Anatomy of an RFI Construction & RFI Best Practices

Managing a construction big construction project requires a plethora of planning, communication, planning and a massive amount of paper works. There are many communication documents exchanged to and fro during the construction process in the forms of, but not limited to submittals, transmittals, RFQ, and RFI. In this short article, we are going to discuss and dissect what does RFI stand for in construction, as well as a few pointers on the best practices of an RFI in the construction industry.

THE ANATOMY OF AN RFI IN CONSTRUCTION

RFI or Request For Information, in a nutshell, is an official request form that solicits details during the planning, bidding down to the building stages of a construction project. The main purpose of an RFI in construction is to bridge information gaps, eliminate any confusion, and capture project decisions. RFI’s are usually used to clarify, but not limited to the following: design drawings, specifications, standards, and contracts.

RFI’s for construction are created as a response to the following:

  • To verify the official interpretation and clarify ambiguous, irrelevant or missing project detail which can come in missing project specification, a flawed design issue among many things.
  • To authenticate the official decision made by the architect, engineer, or the owner about a project change that can affect the scope of work, that has the possibility to add to project costs or can cause liability issues in the future.

An RFI in construction management that has been completed is generally accepted as an official change to the scope of work unless further approval is needed.

RFI’s sound simple in definition, but in RFI’s are anything but simple. RFI’s are time-consuming, detail driven and can cost a lot and take a toll on a company’s bottom line. In a study done by Navigant in an analysis of over 1300 construction projects all over the world that had over 1 million RFI’s found out it cost an average of $1080 per RFI to read, write, and respond, and takes a company an average of 10 days to respond to an RFI. They also found out that 22% of the RFI received no response.

WHEN NOT TO USE AN RFI

RFI is a great way to make sure that everybody is on the same page when it comes to communication, but you cannot create an RFI for everything that happens in the construction. An RFI should ideally NOT be used in the following:

  • Regular communication or instruction on a project which includes verbal communication
  • Safety plans and protocols
  • Submission of scheduling plans
  • General commentaries on a project
  • Adding an additional design or engineering elements that should have been in the initial planning and bidding
  • Giving a general review of the construction project

RFI WORKFLOW

Each company has their process on how they create and send an RFI, but in general, the RFI workflow would look like this.

RFI BEST PRACTICE

RFI’s have attracted the lewd eye in for the people who work in the construction industry because it has frequently become a vehicle to increase profit through claims, as well as create a paper trail often used to assert accumulative impact delays, neglectful designs among other things.

An RFI is a necessary document in every construction project, and should not be looked upon as a high-risk document, instead, it should be looked at a document that promotes efficiency while lessening risk. And, to do this, it’s necessary for the industry to manage the whole RFI process with a deep understanding of best practice. Many project managers have their own way of writing an effective RFI’s, but here are some that we found most effective.

Ask The Right Question(s)

While this is a pretty obvious thing, some people still get it wrong because some people write 100 irrelevant questions that are left unanswered. In order for an RFI to be effective, each RFI must only contain one specific query. Don’t overload your RFI with unnecessary questions and comments that might delay response time.

Provide the Right Background To An Issue

When you write your one question RFI, make sure that you provide information that can be understood by everyone, and not just to the people who are onsite and have witnessed the incident. When in doubt, you can use the journalisms 5W’s and H principle – Who, When, Where, What, Why and How.

For example: What is the conflict? Who is affected? What is affected? Where is the problem?

Provide Visuals

There are times when a drawing, a sketch, or a video can be worth more than a thousand words. The odds are if you are in the construction business is you have a good sense of spatial skills and drawing a picture should be something that’s easy for you to do. Visuals make RFI’s easy to understand. Just don’t forget to include a brief and concise explanation for every visual that you include.

Give A Possible Solution to The Challenge

So far, we’ve discussed RFI as someone who is writing the RFI, that’s why we have stressed it’s important to ask the right questions because the right questions can make answering it simple. But what should you do if you are at the RECEIVING end of the RFI? How should you answer it so that it doesn’t ricochet back to you?

Remember that good answers should include:

  1. No Questions

Nothing is more troublesome than answering a question with another question because for sure, this will go back and forth between parties’ infinitum.

If you are an architect on the receiving end of an RFI, do your research before sending it back.

  1. Provide A Suggestion Not Choices

Sometimes, it’s OK to provide suggestions, but sometimes the people in the design team can’t decide and come up with a response like “ either option is acceptable”. This doesn’t help at all. Provide a suggestion and keep everybody happy and moving in the right direction.

  1. Provide a COMPLETE Answer To The Question

Make sure that all the bases are covered when answering an RFI to make sure that your team knows what to do, and the project doesn’t get delayed. When in doubt, remember your five W’s and one H!

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