Requests For Information (RFIs) are a necessary nuisance on most construction projects. They serve a crucial purpose, but are difficult to track and time-consuming to manage.
We use them most often when something is unclear – this can mean that the drawings don’t make sense, or information is missing, or details are vague and open to interpretation
Construction contractors are told time and again that they are not the Engineer of Record, and cannot make any changes to issued drawings without RFI approval. So RFIs become the source document for technical changes and deviations. It can be a robust process, but managing it is a giant pain.
On many projects I have done in the past, the RFI is typed up using an Excel spreadsheet template, and then emailed by the Construction contractor to the Owner. Sometimes this is a site rep, sometimes a contracts administrator, sometimes even the Project Manager. From there, depending on the question asked and the implications, it can go in a number of directions. It is often rerouted to the Engineering contractor, who has to review and provide a technical response, especially if the RFI is being used as the basis for a redline change on a drawing.
This email gets bounced around all over the place, from ‘desk’ to ‘desk’, and most of the time the originator of the request has no idea where it is or whether it is being dealt with. An Excel spreadsheet log is maintained of when it was sent and when it is finally returned. Outstanding RFIs are frequently the topic of conversation during progress meetings and a very common source of tension between the Owner and the Contractors.
So how do we make this process better? And how can O3 help? There are two main parts to the answer:
Digitize the RFI process by using Advanced Work Packaging software..
O3 users can create an RFI directly in O3’s Advanced Work Packaging software. They can detail the issue, mark up drawings, attach photos, and indicate which work packages are impacted. Then the RFI can be routed to the relevant party for review. If needed, it can be passed through multiple hands for processing. But, crucially, all of this is done in the software and all stakeholders can see the status and progress of the RFI at all times. The black hole of information is replaced with a simple mechanism for tracking and reporting.
RFI logs become a thing of the past. The software tracks all the RFIs and knows the dates when each step was taken. Nobody has to update that hated Excel spreadsheet, and RFI review meetings can all be conducted from O3 with up-to-date information.
Case studies for RFI management in O3 have shown a significant reduction in processing time, and far greater visibility and accountability from all stakeholders.
If you are using O3, chances are that you are also using Advanced Work Packaging on your project. This means that Planners are assessing the scopes for each Installation Work Package weeks in advance of doing the work. Issues or concerns are typically raised much sooner than they are on standard (non-AWP) projects, because drawings are being checked and constraints are assessed.
This means that most RFIs can be issued with a low priority, and if it takes a week to get an answer back, that isn’t a problem. Instead of every RFI being seen as a high priority, early planning can help us to separate the ones that need the crucial 24 hour turnaround from the ones that will not be impacted by a one week response time.
Then all those arguments between the Owner and Contractors about the impact of RFI delays and the additional costs to the project become a thing of the past.
Until Engineering deliverables and contractor communication become perfect, RFIs will still be a necessary mechanism for dealing with questions. But in this day and age, there is no excuse for using Excel files and long email strings. Simplify the process with digitization, and take the pain out of RFI management.