Managing The RFI Process On Construction Projects


Building Under Construction

Last year, Navigant Consulting tasked its Construction Forum with research into the impact of RFI's on construction projects. Entitled, Impact & Control of RFI's On Construction Projects, the Forum's report sought to provide a deeper understanding of the RFI process and the negative impacts that RFI's can have on project productivity, communication, and costs. 

RFI's or Requests For Information are a common communication tool found in use on almost all construction projects and serve to provide the Contractor with a formal mechanism for clarifying unclear project requirements with the project's Owner. Upon receipt, the Owner through the Design Team or Project Manager, is required to provide a response the Contractor's queries in writing. Not surprisingly, the report pointed out that the RFI has moved away from its original intent as a valid form form of project tracking and communication, to a basis for games, abuse, adverse productivity impacts, and claims of delay by some Contractors.  

The research looked at the volume of RFI's submitted across 1,362 projects between 2001 and 2012. With a total of 1.1 million RFI's submitted for that period, this approximated 796 per project. A sample of 826 projects was then extracted from the data set, removing the outliers, and thus resulting in a range of projects valued between $5 million and $5 billion. This provided a ratio of 9.9 RFI's per $1 million of construction costs. The analysis and findings presented were quite interesting;

  • Of concern and interest to those responsible for the RFI's, were the time and costs associated with receiving, logging, reviewing, and responding, and as well, the impact on the construction schedule.
  • Based on additional data collected, the average total cost per RFI review and response was an estimated $1,080 with a total cost per project at $859,680.
  • 13.2% of the total RFI's submitted fell into a “not justifiable” category, as they queried means or methods, requested design changes not considered by the design team, or asked questions to issues which were already addressed within the contract documents.
  • Project Owners are also found to be part of the problem, as they often failed to respond to RFI's in a timely manner and  include as part of the construction documents, an appropriate RFI processing and response system that defined standards, expectations, timelines, and requirements. 

The report recommended a framework of three initiatives which aimed to safeguard project owners, maximize control of the RFI process, and mitigate the potential for negative impacts arising from the number of RFI's submitted, through the following measures;

  • Improved Contracts: Project Owners should be required to  incorporate critical definitions and guidelines that pertain to RFI's and the RFI processing system in the General Conditions of their contract documents, reducing any further abuse of and misunderstanding over the procedures to be employed.
  • Technology: Project Owners, Designers, and Contractors should implement and electronic RFI tracking and monitoring systems, which utilize modern software solutions and trained personnel to manage the RFI's. Some of expected benefits included the centralization and standardization of the information, consistent distribution and notifications, and the improved monitoring of RFI activity, response timing and possible impacts on project performance.
  • Best Practices: Contractors and Owners should follow established industry best practices. Some of those cited included the Best Practices from WisDOT Mega and ARRA Projects, AIA Best Practices, and the AISC Code of Standard Practice Committee’s Recommended Standard of Practice for “Requests for Information”. 

In being able to better manage the RFI process, it is recognized that the use of best practices serve the Project Owner and Contractor well by limiting the number of RFI's submitted and received, thus making better use of resources involved in processing and responding to them. 

For Owners, some of these practices would include;

  • Incorporating a required response time for RFI's into the contract documents. This can be anywhere between 7-10 working days, depending on the nature of the project and complexity of issues.
  • Being prompt with RFI responses or thoroughly documenting the reason for any delays.
  • Using e-mail to distribute RFI's and their attachments to all members of the project team, ensuring that they are followed up with hard copy distributions and transmittals.
  • Including where applicable, references to design drawings and specifications, and sketches of the proposed resolution.

For Contractors;

  • Generate and issue RFI's as soon as the need to or problems surface, and well in advance of when any delays which will negatively impact the construction works or its schedule.
  • Limit each RFI to a single issue or query, prioritizing its impact and referencing design and construction documents where possible.
  • Where you may have an alternative solution, be sure to present this within the RFI as a recommendation, with associated cost and schedule implications, and attachments.

Read Navigant's full report and findings here