Commercial projects average hundreds of request for information (RFIs), making it essential that project stakeholders maintain an efficient RFI process in the field. Additionally, it is essential that project stakeholders incorporate best practices to ensure contractors write well-written RFIs and hold them to the same RFI process standards. When you are working on projects with various different professionals, it is important that managers and contractors work together in order to mitigate negative impacts and risks.
Below we will look at 10 helpful tips for developing your RFI process in the field to manage and handle RFIs.
Encourage discussions during regularly scheduled site meetings
When you have meetings with architects and other contractors and subcontractors, encourage discussion. As subject matter experts in their trade, it is important to include subcontractors and trade partners as early in the design process as possible. Encourage discussion and open collaboration upfront, so that you can avoid some RFIs altogether. It’s also a great time to ask questions about the preferred RFI process. When you can answer questions before the construction process, everyone saves time and money!
Ask one specific question
When you are requesting information from someone, it is key that you ask one very specific question. The best RFI process includes sending one RFI per question. That ensures each RFI has a specific question and a specific answer requested. If you send an RFI with 20 different questions, it will likely cause disorganization and confusion. Combining several questions and issues will only complicate the RFI process and lead to a lack of clarity for everyone involved. While you may have 20 different questions, you should send 20 different RFIs. This will allow you to track which questions have been answered to ensure that you receive 20 corresponding answers.
Provide drawings and pictures when possible
We all may speak the same language. However how often do we run into occurrences when items get lost in translation? Including photos and drawings with RFIs can be extremely helpful for the person receiving the RFI and ensuring that nothing gets lost in translation. Graphics help to give context to whatever question or issue has arisen. Photos and drawings also help the individual receiving the RFI to better understand the question and come to the best solution. If you have a tool like BIM 360 Docs, you can review changes between different versions and create and share markups—in 2D or 3D. When you take the time to add drawings and pictures to your RFI, it will speed up the overall RFI process in the field and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Use a cloud-based construction software
Using a construction software can help you to streamline your RFI process. This enables managers, workers, and subcontractors to virtually interact and work together to discuss issues, ask questions, and find solutions. Paper RFIs can be lost and are very time-consuming. Imagine if you truly did have 20 questions and needed to track 20 RFIs. How would you track each individual RFI? If you managed the process via paper, how would other members of the team know the status of each RFI? Cloud-based software allows you to instantly connect with everyone involved in the project. This ultimately means a faster and more organized RFI process, and RFIs themselves, which leads to better efficiency.
When you receive a response, review it for completeness and clarity
When an RFI is returned back to you, look over it to ensure that it is complete and clear. There should not be any questions in the response that you receive back. The respondents should answer the question or issue fully and deliver a concise solution or recommendation. If you don’t receive a complete response, send the RFI back and request a fully answered response.
A previous manager once stated, “Don’t tell me about a problem unless you have a solution.” So, another helpful hint when drafting an RFI is to provide a recommended solution. Subcontractors and trade partners serve as the boots on the ground and expert in constructability. General contractors and designers rely on the expertise of their subcontractors. Show that expertise and minimize the back and forth and confusion by providing a recommended solution. Therefore, the only response that comes back only needs to be “Yes” or “No.”
Once you receive an answer to your RFI, be sure to record the response and store it securely somewhere. How often to does one lose or misplace paper RFIs? It does happen, so stay organized! The RFI process should always include a way to keep track of RFIs. Many construction companies utilize a trusty spreadsheet as their log. This log should include the name of the RFI, the RFI send date, and the RFI answered date. Unfortunately, sometimes someone forgets to update the log, or everyone has a different version of the log saved on their hard drive.
The beauty of construction software is the ability to centralize the log and ensure consistency of information captured. The RFI module in many construction software solutions automatically tracks all activities related to the RFI. It is centrally located in the cloud so everyone on the team knows the real-time status.
Name all RFIs the same way
If you name all of your RFI files the same way, it will make them much easier to find when you need to search for them. A helpful hint includes adding RFI number to reference more easily. As the number of RFIs increase, a numerical naming system used in conjunction with the subject will keep your RFIs more organized. Additionally, as RFIs get revised it is also important to track revisions separately. This enables you to track previous versions, so that a trail of documentation around one of RFI is kept intact.
Set specific due dates
When you send out RFIs, make sure that individuals know when you need a response by. Make it clear on the RFI that in order to mitigate any schedule delay that you request a response to the RFI by a specific date. This holds the recipient accountable to the due date or the project schedule will suffer consequences. If you send out an RFI, but don’t specify a due date, it is likely that they will put it off until later and forget to respond. As stated previously, an extra bonus of construction management software includes the ability to create reminders or set up alerts.
Continually update the RFIs status
Make sure to update the RFIs status. You want to make sure that all the appropriate team members are aware of any progress. Even though no progress is being made, you will still want to take note of any communications. If you are calling or emailing the General Contractor for an update and they are non-responsive, document that! This will be critical information in the event that there are any claims or disputes on schedules and progress. Your team can attribute any delays back to a lack of responsiveness, so documentation is critical.
Of course, once the RFIs response is complete, mark it as closed out so that everyone is aware! The last thing you want to do is to have others keep hounding for an answer when someone has already received one.
Keep everyone involved
Communication is an essential part in the RFI process, as well as, effectively managing construction projects, especially when it comes to RFIs. Your team on the field is waiting for direction so it’s important to keep them updated on RFI status. If you are using a construction software, add everyone involved so that they can view the RFI process. If you aren’t using a software, create a group email to keep everyone in constant communication. This ensures that everyone stays on the same page. When team members have visibility, it helps minimize the finger pointing and blame. Keeping everyone involved helps maintain a collaborative nature that is critical to effective project execution.