Saturday, October 12, 2013

How to Process RFIs

We're coming into the month of November and that means that it is RFI Season! Actually, it seems that every month is RFI season nowadays. Lately, I have had difficulty in tracking so many RFIs and had to develop a better solution. I wanted to share my solution as I think it is valuable.

As a brief note, my firm is not a typical ownership group. Our projects are run a bit differently. Excuse the arrogance, but we consider ourselves to be a sophisticated ownership group. We have a number of seasoned construction mangers and we know how construction projects work. When we negotiate our Architectural contracts we strip away nearly all Construction Administration responsibilities from the Architect. As the owner, we assume the role of budget review, Initial Decision Maker, Payment Application review, and other responsibilities. We still ask that the Architect respond to RFIs and process Submittals. With that being said, here is how I have been handling RFIs.

Outlook Rules
I first create rules in Outlook to take all RFI emails and send them to dedicated RFI folders. My firm writes requirements into the project manual that all RFI emails have a specific subject line format so that Outlook can distinguish RFIs. We also cover this formatting at preconstruction meetings.

Online RFI Software
As a qualifier, let me say that this article assumes that you are not using an online based construction software program such as Newforma or Submittal Exchange. These software titles take a lot of the busywork out of the RFI process and are fantastic. Regardless of what program you do or do not use, RFIs still require a lot of proactive oversight.

2 or 3 Times per Week
I schedule two or three 60-90 minute blocks of time to process RFIs. The nice part about the “blocks of time” approach is that other project members are still working on RFIs even if you are not. When you begin a “block” of time to process RFIs, you may notice that 3 issues were resolved without any of your assistance. Great. You saved yourself from wasting time on those RFIs that did not require your attention. You can now focus your attention on larger-scale issues that do require your facilitation.

Key Notes on Top of Page
When I process RFIs, I print each new RFI and file them in numerical order in a manila folder. On the top of each RFI, I write a few things:

"Status: _________"
Status indicates where the RFI is along the process, who has answered,
who needs to answer, etc… This is written in pencil as the status often changes.

"BIC: __________".
BIC stands for "Ball in Court" this tells me who is responsible for pushing the
RFI forward at any given time. This is the person who I should
call to pester in order to get the RFI closed.

“Design Process”
 I’ll come back to this one.

“Hot” Items First
As I process RFIs, I begin with those RFIs that I know are “hot” and need answers quickly. One of my favorite tricks is the iPhone conference call. It is so much more productive to get people on a call to resolve an issue than it is to chat via email. Try to avoid sending mindless emails - they tend to get ignored.

Making Notes on RFI Sheets
As I begin to process RFIs and figure out who to involve, I also make notes on the context of the RFI and how it originated. I make all of my notes on the RFI sheet(s) so that I do not have to search for notes in multiple places. This also has the added benefit of assisting others who are unfamiliar with the matter. If my colleague needs to process an RFI while I am on vacation, he will not need to search around and ask for the background information. All necessary information can be found on the RFI itself.

An Annotated RFI
As I work through RFIs and get answers from different parties, I keep updating the status of each RFI on the top of the sheet. I will often write things such as “Waiting for back-up on take-off quantities” or “GC reviewing with electrical sub”. This helps me to understand what needs to happen in order to move the RFI along.

Once I see that an RFI is answered, I use red ink to write “Closed” on the top and I put it in my “File Pile”. This is where I stack all of my filing. I typically file papers away on Friday afternoons when my ability to focus has declined.
My "File Pile"
Design Review
Here is what I believe to be the single most important aspect of this article. A wise man must learn from his mistakes. It is important to realize that RFIs originate from a lack of coordination, from a lack of information, and/or from conflicting information. The origin of the ambiguity typically arises from missing/conflicting information on the drawings. Also remember that change order work arising from missing information usually comes at a premium in price.

A good CM or Architect makes proactive efforts to see that the same mistakes are not repeated on future projects. When I print an RFI for processing, I make a small note on the top. I make a small box and write "Design Process." I also keep MS Word documents entitled "Drawing Peer Review Process" and "Architectural Design Process." These are ongoing files that I update based on RFIs and Change Orders to help identify shortcomings in the drawings throughout the design process. Someday in the future, I will publish excerpts from these files.

At each stage of the design process when a drawing set is published, I take time to review these drawings and I look for mistakes. I consult my peer review checklist and then go hunting for problems. The best part of this approach is that your skills will keep getting better with each project. Before you know it, you will find yourself catching more errors in the DD and CD phases of projects.

RFI Mapping
As a parting thought, if you have enough time, you can add RFI Mapping notes to your drawing set. I've previously discussed RFI Mapping and you can click here to read the article. If you make RFI mapping a step of processing every RFI, you will have a very detailed set of field drawings that will help you to identify and avoid some unintended consequences.

There you have it – my approach to processing RFIs. My approach allows me to track multiple RFIs with multiple consultants. Absent of an automated tracking system, I can quickly tell WHO is responsible for proving WHAT at any given moment. It may not be perfect, but it works well for me. Please let me know what strategies you use for RFIs.