If you added up all the minutes you have spent waiting on a response to an RFI throughout your career, you might have found that you could have gone on vacation, built a few shopping plazas and still had time left over to meet the guys for a few beers at your favorite watering hole. RFIs are simply requests for information, right? But you know there’s nothing simple about them when they don’t get addressed and you don’t get the answers you need to do your job. There are simpler ways to manage the RFI process and you’ll be more likely to get the answers you need faster than a sub rolls up on a Friday afternoon.
The Need for Speed
You are looking for a faster response time. There are three ways to help you get what you need without increasing your stress levels or headaches: understand the time differential between your request and realistic expectations on RFI responses, incorporate RFI best practices, and implement electronic tracking and monitoring.
Be Realistic: Expect Responses in Realistic Timeframes
First – read the contract thoroughly. Know what qualifies as an RFI and what does not according to the contract you signed. Many RFIs may have been answered within the original contract documents. If you don’t read through the paperwork with a fine tooth comb, you’ll be pulling out hair needlessly. And your RFI won’t be responded to. Yes, it takes time in the beginning to read through seemingly endless paperwork written in legalese, but it will make your job easier in the end.
On an average project of a year or less, you could be serving up to an average of 270 RFIs and if a project lasts a duration of 5 or more years, that number can increase to upwards of 1400.
In addition, don’t be caught off guard if you get a response from a request that indicates the recipient has an “allotted” amount of time to respond to your request. Many current contracts are now defining timeframes for response rates based on the recipient, for example, “engineer is given a maximum of 7 days to respond to the RFI.” According to the Navigant Construction Forum™ there are varying levels of complexity that determine RFI review and response time. Based on feedback from interviewed construction firm staff, design professionals estimate that the average RFI would require about 8 hours to receive, log, review and respond. While many requests can be fielded and replied to within an hour, others may take days to research and provide an appropriate response. According to data from the Navigant study, average reply times can range from 6.4 days to 10 days based on region, project size and duration. Dependent on the discipline involved in the request, a paint color question would be easier to answer than an engineering question. Understanding those differences, it’s important to think ahead. Submitting an RFI when the condition is critical will more than likely result in delays. However, reviewing foreseeable issues and sending RFIs ahead of time, leaves you ample breathing room for getting a response in time for the job related to the question at hand to be completed. If you realize that certain categories are requiring more clarification, then grouping together issues may help speed up RFI response times for difficult aspects of a project.
Lastly, understanding what is “mission critical” and what can be placed on the back burner will go a long way in helping answers get fast-tracked. Be specific in your requests, and level them according to project urgency. Marking your RFIs as “high-priority” can help increase response times, but be sure not to cry wolf too many times. If everything is urgent, then nothing is. Push through those answers you need that may delay project schedules, may threaten safety of the project or your employees, or may require large changes to the project budget. Whether or not the white color paint should be bright white or eggshell white can wait until the more important questions are answered.
They’re called best practices because not doing them could be bad.
Generally speaking, most businesses or owners will try to set their RFI best practices and expectations prior to beginning a project. These RFI best practices are often determined to be: developing an RFI procedure, defining what will be considered an RFI and what will not be considered one, what documentation will be required alongside an RFI for response, expected response times and communicating all of the above prior to initiating the construction project. While those will help frame expectations, you’ll want to set a few conditions prior to engaging with a business as well. From your standpoint, it would make sense to communicate your expected RFI protocols (if they differ from theirs) and agree on the method or system of submission. This is where technology can be your friend. Using a mobile-enabled, collaborative software solution can help streamline communications and keep everyone informed in real time (while documenting every activity related to your RFI – basically, covering your behind). If the construction project owner, company or manager are using a software solution like this – be sure to ask for a quick lesson in how to use the system properly. If you are the one introducing the system, make sure the owner, company or project manager understands the need for real-time collaboration to keep the project on time and within budget. Often the project management system or solution you’ll be expected to utilize is outlined in your contracts – so again – read those contracts carefully!
The process of using the RFIs to indicate a company’s or owner’s lack of diligence or liability may not get you far in court.
Let Innovation Work for You
In a past study, data analysis showed that on an average project of a year or less, you could be serving up to an average of 270 RFIs and if a project lasts a duration of 5 or more years, that number can increase to upwards of 1400. Utilizing key software solutions will greatly enhance your day-to-day work by speeding up processes. When questions arise in the field, you need to know how to move forward, especially when that change may affect other trades coming in and completing a job. Using a mobile, drawing-centric, collaborative software for project management can not only help you submit RFIs, but also track them in real time, speed up response rates and flag or list RFIs in order of importance. With the right software solution, RFIs can be sent to everyone who needs to respond (no matter where they are) while in the field and you can attach photos, drawings or schematics that are more detailed, specific to your request. All of which helps the recipient get a better understanding of the RFI and can speed up the decision or response process. Once you receive a response, the right software solution will archive all the activity involved around it, and if needed, help you to initiate a change order and manage the intricate processes that evolve from there. Use technology to take the menial out of the process and allow yourself more time to plan ahead for future issues.
RFIs aren’t necessarily your legal leg to stand on.
Yes, we said it. The process of using the RFIs to indicate a company’s or owner’s lack of diligence or liability for additional time and costs may not get you far in court. Construction companies have attempted to use the sheer volume of RFIs as a way of showing faulty plans. However, in Caddell Construction Co., Inc. v. The United States, the court found against Caddell Construction Co., Inc stating that “…a large number of RFIs is not an indication that the plans were defective…” and “…in order for the RFIs to be evidence that the plans were defective, they must cumulatively demonstrate a serious deficiency in the plans.” Another court case, Dugan & Meyers Construction Co., Inc. v. Ohio Department of Administrative Services, resulted in Dugan & Meyers losing in appeals because Ohio courts have rejected cumulative impact arguments (the impact of a series of changes on productivity, schedule and cost). While this court case is state specific, it’s still important to understand current thinking behind cumulative impact and RFIs. In the future, the burden of demonstrating delay and impact beyond the quantity of RFIs submitted will rest on the contractor’s shoulders. And with mounting court case appeals in favor of the defendants, RFI processes must be more thorough along with detailed documentation and proof of true impact if the contractor wants to litigate over damages.
Remember that RFIs are not submittals, change orders or contracts. While they are important, and you need answers fast, you can safeguard yourself and your sanity by planning ahead and instituting reasonable response rates, engaging in best practices and implementing innovative software solutions. These all equate to less time waiting and more time working.
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