Tips to Improve RFIs in Construction
If you think about it, we all make about what it seems like hundreds of requests for information every day. Questions and answers happen every day. But while asking for information–an act we undertake daily–is all well and good between spouses in the kitchen or friends at a coffee shop, it gets a little less “well and good” in the construction environment.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but requests for information, or RFIs, remain a major pain for many in the industry. As we’ve mentioned before, an RFI requires a high degree of formality when filling out a request and an enormous amount of detail in return. Due to this, when they’re not managed correctly, RFIs in construction can be both spendy and lengthy.
According to Sage, the average cost per RFI review and response is $1,080. That’s a significant amount of money, and we’re assuming everyone gets it right on the first try, which his by no means certain. When you take into account the hundreds, sometimes even thousands of RFIs submitted on each large construction project, many of which get ignored or have to be redone, your head probably starts to spin a little.
If you’re thinking, “Is there any way to avoid wasting so much time and money?” you’ve come to the right blog. RFIs are essential to a successful project, but due to industry-wide mismanagement, they can take a heavy toll on the cost and time, not to mention morale, of a project. Below, we’ll take a look at some ways to reduce the monetary and time resources spent on RFIs. But first, let’s talk understand common RFI issues that occur.
The Biggest Problems with RFIs
RFIs are a hassle at best, and across the industry, people seem to treat them as a thorn in their side. That leaves a lot of folks frustrated, trying to get the information they want, but without the ability to streamline the process. Research shows, in fact, that the stated urgency level of the RFI fails to improve the response time by more than a day or so (on a timeline of weeks).
Other RFI problems include:
Responses Are Incomplete or Inaccurate
If we want to improve RFIs, we must first and foremost ensure they actually answer the questions that prompted them in the first place. Often, though, they don’t. Responders take a slapdash approach, failing to read all the way through, do their due diligence, answer in clear terms or contact the requester when clarity is needed.
Too Many RFIs Due to Contract and Delivery Methods
RFIs are greatly impacted by the contract method chosen. Some delivery methods will naturally have higher amounts of RFIs. For instance, design-build has far fewer RFIs than other more traditional delivery methods to the enhanced collaborative environment. An excellent way to improve RFIs is to adopt these better methods and avoid construction models that prioritize siloing.
Attitude Problems from Involved Parties
In many cases, a simple bad attitude is at the root of the problem. Some general contractors are unwilling to send an RFI because they deem something a field coordination issue. An owner could see it as a waste of their time and not essential to moving the project along. In either case and in countless others like them–it’s challenging to improve RFIs because the parties involved don’t honor the system.
Misuse of RFIs
It’s critical to remember that RFIs are not meant to be a tool for change orders and that the tendency of many people to use them as such makes the responder wary of providing an answer, even with the slightest adjustment. Yet this unjustified approach is surprisingly common.
In fact, “13.2% of the total RFI’s submitted fell into a ‘not justifiable’ category,” explains Ikigai Consulting, quoting a Navigant Construction Forum. That’s because “they queried means or methods, requested design changes not considered by the design team, or asked questions to issues which were already addressed within the contract documents.”
Even more alarmingly, “the report pointed out that the RFI has moved away from its original intent as a valid form of project tracking and communication, to a basis for games, abuse, adverse productivity impacts, and claims of delay by some contractors.” Obviously, that benefits no one.
Time to find a better way.
10 Tips to Improve RFIs in Construction
How to Submit Better RFIs in the Construction Industry
Grim reports aside, there are reliable ways to speed up the request for information process and make them more efficient and tolerable to all.
1. Know That Timing Is Everything
If you want to receive a timely response, be careful about when you submit. While this may seem obvious, RFIs are often rushed and poor quality as a result. Understand exactly when an RFI needs to be submitted and put it through as soon as possible. Again, according to Navigant Construction Forum, “the average performance within the sample data is an average first reply time of 6.4 days.” If you’re looking for additional follow up, consider that the industry average is “a median reply time of 9.7 days.”
Clearly, the earlier you submit, the better chance it won’t impact the total schedule, making the project run smoother overall.
