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Understanding the
RFI Submittal Process

A request for information, or RFI, is a critical piece of communication. It’s meant to solicit and provide details, missing or conflicting information, and answers to common questions during a project’s construction. It can be helpful to think of an RFI submittal as a formal Q&A for a project.

This is why you’re likely to see a flurry of RFIs in the beginning stages of a capital project. The preliminary scope is evolving as everyone clamors to fill in the information gaps — from fine-tuning the design, to submitting cost and schedule estimates, to finalizing the bid. But you’ll also see them throughout the build process for clarification or to alert stakeholders to a project concern or change. Here’s how it all works and how you can get it right, right from the start.


What is the RFI submittal process?

In theory, it’s pretty simple. A contractor or craftsperson sends an RFI to the appropriate party. That party replies back 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 that’s meant to keep critical project information flowing and eliminate future rework can wind up becoming 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.


How to submit an RFI that avoids project-impacting risks

When you’re sending an RFI for your construction project, submit early enough that it doesn’t rush necessary response time or cause an unintended delay in the schedule. While it may be tempting to include more than one issue in an RFI under the assumption it would be more efficient, it’s best to limit it to just one per RFI. Why? Multiple issues within one RFI may have to be addressed by different people, which can create confusion and hinder a timely and thorough response to all of them.

What methods are you using to submit your RFIs? If they depend on email or hard copy forms, that can be a big source of common RFI challenges, from misdirected or accidentally deleted emails, to lost, misplaced or illegibly completed printed forms. Construction projects are already a bustle of activity, so RFI submittals will benefit from having a structured format and process to follow to streamline appropriate routing and completion, no matter what form they take. If a template doesn’t already exist, here are the most common issue-specific details to include:

  • The project name and location details. If you’re sending this to a contractor overseeing several projects, this narrows down the exact project.
  • The title or subject of your RFI. This makes it easier to route or assign to the appropriate stakeholder for a response and can help with filing and referencing it down the road.
  • A description of the issue with as many specifics as possible. Remove any possibility of confusion or the need to ask for more explanation on your RFI submittal, creating a delay in resolution. If possible, suggest alternatives or fixes, and provide any extra information that could add context or clarification. State what you need in the response you receive, including any specific details you’re going to rely on.
  • Any helpful supporting documentation. This can be photos, drawings, change orders or written communications.
  • Submission date and requested date for response. The respond-by date can help ensure appropriate prioritization and prompt reply.

When you’re replying to an RFI, give it the attention it deserves so you understand the ask. Timing is always of the essence in construction, so replying back as soon as possible — while providing the requested details or explanation in full — will help keep the project moving. What if you need more details from the original requestor? Make sure you send this right away so they can gather what you need to properly address the point of the RFI — even if it’s ultimately to say “no” or decline making a requested alteration, for example.


Digitizing the RFI submittal process

This will provide the most improvement to your RFI efforts. Cloud-based documentation software in particular can streamline the process and do away with many of the common glitches. Here are some advantages of this kind of software:

  • 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 submittal template using the items mentioned above, or create customized versions, that capture 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.

Interested in looking into documentation 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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