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What Is an
RFI in Construction?

Construction projects are generally complex, with numerous paperwork involved from start to finish. Some construction project documents are only used during the early stages of a project, while others are used throughout the duration of the construction process. One of the most important documents that is commonly used throughout is what is known as an RFI.

What does RFI mean?

An RFI is a request for information, a document used during the construction process to further explain intricate details of a project. Throughout the duration of a project, various RFIs are drawn up and answered to keep everything going smoothly with the appropriate designs, specifications, and materials.

In theory, every design aspect should be addressed in the project contract. However, in practice, it doesn’t always happen that way. General contractors, subcontractors, clients, and architects may need clarification on various aspects of the project. That’s where RFIs come into play. On-the-ground workers use that document to communicate questions or issues that may arise during the construction process.

It’s important to understand the role that RFIs play in the construction process because they’re used rather frequently. In fact, a study conducted by Navigant Construction found that approximately 10 RFIs  is used for every $1 million spent on a construction project.

Keep reading as we explore the different types of RFIs, how to develop a construction RFI, the RFI submittal process, and much more.

 

What Are the Different

Throughout the duration of a construction project, you may run into various types of requests, including RFIs, RFQs, RFPs and RFTs. With the numerous types of requests, it can get challenging trying to differentiate one from another. It’s important to note that not every project has all these types of requests. However, you must understand what each one means in the event it occurs during a project.

Here is a breakdown of the standard request you may see during a construction project:

  • Request for information (RFI): RFIs are used throughout the project to clarify questions about the specifics of a construction project. The respondent will generally provide details that will allow the work to proceed.
  • Request for quote (RFQ): RFQs are typically utilized when a client requires additional information about a particular product or service. A client may submit an RFQ to seek further information about how the vendors or contractors may handle a specific aspect of the project, such as cost estimates or job descriptions.
  • Request for proposal (RFP): RFPs are used to gather more in-depth information regarding specific approaches, tactics, timelines, and pricing details. For the most part, RFPs are used by clients to get a better understanding of intricate details and requirements needed to complete the project.
  • Request for tender (RFT): Of all the types of requests, an RFT is the one where specific details are needed. An RFT will clearly outline the tender’s terms and conditions. Essentially, an RFT is a request to obtain a contract. It’s important to note that responses to RFTs are generally considered legally binding documents.

After the contract is drawn up and signed by all parties involved, RFIs are used throughout the project to clarify details outlined in the agreement.

 

What is the RFI Submittal Process?

In theory, it’s simple. A contractor or craftsperson sends an RFI to the appropriate party. That party replies with the requested information. If further details are needed, the RFI can be resubmitted. If the reply was satisfactory, the RFI is considered closed.

In practice, it’s often been anything but simple. Ironically, the very RFI submittal process meant to keep critical project information flowing and eliminate future rework can become its own lengthy and costly bottleneck through unclear or inconsistent processes, simple human oversight, or an inefficient RFI submission method. Worse, if an RFI isn’t submitted or addressed in a timely manner, it may introduce otherwise preventable risks into anything from estimates and budgets to structural quality and integrity, to increased exposure to litigation.

There are usually various steps involved in the RFI submission process. Here is a general breakdown of how the RFI submittal process works:

  1. Step one: A subcontractor will draft an RFI seeking further clarification on the contract, design, specifications, etc. The subcontractor then submits the RFI to the general contractor.
  2. Step two: If the general contractor has the information handy, they’ll provide the exact answer to the subcontractor.
  3. Step three: If the general contractor is unable to provide context, the RFI gets sent to the appropriate party. That may include the architect, engineer, client, or consultant.
  4. Step four: Once the appropriate party provides sufficient information, the RFI is sent back to the subcontractor.
  5. Step five: If the subcontractor believes the answer is enough, the work can begin again. If not, they’ll need to repeat the previous steps to resubmit another RFI.

