more
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