How to Manage the Construction RFI Process for Fewer Delays
The construction RFI is an essential component of the construction process.
RFIs give project stakeholders a dedicated channel to ask questions, clarify design details, and seek guidance.
Sometimes an RFI will bring up an issue that results in a design change or change in project scope. These changes can extend the cost and duration of the project both negatively and positively. The RFI process documents these instances and then becomes part of the contract record as a result.
RFIs also provide project delivery teams an opportunity to value engineer the project. By pointing out ways to reduce costs, build more efficiently, and produce a better-finished product, contractors provide value to the owner and increase the asset’s profitability.
But as integral as RFIs are to the construction process, they can also be the source of unnecessary delays, expenses, conflict, and confusion.
This article discusses the best practices of construction RFI management to improve the process, improve communication, and ensure quicker RFI responses.
What is a construction RFI?
An RFI is a Request For Information and formal document stakeholders submit when they have a question or concern about the details of a project.
RFIs occasionally arise during the bidding phase but are most common during the build phase and accumulate throughout the project’s lifecycle.
RFIs are formal because they become part of the project documentation and sometimes result in changes to the contract documents, particularly the design drawings, plan sheets, and specifications.
The resulting directives, design changes, or changes to the project scope can extend the cost and duration of the project. And as such, the RFI process should be regarded as an official and purposeful communication channel and be used following strict guidelines.
No more paper forms: The construction RFI process evolves.
Typical large-scale projects can generate hundreds of RFIs. And, believe it or not, there was a time when RFIs were handwritten in the field or called into the office, typewritten on paper forms, and sent by courier.
Can you imagine how disjointed, confusing, and extended that process was and how many delays it caused?
Today there is no reason for paper RFI forms when construction software provides RFI templates and automated workflows to manage this critical communication process.
But just because construction technology makes creating RFIs simpler and more convenient, the request for information process shouldn’t let stakeholders get carried away.
A poorly handled process will quickly overwhelm an already busy team creating unnecessary delays.
Recognizing the RFI process as an official and formal request system with potentially serious consequences is vital. The following best practices ensure that your RFIs have everything they need to meet the essential request for information requirements and nothing that might bog down the process.
What are the primary components of a construction RFI?
RFIs need explicit details but no extraneous information to be effective. And the best way to do that is with premade templates.
Regardless of whether you use premade templates or create your own, the primary components of an RFI must include clear and concise information for the best results.
- Stakeholder information:
- This should include the company name and point of contact for correspondence.
- These details lay out who should deal with the RFI specifics.
- Defining your RFI:
- It’s essential to state the issues that need addressing. Is this a design, technical, or supply issue?
- If you have a specific point of contact, address this person directly.
- Relevant details:
- Submit all applicable information, including pictures, drawings, and onsite observations.
- It’s essential to provide as much information as possible. The data will assist with the decision-making process and will speed up responses.
- Offer suggestions:
- If there are areas where you can; provide suggestions, add this also.
- Often apparent answers are the most helpful.
How to write a construction RFI: What you need to include:
As a formal request for clarification, RFIs require several vital components.
Include the Who.
An RFI should include who is requesting the information and who should respond.
Any stakeholder can generate RFIs, but they typically come from supervisors, superintendents, subcontractors, and project managers.
The most common RFI respondents are the general contractor, architect, engineering team, owner, or developer, but suppliers are also frequently included in the RFI process.
An RFI should be dated and have a requested reply date.
But don’t allow your stakeholders to create a sense of urgency without good reason. The best way to accomplish realistic response request dates is to connect the information request with a task, group, or milestone on the project schedule.
That way, respondents have the information to prioritize the many RFIs streaming into their office intelligently.
Every project has an identifier, often called a serial number or project number.
Stakeholders are busy working on multiple projects, so identifying the project in question is crucial.
RFIs should also include a unique identifier too. RFIs are typically sequentially numbered for easy tracking and retrieval. Still, some organizations also have a letter code to identify further what section the request refers to or who should respond.
Additionally, the RFI needs to specify where on the project the question originates.
Attaching spec sheets, plan sheets, drawings, photographs, and videos is enormously helpful, and technology makes this easy.
The more detailed the information, the easier it is for the respondent to contextualize the information request and respond.
Construction RFIs: What, specifically, is the question?
RFIs should be limited to only one question or issue while providing as much relevant detail as possible.
Complicating a request for information with multiple questions, issues, opinions, or complaints will only result in rejection and a request for reclarification. RFIs rejected for insufficient information create an unnecessary cycle of back-and-forth communication that suffocates the process, slows production, and causes unnecessary delays.
RFIs should be clear and concise, include only one question, and be devoid of useless information.
Why is this relevant?
The RFI requestor should never assume the respondent will intuitively know why the issue is relevant.
