What is an RFI: Best Practices for the Subcontractor
What is an RFI?
An RFI is a request for information that is used in construction to clarify any uncertainties or to fill in any gaps in information that may be found in any specifications, contracts, or other documents.
Who is involved in an RFI?
An RFI is submitted by the party who has a question about a document (general contractor or subcontractor) and is received by the person who originally provided the document (client, designer, etc.). The receiver of the RFI then submits a response to the contractor with an answer to their question.
When is an RFI needed?
An RFI is needed when information from clients, designers, or other stakeholders is insufficient, brings up questions, or requires clarification.
Reasons to submit an RFI:
- — Substitution or Modification
- — Clarification or Additional information
- — Construction deficiency
Why is an RFI important?
The RFI is an integral part of the construction communication process. No communication, whether it is written or verbal, is flawless in its design and interpretation. In almost any case, questions will arise, information will be left out, and the need for clarification will result.
What happens after an RFI is answered?
- The response answered the question that the stakeholder had. In this case, the issue is resolved and the record of the RFI is recorded in the database.
- The response did not answer the question that the stakeholder had. In this case, the stakeholder who submitted the RFI should request a meeting with the stakeholder who received the RFI. This way, all confusion can get resolved rather than start a trail of back-and-forth RFIs.
Although the RFI is a necessary tool to keep everybody on the same page, it has the potential to be abused by parties seeking to make false claims and create unnecessary paper trails to place blame on other parties for delays and lack of information. The bad faith claims stemming from excessive RFIs have created an unfortunate stigma around a necessary tool created for communication and clarification.
In order to avoid abusing the RFI, here are some tips for the subcontractor when dealing with RFIs:
Thoroughly read the contract
Contracts, if written properly, contain information that is important to the project and may also include specifications regarding the submittal process of RFIs including the format, when to submit an RFI versus another document, and the timeframe expected to receive a response by. By failing to read the contract in its entirety, RFIs will be submitted for information already provided, and RFIs will not be submitted according to the specifications laid out in the contract. Both of these things will cause unnecessary costs and time delays that could have been easily avoided.
Use a document-tracking platform
Many construction project management solutions now allow the subcontractor to track the RFI from the moment it is created to the moment the answer is received and store all relevant information in a centralized place where it can be accessed at any time by any user. An RFI platform will also include a standardized RFI form so that all RFIs being submitted are identical and according to the specifications agreed upon which will make it easier for the recipient to read and respond to.
Be mindful of the costs associated with an RFI for the receiving party
As a subcontractor, you must not only consider your direct costs but also the costs incurred by relevant stakeholders. Each RFI costs the recipient about $1,000 after administrative and professional costs. This should not deter the subcontractor from submitting necessary RFIs, but the subcontractor should make the effort to only submit RFIs when the answer is not clearly provided in any documents previously provided. By doing so, the subcontractor will be able to create positive working relationships with all parties on a construction project, which can lead to long-term business relationships and positive word of mouth.
When used properly, the RFI is a useful tool for all parties that facilitates communication. When dealing with RFIs on your next project keep in mind these RFI best practices:
- — Limit one issue per RFI
- — Use a standardized form for submitting RFIs
- — Specify a timeframe in the contract that RFIs must be responded to by
- — Store all RFIs in a centralized database with all relevant information such as date/time/sender/receiver.
- — Keep a record of delivery of all RFIs in a centralized database.
- — When receiving a response to an RFI, adjust the schedule and budget if necessary.
- — Create and automate a permanent RFI audit trail
- — Thoroughly read the contract and all documents
- — Consider the cost of the RFI to all parties involved
Takeaway for subcontractors
When used correctly, RFIs are the communication tool that allows for seamless communication and smooth project productivity. It is up to the subcontractor and general contractors to eliminate the stigma around the RFI by using best practices and only submitting RFIs in good faith.