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Last year, Navigant Consulting published a report on the impact of RFIs on construction projects. The report– Impact & Control of RFIs on Construction Projects – explores the ways in which owners and contractors can work together to mitigate this impact and the associated risk to project delivery.

Navigant’s findings on the time and cost implications of RFIs are revealing.

  • Projects are impacted by the time required for owners to review and respond to RFIs from contractors, the cost of RFI reviews, and the use of the RFI process by contractors to make claims against owners.
  • In a sampling of 1,362 projects, the average total cost per RFI review and response is $1,080, and the total cost per project is $859,680.
  • 13.2 percent of RFIs are deemed “unjustifiable” because they ask questions answered in the contract documents, request design changes not considered by the design team, or question means or methods -- resulting in a total review and response cost averaging $113,400 per project.
Navigant recommends a framework of three initiatives to protect owners against potential claims by increasing control of the RFI process and mitigating the risk of negative impact.

  1. Owners should incorporate critical definitions around RFIs and the RFI process in the general conditions of their contract documents.
  2. Owners and contractors should use an electronic RFI tracking and monitoring system to manage the RFI process.
  3. Owners and contractors should implement best practices for managing the RFI process, which can be culled from the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), university research projects and other industry sources.

rfis and collaboration among companies

Construction projects requiring the management of information and processes among different companies are best served by a collaborative approach to RFIs.

At a project level – where multiple independent, yet interdependent, participants collaborate – there is a proven process for managing the potentially negative impact of RFIs. This process comprises 10 actionable tips for owners and contractors that ensure consistency and control of the RFI process throughout multi-company projects.

  1. Use a pro forma RFI template for all subcontractors and consultants to raise issues, and limit their input to one issue per RFI.
  2. Make it clear to all project team members that responses to RFIs are to be delivered within the time period specified in the contract.
  3. Instruct team members to attach any information – specifications, manuals, sketches, drawings, models, photos, videos, etc. – that helps clarify the issue being raised.
  4. Have the RFIs recorded in a project-wide register with a unique number, the date of creation and the date by which a response is required.
  5. Send the RFIs to the responsible team members, as specified in the contract, and ensure that receipt of each RFI is logged in the project-wide register.
  6. The initial recipient may need to send an RFI to another team member or organization better able to address the issue. If so, the subsequent receipt of the RFI should be logged in the register and that recipient should respond.
  7. The original recipient should review the response, ensure that it addresses the issue, and determine any impact on the project schedule and budget, which should be logged as a potential variation and reviewed by the appropriate members of the project team.
  8. When the response is returned, review it for accuracy, completeness and relevance, and confirm or clarify any impact on the project schedule and budget.
  9. In the project-wide register, update the RFI status accordingly so the appropriate team members are aware of it.
  10. If the RFI response meets the project’s requirements, mark it as closed out. If not, tag it as an outstanding issue for resolution, as well as historical reporting purposes.
See the flow chart for a visualization of the RFI process according to these tips.

Aconex RFI Flow Chart

automating rfi management

Consistently executing these 10 steps – for every RFI, across all construction projects – would be next to impossible using paper-based and manual methods of project management. Using email would be better, although among different organizations, there would be no way to track RFIs and responses to ensure receipt and action by specified deadlines. Nor would there be a way to organize RFIs by priority, apply a standard RFI naming/numbering convention or record RFI processes for future reference in the event of a claim.

As Navigant suggests in its report, owners and contractors should use an electronic RFI tracking and monitoring system. Optimally, this would be part of a larger platform that focuses all project information and processes in one place, independent of any organization on the project and therefore fair to all parties.

Increasingly, such platforms are hosted in the cloud  (SaaS) rather than behind the firewall of a specific organization. In addition to saving IT costs and speeding deployment over legacy solutions, the cloud provides the project team with secure, neutral access from anywhere, at any time. Implemented in a multi-tenant architecture, SaaS also enables organizations to retain ownership and control of the information they contribute to the project.

controlling the rfi process

Total control of the RFI process depends on the automated tracking of all requests and responses at every stage of the project. These communications should be recorded in a permanent audit trail that helps meet compliance requirements while avoiding or resolving disputes.

On a collaborative platform, RFIs should be logged in a project-wide register and prioritized by owners and contractors according to their own criteria. Users should be able to automatically route RFIs for approval before sending them, or save them in draft form for others to update and send later. The system should clearly flag outstanding and overdue responses, enabling owners and contractors to efficiently manage time-critical correspondence, while keeping them up to date on issues requiring attention – before they impact the project schedule and budget.

The system should be able to generate comprehensive reports on the status of RFIs and their responses. Open, automated reporting of RFI issues and status for all organizations on the project provides a single, transparent source of information. This improves accountability and identifies bottlenecks in the project flow. It also reduces the likelihood of disputes during the project, while the permanent audit trail helps resolve disputes that may arise.

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