RFI Process in The Field 10 Tips You Can Start Using Today

14 Tips to Make an Effective RFI Template and Process

The Request for Information (RFI) process is used by contractors to gain information and clarity about their tasks and responsibilities on a project. They take the form of documents that contain critical questions for the receivers to answer. This opens a transparent communication between contractors and companies (vendors) that intends to clarify any ambiguous or absent details related to the construction project. This also helps highlight which companies are best suited to your requirements.

Note that commercial projects average hundreds of RFIs, making it essential that project stakeholders maintain an efficient RFI document process in the field. Additionally, project stakeholders must incorporate best practices to ensure contractors write well-written RFIs and hold them to the same quality standards.

Here are some highly effective tips to help you create your own RFI template or improve your existing RFI document process to minimize negative impacts and risks.

Encourage Discussions During Regularly Scheduled Site Meetings

When meeting with architects, contractors, and subcontractors, make it a habit to encourage discussions. As subject matter experts in their trade, it is important to include subcontractors and trade partners as early in the design process as possible. 

Encouraging discussions and collaborating upfront helps you avoid some RFIs altogether. It is also a great time to ask questions about the preferred RFI process. When you can answer questions before the construction process begins, everyone saves time and money!

Structure the Document Properly

The main goal of using an RFI is to gather crucial information in a structured way. Hence, the writer of the RFI should always keep the structure formal and based on the sender’s requirements. This makes it easier for respondents to respond, and for you to evaluate multiple issues (or root out unsuitable vendors) without adding confusion.

There are several different ways to structure an RFI template, depending on your construction requirements. Some basic elements to include upfront are the submission and due dates, names of the sender and receiver, contact information, the location and address of the project, and a unique RFI serial number to keep track of the document.

The remaining section of the template should contain the question or problem you want a solution for, related requirements such as timelines and budgets, possible solutions, etc.

Ask One Specific Question

The best RFI document 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. 

Remember that combining several questions and issues will only complicate the RFI process and lead to a lack of clarity for everyone involved. If you indeed have 20 questions, you should send 20 RFIs accordingly. This will allow you to track which questions have been answered to ensure you receive 20 corresponding answers to clarify each question to the fullest. 

It Should Address Legal and Compliance Requirements

Discuss that sometimes, how keeping legal and compliance requirements can be an important part of an RFI document so it should be part of the template.

Subcontractor Software

Add a Response Section

Every RFI template must include a response section for respondents to let them explain how they will complete the construction project. You can then evaluate their recommended solution and ask them in return if they are best suited for the job. Such insight into your team members is critical in understanding their approach to work, skills, knowledge, and other metrics crucial to completing construction jobs.

Add an Evaluation Criteria

Having clear evaluation requirements is one of the most important project details to include in an RFI document. This lets potential contractors know in advance whether they can complete the project accordingly or if they must make adjustments in their teams to fulfill the minimum requirements.

Without setting an evaluation criteria, you can make the mistake of involving contractors unsuitable for the project’s goals. This leads to delays, incurred expenses, and other issues that all combine to drag the project down.

Review Responses for Completeness and Clarity

When an RFI document is returned to you, look over it to ensure it is complete and clear. There should not be any questions in the response that you receive back. The respondents should fully answer the question or issue and deliver a concise solution or recommendation. If you do not receive a complete response, send the RFI document back and request a fully answered response.

A previous manager once stated: “do not tell me about a problem unless you have a solution.” So, another helpful hint when drafting an RFI document is to provide a recommended solution. 

Subcontractors and trade partners are the boots on the ground and experts in constructability. General contractors and designers rely on the expertise of their subcontractors. Show that expertise and minimize the confusion by providing a recommended solution. Therefore, the only response that comes back only needs to be “Yes” or “No.”

Drawings and Photos Can Help

While including drawings and photos is not mandatory, they help add clarity to an RFI document. A picture can sometimes give better context to a question compared to paragraphs of details. Graphics can also help the individual receiving the RFI better understand the question and find 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.

Note that RFI templates are designed for clear and quick responses. That is done best the first time. An RFI being sent back and forth because something was lost in translation should not happen. Hence, add a photo if it helps add clarity. 

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Use Construction Software RFI Templates

Cloud-based construction software allows you and your team members to stay connected all the time. This ultimately means a faster and more organized RFI process because everyone involved in the project can ask questions, discuss issues, and put forth solutions on the fly. 

Using Paper RFIs for dozens of questions, for example, will require you to keep track of every single RFI. In addition to that being extremely time-consuming, you will also have to ensure your other team members know the status of each RFI. Cloud-based software removes all of those issues while streamlining the entire process to increase productivity and accuracy. 

Stay Organized

Once you receive an answer to your RFI document, be sure to record the response and store it securely somewhere. How often does one lose or misplace paper RFIs?  It does happen, so stay organized! 

The RFI template 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 document. 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 an RFI number to reference more easily. As the number of RFIs increases, 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 the RFI is kept intact.

Set Specific Due Dates

Every RFI document must clearly mention a due date for the response before being sent to an individual. This helps mitigate scheduling delays. You might want an answer within the week, or before the next construction activity begins. Mentioning a due date for the required information, as well as the date when the RFI was sent out, holds the recipient accountable in case of a delayed response.

Without a due date, the individual is free to put off a response based on their work schedule. Hence, always double-check if your RFI mentions a deadline or not. This is also why due dates are normally kept up-front and at the start of the document.

Continually Update the RFI Status

Make sure to update the RFI document status. You want to make sure that all the appropriate team members are aware of any progress. Even if 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 if there are any claims or disputes on schedules and progress. Your team can attribute any delays to a lack of responsiveness, so documentation is critical.

Once the RFI response is complete, mark it as closed out. The last thing you want to do is to have others keep hounding for an answer when someone has already received one.

Updating the status also helps indicate the number of unresolved RFIs. You do not want them to pile up. Hence, having streamlined visibility of your RFIs is an important advantage during construction, something that construction software expertly addresses these days. 

Keep Everyone Involved

Communication is an essential part of the RFI process. Your team on the field is waiting for direction so it is important to keep them updated on the RFI status. If you are using construction software, add everyone involved so that they can view the RFI process. If not, 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 critical to effective project execution.

Use eSUB for Efficient RFI Tracking and Management

Streamlining the RFI construction process is important to ensure you are gaining great value in return. The way to do that is to replace spreadsheets and paperwork with construction management software like eSUB. Its cloud-based technology connects all workers, including those working remotely, while tracking all RFI documents for all construction activities. This means that everyone involved in a project can get automatic updates and reminders and your RFIs will be kept organized and secure with no crucial documents getting lost among a mountain of paperwork.