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Commentary, Contract Administration

The Trouble with RFIs

In a perfect world, every Request for Information (RFI) from the Builder would come from a true need for information that was missing, unclear, or contradictory in the contract documents and drawings.

In the real world, RFIs are often weaponized.

The Builder will fire off as many RFIs as they can. The general strategy is to overwhelm you, limiting your ability to respond in a timely and accurate manner. Every one of your missed or mistaken responses has the potential to become an addition to the contract, clearly favours the Builder’s balance sheet.

Under most construction contracts, RFIs are not contract documents and you have no contractual obligation to respond to them. But if you don’t respond, the Builder will inevitably complain to the owner that they are being stymied by your lack of communication.

RFIs are often weaponized.

It is vastly easier to ask a question than it is to answer it. Builders leverage this asymmetry to their advantage.

A Difficult Position

This puts you in a very difficult position. You aren’t contractually obligated to respond, but if you don’t it will reflect badly on you, maybe badly enough to lose a client. If you take the time to digest and diligently respond to every RFI you are sent – regardless of how frivolous – you won’t be paid more for your extra effort, and you will have less time for other tasks. You might rationalize your efforts as goodwill, and you might be right for a time, but that kind of thinking is leading to a a race to the bottom for the profession.

Put simply, it is vastly easier to ask a question than it is to answer it, and Builders leverage this asymmetry to their advantage.

Tipping the Balance Back in Your Favour

To tip the balance back in your favour, you must:

  1. Be as efficient as possible at responding to RFIs.
  2. Be able to quickly and easily track RFIs that resulted in Change Orders, and those that were deemed without merit.

Efficiently Responding to RFIs is Important

It’s important to be able to respond to RFIs efficiently and accurately. The more quickly and easily that you can respond, the more time and energy you will have for all of the other tasks you have to complete.

There are are a few ways to be more efficient at responding to RFIs:

Efficient Technology

Have a central “point of truth” for all aspects of the contract documents. A database can be searched quickly, so that you can find and reference information easily.

Efficient Communications

Be “straight-and-to-the-point” when you respond to frivolous requests. “See drawing/section X.Y.Z” is a perfectly sufficient response to a question that is already clearly answered by the drawings or specifications.

The Importance of Tracking the Impact and Merit of RFIs

In addition to basic RFI metadata such as date received, reply-by date, and replied date, it is important to track two additional pieces of information:

  1. Was it a frivolous request?
  2. Did the request end up having an effect on the Contract Price or Time?

Logging Frivolous Requests

When you receive a lot of frivolous requests, it can be useful to present a report to your client. This information can help them understand delays, and perhaps help them make more informed decisions about Builder selection on future jobs.

Tracking the Effect of RFIs on the Contract Price and Time

How many extras are the result of missing or contradictory information in your drawings? How many extras are the result of issues with a sub-consultants drawings? If you can easily determine responsibility for the cumulative impact of RFIs that lead to changes to the Contract Price or Time, then you have powerful and actionable information.

You may discover that your team is responsible for a disproportionate amount of extras, or maybe it will be one of your sub-consultants. Regardless of who is responsible, early detection of the problem will result in better outcomes.

Does the RFI has merit?

A merited RFI will kick-off the process described in Changes to the Contract Price and Time.

In particular, see Path A on our change process flowchart.

An Effective Solution

If you use Microsoft Office to log and track RFIs, you’re going to have a bad time. You probably won’t be surprised that I’m recommending a purpose-built database-driven software solution instead – after all, we offer one. What might surprise you is that even if you don’t see a fit with our solution, I recommend taking a look at our competitors offerings.

Performing your CCA tasks in Office is the bare minimum in terms of efficiency, the only thing worse would be to use pen and paper. You may balk at the idea of paying for more software when you already have Office, but this is a false economy. Purpose-built CCA solutions are highly optimized to the tasks at hand, and using one is the only way to get ahead of the curve. Have a look around the web and find a CCA solution that works for you – you won’t regret it.

The only thing worse than using Microsoft Office for CCA is using pen and paper.

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