Construction projects are complex undertakings involving multiple stakeholders, evolving schedules and myriad construction documents. With so many moving parts, collaboration is essential, making requests for information (RFIs) a critical part of the process.
While essential, if not managed correctly, RFIs in construction can cause unnecessary delays and drive up costs. Relatively quick projects that last one year or less still see an average of 270 RFIs, while those that last five years see more than 1,400 on average. As issues arise and additional information is needed to address them, a streamlined RFI process ensures smooth and timely project completion.
Here are some best practices for submitting, drafting and answering RFIs in construction.
What to Include in a Construction RFI
Here’s a checklist of elements to include in your RFI:
Draft your RFI in a precise way that facilitates communication and makes it easy for the receiving parties to answer it as quickly as possible. The average nonresponse rates for RFIs vary by region from less than 19% to 35%, so making your request as clear as possible is a must. Begin by stating the question clearly and concisely. Avoid industry jargon as much as possible, and provide context to clarify the issue. Consider recommending a solution and include images to support the content when appropriate.
Best Practices for Using RFIs
1. Address the RFI Process in Advance and in Writing
At the outset of the project, clarify the RFI process to all parties involved. Contracts should outline the specifications regarding RFIs, including when to submit them, the format to use and the timeframe for responding. Communicating the specifics up front will prevent missteps down the road.
2. Submit RFIs as Soon as Possible
Consider involving subcontractors during the design phase of the construction project and encourage them to submit RFIs early in the process. Traditional projects are very linear, with the planning phases largely completed before the subcontractors get involved. This siloed process can lead to a barrage of RFIs from subcontractors. Involving them early in the process allows issues to be addressed in the design phase and avoids costly delays during the construction phase.
3. Be Clear when Drafting and Answering RFIs
Clear communication is the core of the RFI process. When drafting an RFI, begin by stating the question that needs to be addressed. Be direct and make it clear to the designer, engineer or other stakeholders exactly what you need. After stating the question, add some context to aid in comprehension, keeping the language understandable, concise and free of jargon that others may not understand.
Similarly, an RFI response should be timely and to the point. If the response does not answer the question that was presented, the stakeholder who submitted the RFI should request a meeting or arrange a phone call to discuss the issue. This allows both parties to clear up any confusion and avoid delays caused by lengthy back-and-forth written communication. While a verbal directive will help to resolve the issue and move the project forward, it should also be documented in the RFI response. The RFI serves as an important record for the project and may be referenced if further issues arise.
4. Use Construction Management Software to Automate, Document and Track RFIs
Without a good project management solution in place, documenting and tracking RFIs is a tedious and time-consuming process. The RFI is created in a text document and then logged into a spreadsheet. From there, communications and approvals are generally completed via email. This is a laborious system that lacks standardization, isn’t transparent and is prone to errors. It’s no surprise that the first reply to an RFI takes almost a week on average across projects globally.
An integrated, cloud-based management system allows all stakeholders to track the RFI from the moment it’s submitted until the answer is received. It stores all relevant information and associated communication in a central location accessible by anyone on the team, whether they’re in the office, in the field or even deep underground. An RFI platform also standardizes formatting, making it easier to both submit and respond to RFIs.
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