Rarely an engineering and construction project is ever delivered that did not have a Request for Information (RFI) issued by the contractor, subcontractor, suppliers, or any other entity responsible for providing the project. RFIs are part of every engineering and construction project and will continue to be part of it.
In most Construction Documents (agreements, drawings, specifications, and bills of quantities) developed by the Engineer, inevitably, those documents will only adequately address some matters. There may be gaps, conflicts, or subtle ambiguities. The Request for Information (RFI) aims to act as the project communication management process to resolve these gaps, conflicts, or subtle ambiguities during the bidding process or early in the construction process to eliminate the need for costly corrective measures. Should the response to the RFI lead to additional work that represents added cost or delays to the project’s scope of work, then this could lead to a change order request by the contractor.
The Effective Management of the RFI process
Like all other project management processes, managing the Request for Information (RFI), Request for Interpretation, or Request for Clarification, the process requires a document template to be used by the project parties to raise the RFI query and receive the answer for this query. The details of those RFIs will then be logged in a register to provide the status of submitted, responded, and pending RFIs. In addition, there should be a documented workflow to enforce the process for submitting, reviewing, and responding to the RFI by the contract agreement and project execution plan. The Construction Specification Institute (CSI) has developed document templates for more construction management processes, including Request for Information, as shown below.
How Can PMIS Improve the RFI Process?
PMWeb RFI module allows the project team member to capture all details needed to manage the RFI. Using a Project Management Information System (PMIS) like PMWeb where the RFI Module is readily available, the RFI data will be used to identify trends associated with the reasons for issuing RFIs, effectiveness in responding to RFIs, and the time and cost impact resulting from those RFIs among others. The default form has fields for Project, Phase (Design, Tender, Construction), WBS Level, RFI Reference ID, RFI Subject or Description, Reference, Status, Revision, and Revision Date, RFI Date, Trade (Substructure, Superstructure, etc.), CSI Specification Section, Category (Structural, Mechanical, Electrical, etc.) and Priority (High, Normal, Low). In addition, there is no limit to the additional custom fields that can be added as attributes to the RFI using the specification section.
RFI Query, Proposed Solution, and Response
In addition, each RFI needs fields for the query or clarification, the proposed solution by the issuer or other, and the response or answer to close the RFI. The response to the RFI could impact the project’s scope of work, cost, and/or schedule. The project schedule activity that this RFI response could impact needs to be provided for the schedule. In addition, should the RFI has a relation with other project management processes, then the relevant documents need to be linked to the RFI to provide those involved in responding to the RFI with the complete details of the RFI.
The RFI Specification Reference
As almost all RFIs are raised against what was included in Contract Documents, it is recommended that the issuer of the RFI have the relevant technical specification section or sections related to the RFI. PMWeb Clauses tab allows the organization to add all technical specification sections and then drag and drop the relevant specification section to the RFI template. The same approach could also be made for the contract agreement clauses that have a relation or could impact the issued RFI.
Attach All Supportive Documents
The RFI should have all drawings, specification sections, contract agreements, bill of quantity, pictures, videos, and all other supportive documents attached to the RFI submission. Although those can be uploaded directly into the RFI, it is recommended that all those documents be uploaded first to the PMWeb document management repository and then to the RFI. In addition, PMWeb links project-related emails that were imported to PMWeb to the relevant RFI. In addition, hyperlinks to external websites like those for seismic activities and building codes, among others.
Submitting, Reviewing, and Responding To RFI
PMWeb Workflow will detail the different roles in submitting, reviewing, and responding to RFIs. What is essential in PMWeb workflow is that all possible workflow scenarios can be mapped using the conditional workflow rules and branches. Those rules could be specific to the RFI category, CSI specification section, location, WBS level, reason, impact on scope, cost, and schedule, among other RFI attributes or fields. This will ensure that the RFI will be distributed appropriately and circulated among those who are part of the pre-defined RFI management process.
Suppose there is a requirement to involve project stakeholders who are either separate from the process workflow, or stakeholders who are not part of the PMWeb authorized users. In that case, the PMWeb notification module will be used to email the RFI and other forms and reports to be reviewed by those stakeholders.
Integrating RFI with Change Events
Should the response to the RFI result in additional cost or delays to the project milestone dates, then PMWeb allows the authorized user to generate a Change Event that will be used to capture the impact of this RFI on the project budget as well as the awarded contracts. This will enable tracking RFIs that could have increased the project cost or delayed the project completion date. The change event will then become the basis for issuing a change order for the changed scope of work.
Formal RFI Submission and Single Version of The Truth Reporting on RFI Status
In most countries in the MENA region, contract agreements and local legal requirements make a must that all RFIs and similar other formal project communications need to be printed, signed, and submitted. PMWeb allows the organization to design the output in any desired format for which the content will be automatically extracted from the RFI input form.
Of course, real-time RFI logs and registers can be designed in any form and format. The RFI Log could be grouped by reason, status, and location. Similarly, the data can be sorted by those fields, RFI data, or priority level. In addition, logs can be designed to filter reported RFIs by the same codes or any other possible fields.
Analyzing RFI Management Process
The knowledge wealth that an organization could have from capturing projects’ BIG DATA in a trustworthy format can be proven to be of great value. Since PMWeb is designed to capture data from an unlimited number of projects whether they are active or completed, the organization can use this data to analyze and identify trends on RFI growth patterns, RFI issued by contractors, RFI issued on projects designed by a specific consultant, RFI that resulted in change orders, RFI by reason, RFI by specification section, and RFI by location among others.
About the Author
Bassam Samman, PMP, PSP, EVP, GPM, is a Senior Project Management Consultant with over 35-year service record providing project management and controls services to over 100 projects with a total value of over US $5 Billion. Those projects included Commercial, Residential, Education, and Healthcare Buildings and Infrastructure, Entertainment and Shopping Malls, Oil and Gas Plants and Refineries, Telecommunication, and Information Technology projects. He is thoroughly experienced in project management, including project management control systems, computerized project control software, claims analysis/prevention, risk analysis/management (contingency planning), design, supervision, training, and business development.
Bassam is a frequent speaker on Project Management, Strategic Project Management, and Project Management Personal Skills. Over the past 35 years, he has lectured at more than 350 events and courses at different locations in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and South America. He has written more than 250 articles on project management and project management information systems that were featured in international and regional magazines and newspapers. He is a co-founder of the Project Management Institute- Arabian Gulf Chapter (PMI-AGC) and has served on its board of directors for over six years. He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Project Management Institute (PMI), an accredited Planning and Scheduling Professional (PSP), an Earned Value Professional (EVP) from the American Association of Cost Engineers (AACE), and a Green Project Management (GPM).
Bassam holds a Master’s in Engineering Administration (Construction Management) with Faculty Commendation from George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA, Bachelor in Civil Engineering – from Kuwait University, Kuwait, and has attended many executive management programs at Harvard Business School, Boston, USA, and London Business School, London, UK.