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RFI in Construction : A Complete Guide

RFIs are one of the most important and useful processes in today’s construction projects and it is an extremely important tool for every size and type of construction projects.

Download a sample RFI Form that can be used in construction projects

So, let’s have a look on what the RFIs are and how they are used in construction management today.

What does RFI mean?

RFI stands for : “Request For Information” and it is one of the most fundamental processes/tools for construction management of any type and size of a project today.

Every RFI is basically a question to another stakeholder of the project asking for more information, clarifications, additional details or anything else that is not clear in any other document (Design Drawing, Specifications, Standards, Contract etc) or requesting a change on materials, method or design.

Most of the times, an RFI is a question from the Contractor to the Designer asking for information and clarifications on some drawing but an RFI can also be a question from the Contractor to the Client or other stakeholder of the project (authorities, third parties etc).

In some other cases, it’s the Subcontractor who is asking information from the Main Contractor regarding the subcontracted works.

So these are some scenarios that could happen in construction:

  • RFI from the Contractor to the Client (the contractor asking the Client a question)
  • RFI from the Contractor to the Designer and vice versa
  • RFI from a Subcontractor to the Main Contractor (if there is any…)

The case of not having a clear design drawing or a clear specification to which the contractor needs to work with is not an uncommon scenario (it happens to the best of the families…) and the RFI will basically capture the detail or the clarification in a formal and tidy way, that will also needs to be included in the handover information as it’s basically changing/clarifying the original design.

What is the RFI process and who is doing what?

The RFI is basically a form that is sent from the stakeholder who asks the question (e.g. the Contractor) to the stakeholder who is supposed to give the answer (e.g. the Designer or the Client).

Nowadays, the submission of the documents goes through an Electronic Documents Management System (EDMS) and the RFIs are no exception to that, so everything should be managed electronically.

As a rule of thumb: Avoid using emails to sort out RFIs !

Emails are great but they are very bad on archiving and project management in construction as they are not allowing for wide visibility of an issue.

According to the specific contractual requirements, the RFIs should be answered within a specific period of time (e.g. 7 days, 14 days etc) and they must provide a clear answer to the question that is asked (which also needs to be very clear without any ambiguity which may raise more questions…).

So, questions like:

  • Could you please give us more details on the reinforcement of the slabs of the First Floor?

(what drawing? What is the problem with the reinforcement? Which slab?)

Or

  • What should be the frequency of concrete cubes sampling?

(this is most of the times described in a standard or specification so it doesn’t even need to be asked…)

they are bad examples of RFI in construction and should be avoided.

In what cases the RFI shouldn’t be used or it’s not the right tool?

First, it should be made clear that everything depends on the specific contract of the project, the specific arrangements and if the contract says that an RFI can be used for everything (communications, NCRs, Field Change Documents etc) then ythat’s the right tool to be used.

However, most large infrastructure projects have more specific tools for things like General Communications

Also, there are some specific cases where the RFIs shouldn’t help because they are not fit for purpose.

Let’s see some of these cases:

  • The Request For Information (RFIs) is mainly a tool for technical questions and issues. It shouldn’t be used as a commercial tool, as a claim, as a Change Request, as an Early Warning or anything similar.
  • The RFIs shouldn’t be used as Nonoconformities (NCRs). There should be another process and template for that. However, an NCR in construction can be related to an RFI or it might need the RFI to be raised to accompany the closure of the NCR
  • The RFIs shouldn’t be used as Design Change documents. However, the information captured on an answer of an RFI could potentially lead to a design change on the drawing. Also, if there is a drawing with hundreds of RFIs on it, it makes more sense to finally completely revise that drawing. Many construction projects nowadays prefer to use different tools for Design Changes such a “Field Change Design” (FCD) or “Field Change Report” (FCR) where

How should the RFIs be followed?

The typical way of following the RFIs is through a simple spreadsheet but nowadays there is software  that can capture all the information in a tidy and even a visual way on the drawings themselves.

That’s extremely handy and it is the future (or the present?) of construction management. Maybe in the future, BIM will also be able to capture the RFIs in a global BIM model that can be visible by everyone.