Wednesday, January 26, 2011

RFI - An Overview

I should start by saying that the best article that I have ever read on RFIs is Shootout at the RFI Corral by Grant A. Simpson, FAIA and Jim Atkins FAIA. It has a ton of insight and thought provoking ideas. I highly recommend it as a supplement to this post. It's no coincidence that many of the same ideas are repeated. I probably got the idea from these two gentlemen.
Otherwise, here are a few other lesser known gems that I have stumbled upon that are worth sharing:

1.       An Architect/CM cannot unilaterally alter the scope of work. Because the scope of work can only be changed with a Change Order (C/O) or Construction Change Directive (CCD) which require owner approval, an Architect's/CM's response to an RFI is to be considered a Supplemental Instruction.

2.       If an RFI and its response will alter the cost or schedule of a project, the Architect/CM should state that a future C/O will address the change. In an ideal situation, the Architect can designate/reserve the next available C/O # to address the scope adjustment at hand. This C/O # can then be included in the RFI response which will help others more easily navigate and understand the project.

3.       An Architect can issue an RFI. It is simply a formal way to ask a question and oftentimes, the Architect needs to ask a question of the GC or Owner.

4.       Some GC's have been known to wait to issue numerous RFIs one after another in attempt to 'bog-down' the Architect. This in turn will help the GC's argument that the Architect is not adequately providing responses and therefore, is not holding up his end of the agreement. This strategy is referred to as 'batching' and is obviously not recommended. I have seen some Architects attempt to thwart this by using the project manual to limit the number of RFIs the GC can issue per day or per week. While this may seem to be a good idea, it may limit the GC in his ability to do his job. Many GCs will also be quick to point out that the reason for so many RFIs is that the Construction Documents contain an inadequate amount of information. Nevertheless, it'd behoove the Architect to keep his own log RFI log of dates or to diligently review the RFI log produced by the GC (as hopefully mandated by the Architect produced project manual.)

5.       Some GC’s feel that even having to issue an RFI is a sign that the Architect has been negligent. This is not true. The AIA-A201 addresses the fact that drawings and specifications may not contain all required information. The Architect provides a service, not a perfectly developed set of drawings. In other words, Doctors cannot guarantee that they will cure cancer and lawyers cannot guarantee that they will get you acquitted. It is in this sense that the Architect cannot issue a perfect set of drawings.

6.       GCs should not use RFIs to propose new materials or products.

7.       Some readers may view item #4 as being too harsh on GCs. In all fairness, I'll be hard on the Architects too. Many GC's get so sick of having to issue so many RFIs due to inadequate construction documents, that they refer to the project as "Design by RFI". This process is also jokingly known as Design-Bid-RFI-Build.

8.       Some project can have hundreds of RFIs. In order to avoid drowning in paperwork, many smart Architects, Owners or GCs will use Rules in Microsoft Outlook to automatically put RFIs in a specific folder of their email client. This is best achieved if the team can agree early (e.g. preconstruction meeting) in the project about naming protocols. i.e.

One RFI per email

RFI issued with following file name: 
Project Name - RFI # - General Description

The email containing the RFI should have a subject line that reads: 
Project Name - RFI # - General Description

9.       With so many issues flying around a construction process, I like to print RFIs and write all notes on the RFI prior to issuing a response. I also work with other members in my firm to keep process notes in the RFI binders under the formal RFI response (when issued).

While these notes are in no way exhaustive, it should be a good guide to help you better understand the RFI process and how it can benefit you. Please feel free to email me if you have any questions on RFIs or wish to disagree with me.