RFIs are one of the most important and useful processes in today’s construction projects and it is an extremely important tool for every size and type of construction projects.
So, let’s have a look on what the RFIs are and how they are used in construction management today.
What does the word RFI stands for?
RFI stands for : “Request For Information” and it is one of the most fundamental processes/tools for proper construction management of any type and size of a project nowadays.
Every RFI is basically a question to another stakeholder of the project asking for more information, clarifications, additional details or anything else that is not clear in any other document (Design Drawing, Specifications, Standards, Contract etc).
Most of the times, an RFI is a question from the Contractor to the Designer asking for information and clarifications on some drawing but an RFI can also be a question from the Contractor to the Client or other stakeholder of the project (authorities, third parties etc).
In some other cases, it’s the Subcontractor who is asking information from the Main Contractor regarding the subcontracted works.
The case of not having a clear design drawing or a clear specification to which the contractor needs to work with is not an uncommon scenario (it happens to the best of the families…) and the RFI will basically capture the detail or the clarification in a formal and tidy way.
What is the process of RFIs usually and who is doing what?
The RFI is basically a form that is sent from the stakeholder who asks the question (e.g. the Contractor) to the stakeholder who is supposed to give the answer (e.g. the Designer or the Client).
Nowadays, the submission of the documents goes through an Electronic Documents Management Software and the RFIs is no exception to that.
According to the contractual requirements, the RFIs should be answered within a specific period of time (e.g. 7 days, 14 days etc) and there must be a clear answer to the question (which also needs to be very clear without any ambiguity which may raise more questions…). So, questions like:
Could you please give us more details on the reinforcement of the slabs of the First Floor?
(what drawing? what is the problem with the reinforcement? Which slab?)
What should be the frequency of concrete cubes sampling?
(this is most of the times described in a standard or specification so it doesn’t even need to be asked…)
In which cases the RFI shouldn’t be used or it’s not the right tool?
First, we should make clear that everything depends on the specific contract of the project and if the contract says that you should use an RFI for everything (letters, NCRs, Field Change Documents etc) then you should go for it!
But there are some specific cases where the RFIs shouldn’t help because they are not fit for purpose.
Let’s see some of these cases:
- The Request For Information (RFIs) is mainly a tool for technical questions and issues. It shouldn’t be used as a commercial tool, as a claim, as a Change Request, as an Early Warning or anything similar.
- The RFIs shouldn’t be used as Design Change documents. However, the information captured on an answer of an RFI could potentially lead to a change on the drawing. Also, if there is a drawing with hundreds of RFIs on, it’s more than evident that this drawing requires a new revision!
How should the RFIs be followed up?
The typical way of following up the RFIs is through a simple spreadsheet but nowadays there is software (e.g. Bluebeam, Basestone, that can capture all the information in a tidy and even a visual way on the drawings themselves.
That’s extremely handy and it is the future of construction management. Maybe in the future, BIM will also be able to capture the RFIs in a global model.
This is how Bluebeam is managing RFIs with pdf anotations
It goes without saying that the RFIs should also be discussed regularly in progress meetings or design/technical meetings.
This is how Procore is managing RFIs
What form should be used to send an RFI to the Designer or Client or elsewhere ?
Why the RFIs are important and what happens after an RFI is answered?
The RFIs are an extremely useful tool because they give a formal way of asking a technical question to a Designer, Client or other stakeholder and they require a clear answer which will help the project move on.
When an RFI is answered, then there are 2 options:
a. the answer satisfied the stakeholder who raised the question
In this case, everyone is happy…and the issue is dusted. Or not…because actually this clarification may change something on the drawing and this piece of information should then be recorded properly in the As-Built drawings and records.
b. the answer did NOT satisfy the the stakeholder who raised the question
In this case it starts to get complicated and it’s extremely advisable for the teams not to start a ping-pong of RFIs and unsatisfactory responses but pick up the phones, sit down in a meeting room or exchange a few emails in order to clarify the issue and move on. I am sure everyone who is in construction has faced situations where people avoid confrontation and lose time with unnecessary exchange of formalities…
So, how are you using RFIs in your project ?
How do you follow them up?