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Keep RFI costs from getting bigger than your building

Keep RFI costs from getting bigger than your building


The construction of buildings and monuments is a practice as old as civilization itself. Construction on the Great Pyramids at Giza started in 2584 BCE, when a social class of a “master builders” oversaw every aspect of construction, from design to execution. It wasn’t until the 19th century that construction became too technical for master builders, necessitating the division of the process among three types of people: architects, engineers, and contractors. With this divide also came the need for legal documentation of construction projects. This is most likely the time period when what we now know as Requests for Information (RFIs) came into being.

The Navigant Construction Forum (NCF) published an essay on the impact that RFIs have on the construction industry worldwide. They looked at data from 1,362 projects that started between 2001 and 2012. Key findings of their study included:

  • On average, there are 9.9 RFIs for each $1 million of construction worldwide
  • In the US, it takes an average of 8 days before a submitted RFI receives its first response (the median response time is 12 days)
  • The longer a project lasts, the longer it takes for a first reply; for projects shorter than one year, the average response time is 7 days, whereas for projects longer than 5 years, the response time nearly doubles!
  • In the Americas, 1 out of every 4 RFIs received no replies

NCF also calculated the estimated total cost that RFIs had on the projects. Each project had an average of 796 RFIs, and reported around 8 hours of total review and response time for each one. After calculating the cost of technical and administrative review for those RFIs, the estimated total hours expended on RFIs per project was 6,368 hours. The estimated total cost of RFIs per project was $859,680 USD.

NCF followed up with three main recommendations for mitigating RFI costs. The first was to incorporate contract language into the General Conditions of the contract documents. Such definitions might include distinguishing between “Drawing Clarification,” “Request for Information,” and “Request for Substitution,” etc, to prevent misunderstandings and delays in the RFI process.

The second recommendation was to implement electronic RFI tracking and monitoring. The most important features for an RFI tracking system to have are centralization/easy access, standard forms and required fields, and easy grouping of related RFIs. What one team member submits, others should be able to easily view and comment on in a standardized and accountable way. Just as importantly, RFIs in the system should be easy to group and sort by any attribute — such as type, due date, or status.

The last recommendation that NCF gave for reducing RFI costs was to institute a system of best management practices related to RFIs. One such best practice might include the stipulation that RFIs should reference specific drawing numbers or sections of drawings, and possibly graphic representation like photographs or sketches as well.

The NCF study shows that RFIs do not have to be such a time consuming and expensive part of building. With the right tools and proper implementation, RFI processes can be streamlined and their associated costs lowered.

What are some of your best practices for RFIs? Let us know your thoughts!


Originally published on October 14, 2014

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