Improving the RFI (Request for Information) Process

Facilitating the RFI Process in Construction

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An RFI (request for information) is an essential early stage in any construction agreement, and it may occur and several points during the process. And it can take different forms, depending on who the RFI is for. A request for information between a general contractor and a subcontractor who will perform labor, for example, will look different than one between the GC and a materials supplier. Basically, the RFI is a standard form of business communication designed to collect and circulate information about the capabilities of various suppliers of services and materials.

While it sounds straightforward enough, RFIs can get complicated and confusing, especially if they are incomplete and if the means of communication are unclear. Here are some tips for making sure your RFI communications go smoothly—whether you are being asked for information, or are the one asking for it.

If You Are Being Asked for Information

Requests for information are a frequent preliminary stage in defining and carrying out construction work. Often it’s a matter of size: Larger projects have more variables and more unknowns that need to be resolved or clarified before asking for formal proposals, so an RFI can help. Here are some tips if you receive an RFI:

  • Attend to the RFI swiftly and with precision. Your response process should be fast enough for you to reply without undue delay. An RFI from a potential customer is a chance for you get in early before competitors can gain an edge. To do so, you need to be well organized and diligent in responding quickly and correctly.
  • Don't be afraid to decline. If the RFI indicates work you prefer not to carry out, or that would lead to resource conflicts with other customers’ projects, you can politely decline. A negative but timely reply can still leave a good impression and make it likely that you'll be contacted again for future work.
  • Make sure the RFI is detailed enough. You can't answer effectively if the RFI does not ask the right questions or provide enough detail about the job. The RFI will need to allow you to answer the following:
    • Can you compete? Do you have the skills and resources to provide a good solution?
    • Can you win such a project? Are you better than competitors for this construction work?
    • Do you want to win such a project? Check the customer’s track record for on-time payment, before answering this question.
    If the RFI cannot let you answer these questions, you have several options: you can decline and pursue other projects instead; you can help the customer to better define construction needs, or you can offer paid consulting services to help the client put together a new RFI. Each option has its pros and cons—your decision is a personal one based on the type of project and the customer involved.

If You Are the One Asking for Information

Once a construction project has started, it is not unusual for a contractor or subcontractor to require additional information to make sure work is done correctly. A number of conditions can lead to the need for a formal RFI:

  • If there is a need to modify project specifications—for example, to substitute one building material for another.
  • If you need clarification of a particular task or the way in which a certain material is supposed to be used or fabricated.
  • When you are resolving a "construction deficiency," in which part of the project has not been done according to the project specifications.

Begin by checking to see if the customer or general contractor has a standard RFI form they normally use. Good forms and templates will help you include the right information necessary to obtain sensible, useful answers to your RFI. For example, your newly opened RFI can be entered into whatever for centralized software application your customer or GC uses to manage RFIs.

Scrutinize the answers you receive in response to your RFI to make sure it is both clear and realistic. Confirm or clarify any effect on the budget and the schedule for the project. Update your own project planning appropriately.

Mark your RFI as closed or solved if the answers you receive warrant this. But make sure to carefully check the RFI for any unresolved issues. And diligently chase the parties concerned when you need answers.