2. Clearly Define the Problem
Many times, RFIs are responded to inaccurately because the problem is not clearly defined or too many issues are covered. It’s best to keep RFIs to one clear problem to receive a complete and timely response. That also means it’s essential to keep your writing clear; a poorly worded RFI is likely to result in a badly worded response. Minimizing technical terms and jargon also helps to improve RFIs.
3. … And Offer Solutions
After the problem has been made clear, you might have a solution or two in mind. Instead of waiting for the responders to propose a solution, offer a few of your ideas. Providing options will make the process go faster. Now the engineer, owner or architect only has to validate a solution, as opposed to coming up with one on their own.
4. Ask for the Response You Want
To improve RFIs and avoid getting a response that is inadequate or incomplete, be clear about what actually entails a complete response in your RFI. Provide a list of the information needed to adequately answer the questions for moving forward in your initial request.
5. Standardize the Process
How many different ways and mediums have you submitted and received RFIs? If you answered “a lot,” join the club. Having no standard template and form for RFIs is a significant disadvantage; you need a better way.
Check first with the GC about which standard format they use or prefer. Meeting their expectation and adapting to their processes will improve your chances of getting an answer. Also, ensure to track your RFI formally rather than sending through whichever email, paper or other channel happens to be closest at the time.
One incredibly efficient way to formalize and standardize the process is by using cloud-based software. Certain software will allow you to set up templates to easily submit RFIs and track them throughout the whole process, providing more visibility for all parties involved. This will also allow you to track and see all RFIs in one view.
Another valuable way to improve RFIs is to create a formal process for escalation. For instance, what should happen when an RFI is not responded to in time? Establish the process beforehand to keep things moving.
6. Don’t Add Cost Impact
One common error that is made when submitting an RFI is to add a cost impact before the solution is agreed on. While it’s important to state up front if there will be a cost impact, the estimate does not have to be stated until after receiving a response. If you add costs up front, the responder is likely to delay the issue further. So hold off on estimates and figure them out once the response has been received.
7. Provide Additional Information
Context can be everything. If you want to improve RFIs at your company, make sure you add additional details to documents to clarify the question, even if it’s a very small one. Specific software systems will let you hyperlink relevant documents and photos in the RFI so it’s easily viewed and evaluated once given to the receiver.
How to Fast-Track RFIs When Responding
Waiting on RFIs isn’t the only situation that can cause delays and expenses. Holding them up on your end is just as bad, no matter your reasons. If you want to stop RFI costs from getting bigger than your building, it’s time to fast-track them when responding as well.
8. Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
Many times RFIs get delayed because an engineer, architect or owner does not want to carry out the work. Instead of slowing and delaying the process, decline instead. Just remember to keep things professional and do it politely. The worst thing you can do is not respond at all, so be mature and deal with the situation quickly.
9. Read the RFI Carefully
To avoid getting pinged again, make sure you read through the details of the RFI carefully before responding. Do not leave questions unanswered, and make sure you provide clarity on every aspect you are being asked about. “Most of” an answer is not a valid answer to an RFI.
10. Think Carefully About the Contract
While this is a step you should take at the very start of a project, thinking carefully about the project delivery method will help you reduce the amount of RFIs if you find them to be unbearable. Delivery methods such as design-build and integrated project delivery (IPD) encourage collaboration and communication to the point that the need for RFIs is significantly reduced.
Improved RFIs, Slowly but Surely
Yes, it’s hard to improve RFIs. Change won’t happen overnight, and some people may fight you on it–intentionally or unintentionally. Jobsites are fast-paced and challenging, and you will always have to deal with other workers and stakeholders with varying personalities and priorities. All you can do is understand that while RFIs can be painful, they are vital to the success of the project. Any small method to alleviate the burden of RFIs is a step in the right direction.
You can start by streamlining your RFI process and reduce overall costs with these tips today. Let us know how they work for you, or if you have any other pro trips–we’re always interested in learning what tricks other construction-savvy folks have up their sleeves. Share in the comments below!