Depending on the industry, an RFI can involve different things, but in construction it is a request for information. Construction RFIs can be costly, in both time and money, but they are a necessary aspect of the business.
RFIs are used to gather information that is not included within the agreements, drawings, and specifications of a project. The requested information is always needed to resolve issues that occur when necessary information is needed to continue with a project and complete it by the deadline.
Some of the design items that require an RFI include conflicts within a design, incomplete design plans, and design specifications. An RFI for a design change may be necessary if there are errors in the construction process or there is a sequencing problem. Substitutions can cause the need of an RFI due to the availability of materials, value engineering, and ease of use for an item. RFIs are also needed for constructability issues and site conditions that are different than first thought.
An RFI should never be used as the main communication method amongst workers, nor should it ever be used to document progress, or to create a plan, submittal, or transmittal. The RFIs should also not be considered a change directive or a request for a change order.
Of course, an RFI is completely different from an RFP, RFQ, and RFT, and it can sometimes be confusing to know which one should be used in each scenario. An RFP is a Request for Proposal, which can be based on a previous RFI, and requests information that will solve sourcing issues. The RFQ is a Request for Quotation, which allows suppliers to be competitive with the cost for the solution, while the RFT is a Request for Tender, so suppliers can offer goods or services in return for a specific tender.
While all four are used quite often in the construction industry, it is the RFI that is used the most. Every architect, contractor, subcontractor, and designer use RFIs, but they all seem to have their own method of submitting them. With so many different types of RFIs out there, a person can easily get confused trying to pull the main point out of each one. That leads to delays in responses, and sometimes there are RFIs that never get responded to at all.
Writing an RFI is not too difficult, as long as the person doing the writing is focused on the end goal, which is completing a successful construction project.
Here are the guidelines that everyone should follow when writing their RFIs:
- Follow an Established Format
It is important that the construction industry uses an established format, as it makes it easier for everyone to write and then read the RFIs that come their way.
- Be as Specific as Possible
Anyone writing an RFI will want to be as specific as possible with their request, or they may not receive all the information that they need to continue with the project.
- Be Very Considerate
At least one other person is going to be reading the RFI after it is written up, so the writer will want to be considerate during the entire process. Even if a person is frustrated, because they have asked the same question numerous times and have not received a correct answer, it is not a reason to be rude or degrading during the process.
- Propose a Solution
Any time that a person can include a solution or two within their RFI is a good thing, as long as they word it properly. No one is going to want a person recommending a solution, especially if it is not in their area of expertise, but proposing a solution is an excellent option. Having a potential solution ready can speed up the entire process and get things back on track.
- Include Drawings or Photos
Not everyone has a photographic memory or can remember what every inch of a project looks like, which is why it is always helpful when a person can include drawings or photos in their RFI. This will help the reader understand what is being asked and prevent a delay in a response, because they will not need to go to the job site or pull up other information to find the answer.
- Determine the Impact of the RFI
RFIs can become costly and understanding how much each one is going to cost before they are written can help a person decide if it is worthwhile to do. There are times when RFIs cannot be avoided, but there are certain scenarios when they would cost more to do than ignore.
- Keep the Questions to a Minimum
Each RFI should only have one main question, and if any others are included, they should all be related to the first one and necessary to ask.
- Give a Person Time to Respond
The time needed for a person to respond can vary, depending on what the RFI is about, but the normal time frame is between one and two weeks.
- Keep the Name of RFIs the Same
By naming RFIs the same way, people can easily find them when they need to be referred to in the future.
No one will ever work on a construction project and not need to complete an RFI, but there can be ways to limit the amount that need to be done. Obviously, this is the goal within the construction industry, as fewer RFIs mean fewer setbacks and more profits.