For that reason, it’s also crucial the RFI includes what impact the problem is having on the schedule or if it’s likely to result in additional costs.
The RFI is not a channel to submit change orders or change requests. Still, as a construction professional, your RFIs should include all the relevant details the respondent needs to make an informed decision and, or recommendation.
How should this be resolved?
RFI creators should provide the targeted respondent with a recommended course of action.
The respondent is not obligated to accept the suggestion, but providing options increases the likelihood of a timely response.
Failure to follow the construction RFI process causes delays:
The RFI process is intended to streamline information requests and communicate project challenges.
However, process mismanagement and general disorganization can create more problems than the RFIs solve.
Assigning incorrect information to an RFI can lead to delays. This can include using the wrong pictures and drawings and explaining issues in complicated language.
An RFI should contain all relevant information and be to the point.
No dedicated RFI channel in place:
RFIs may go to the wrong departments or teams without a dedicated channel for communication.
A robust communication network works best, and project management software allows you to set up specific channels for RFI and other communication needs.
Depending on the size and scope of your project, it may be necessary to appoint a dedicated RFI manager or response team.
Specificity ensures accountability and dedicated pathways for RFI submissions and responses.
Misuse of RFI channels:
While your onsite teams should know the correct use of RFI channels, providing guidelines may be necessary.
RFI channels used for routine communications, schedule changes, material submissions and shop drawings, etc., will delay responses and lead to a breakdown in communication.
Set out a minimum standard for RFI submissions and responses. You can send out guidelines in your management software systems or provide templates for all stakeholders and project team members.
No response deadlines and automated follow-up sequences:
A lack of urgency for RFIs can lead to significant delays. Without deadlines or activity tracking, RFIs may be shelved and forgotten.
It’s important to have response guidelines and automated follow-up sequences in place. Automation creates urgency and allows for active tracking, submission, and faster response generation.
Large-scale projects may face numerous RFIs daily, so prioritizing and automated follow-ups help departments and individuals manage the influx of requests.
What is the process for submitting a construction RFI?
The basic outline of the construction RFI process is as follows:
Subcontractors, specialty contractors, and onsite work teams may raise the need for RFI when encountering a problem.
A responsible party, such as the site superintendent or project manager, will evaluate the situation and seek to clarify the issue on-site, if possible.
Simple responses can be handled on-site, but official rulings and determinations require an RFI.
General contractors and project managers will respond to an official RFI when possible. Onsite clarification may be all that is needed. If the general contractor’s office or project manager cannot adequately respond to an RFI, they will forward it to the relevant department or individual who can.
When the RFI has reached the relevant department, a response schedule should be in place. An established plan ensures that information tracking and response times are appropriate.
Each department should have a strategy to record and react swiftly to an RFI.
With an adequate system in place, responses can be swift and accurate.
Department stakeholders submit their responses and answers to project managers and general contractors. They can then forward it to the relevant parties. Following this process, work should continue as scheduled with fewer interruptions.
How long does the construction RFI process take?
RFIs can involve subcontractors, contractors and project managers, designers, and architects, depending on the issue’s complexity.
The RFI process, from submission to response, may take one to several weeks, although most RFIs resolve within 10-15 business days. Therefore, creating response deadlines and having a robust submitting and response system is essential.
How to respond to an RFI:
Record and log details:
It is essential to have an adequate system in place to record and log RFIs. A digital platform is best. Logs ensure that submitted details and responses are sent, noted, and validated.
Read and record the RFI details carefully:
To understand the issue entirely, the respondent needs all the information available. If an RFI is missing important data, it’s important to request what’s missing.
Is there enough information to respond?
Does the RFI require an onsite visit?
The more detail your RFI has, the better the decision-making process will be.
Invite the necessary parties:
Multiple parties may be required to respond to an RFI.
Robust information and communication platforms such as Linarc provide instant access to every stakeholder on the project.
With effective communication channels, you can contact key stakeholders onsite and remotely through mobile apps.
Whatever the outcome, it’s important to note and record responses and results. Documenting this information is important to show a clear line of communication.
Your RFI response should be standardized. It is the only way to ensure that project stakeholders are informed and that communication is working across your project.
Having back-and-forth RFIs will only delay projects, cause issues within your teams and cost your project time and money.
How does software streamline the construction RFI process?
Construction software significantly improves project efficiency and workflow.
Software and digital tools are changing how construction projects get managed and progress. For example, construction software allows for improved communication on the job site. It speeds up the communication process, provides a log of communication data, and streamlines how information gets used.
The software allows you to generate and respond to RFIs, and keep all communications in one place.
In addition, you can create templates and generate file-sharing systems and make topics searchable.
Is your construction RFI process slowing you down?
Get a free, custom demonstration of the Linarc construction management system today.
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- Seamless collaboration
- Easy file sharing
- Common communication platform
- Real-time updates on project progress
- …and so much more
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