Digitalizing the RFI Submittal Process

This will provide the most improvement to your RFI efforts. Cloud-based documentation control software, in particular, can streamline the process and do away with many of the common glitches. Here’s the importance of a document management system:

  • Centralize and organize documentation so all project team members can access and answer many of the requests more easily and in less time.
  • Standardize your RFI submission template using the items mentioned above, or create customized versions that capture the required details for both submission and reply.
  • Link to documents or upload photos that can provide necessary details and context.
  • Eliminate the risk of indecipherable handwritten forms that can lead to misinterpretation and delays.

 

How to Write a Construction RFI

When it comes to drafting an RFI, you’ll want to be as clear as possible regarding what you’re inquiring about. Being clear and concise will most likely increase your chances of receiving a prompt response.

Check out our tips for writing an effective construction RFI:

  1. Clearly define the request: The RFI must begin with a clear statement of why you’re writing the RFI. You’ll want to outline the issue that needs to be resolved. Additionally, you’ll want to ensure you’re focusing on one issue at a time. That’s because multiple issues can cause a delay in response.
  2. Propose a solution: Remember, you’re the expert in this space. In the RFI, it’s a good idea to present possible solutions to the issue you’re inquiring about.
  3. Provide context: As mentioned previously, you’ll want to be clear and concise when outlining the problem. However, you’ll also need to be specific and offer the context that is necessary to completely explain the problem. RFIs are often returned without an answer due to the lack of information provided by the subcontractor.
  4. Incorporate visuals: Visuals, such as photos, building plans, and designs, can provide the necessary information to make it easier to understand.

 

What Should Be Included in a Construction RFI?

Depending on the project and the organization overseeing it, the final product of the RFI may look different every time. However, there are some key components that should be included in every construction RFI.

Here’s a list of items that should always be included in a construction project RFI:

  • Project name and description
  • Company information and the project manager’s name
  • RFI submittal date
  • RFI ID number
  • Description of the request
  • An expected estimated time of arrival (ETA) for a response
  • Level of priority of the request
  • Clearly outlined the problem and potential solutions
  • Any additional information or attachments, such as visual representations
  • Name of the issuer
  • Actual response date
  • Contact information

 

How to Respond to a Construction RFI

As the general contractor, it’s possible that you’ll receive hundreds of RFIs throughout a multi-year construction project. That’s why it’s crucial that you implement a standardized process for adequately responding to them.

Here are some recommendations to help make the process easier for everyone involved:

  1. Log all RFIs: Due to the sheer volume of RFIs you may receive throughout a project, it’s a good idea to log all of them in either an excel sheet or construction project management software. You’ll want to ensure you’re logging each RFI with a specific number and when the expected due date for a response.
  2. Thoroughly read the RFI: Subcontractors are often forced to resubmit an RFI because their original question wasn’t answered. It’s important to carefully read the RFI and understand what the problem is before drafting a response.
  3. Ask around if necessary: Some questions posed in RFIs may be above your pay grade. Don’t hesitate to bring in other consultants, engineers, architects, etc., to help you accurately answer the question.
  4. Respond with details: Since RFIs are common on construction projects, it can be tempting to breeze through them. Doing so may result in an incomplete answer, and the subcontractor will have to go through the entire process again.
  5. Respond in a timely fashion: One of the most important aspects of drafting up a response to an RFI is to respond promptly. Failure to respond in a timely fashion can cause project delays.

 

Streamline your RFI Process with InEight

RFIs are generally commonplace when it comes to construction projects. Depending on the overall length of the project, it’s possible that numerous RFIs can be drafted up in one particular project. Keeping track of all RFI submitted is an easy way to keep the project going smoothly.

Are you Interested in documentation control software for your RFI submittal process? One solution to explore is InEight Document. With its ability to streamline the entire RFI process and open up submission and response access to both desktop and mobile devices, you can maintain project workflow using Document’s built-in tools to more efficiently manage, approve and reply to RFI submittals. Contact InEight for a demo.

 

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