RFI How To

Posted on June 14, 2010

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In the construction industry, an RFI (Request For Information) is a handy tool to get information provided quickly. A speedy, focused response allows the contractor who is building the building to continue without interruption. Usually, RFIs have an inherent urgency so whoever is assigned the RFI most likely ends up in the crosshairs of the project schedule before too long.

An RFI can be an efficient and helpful tool for construction when used correctly. However, many times this vehicle is abused or not used correctly, which leads to confusion and lost effectiveness. An RFI is most effective when it is complete in clearly conveying the issue and options available in order for a quick construction decision to be made. Many RFIs suffer from inefficiency, which frustrates its clear, quick, concise nature and tends to confuse or complicate the information delivered or requested.

I find RFIs also apply to problem solving outside the construction arena:  with calls, email, or anyone too busy to give you ten minutes. Even as a cranky consumer who needs something from a merchant, if I remember these nuggets I always get the information I am looking for, and can move on to bigger issues.

To produce the most useful RFI, a query should not suffer from the following (Don’ts):

1) A request that actually informs of a condition, while not requesting anything. An RFI is proactive by nature: it requests information to fill a knowledge gap to either allow work to continue, or to suggest an acceptable change that will allow work to continue. Either way, the key component is a request (proactive), not a report (passive) that tracks an issue.

2) An ‘extremely urgent’ note attached to encourage timely response. An RFI has built-in timeliness which is tied to the construction contract and meshes with industry standards. If an issue needs resolution immediately, a phone call is more appropriate. Or a visit. To tack a byline that asks for a ‘prompt response due to possible impact on schedule’ is redundant and only de-sensitizes the responder, especially when every RFI tends to have this attached (hello, red email exclamation point!).

3) A judgment or complaint of the work or condition that supposedly caused the RFI, such as ‘dimension bust’ or ‘incomplete drawings’. To cast judgments, a person must be flawless in his analysis of the cause, as well as perfect in execution of his own work—and most RFI writers are not. Sometimes an RFI is generated from an error, sometimes from a misunderstanding or need for confirmation, but it is counterproductive to assess blame and it provides no team benefit to make assumptions about responsibility when pertinent, timely information is the goal.

In order to maximize its potential, an RFI must possess three criteria (Do’s):

1) Clarity. Clearly identify the request. If it involves a scenario, briefly describe the condition and the information needed, and if not apparent, why info is needed.  Great rule of thumb for leaving voicemail messages.

2) Accuracy. Reference relevant details and sheets from the construction documents. Identify floors and room numbers. Provide a photo if possible. For calls or emails, provide dates, dollars, a timeline—whatever is true and relevant, good or bad. In business, TMI (too much information) is almost impossible; please paint the whole picture without bias.

3) Proactivity. Suggest the most feasible and best option, or multiple options, as an intended solution. Describe the goal of the fix. Do not offer a solution that cannot be executed and briefly comment on time and cost implications of available options. Ask for specific input from relevant team disciplines.

No one wants an information roadblock in their day-to-day job, or worse, to be the information roadblock. So when seeking out information, keep these three do’s and three don’ts in mind and you will have greater success finding what you are looking for, in the office and on your next construction project.

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