A Comprehensive Review of the Meaning of RFI in Construction

 August 27, 2021 by Michael Gober & Denis Gritsiyenko

You’re drawing up a bid, but there is some information missing. 

You could go ahead using your best guess, or you could submit a request for information (RFI) to ensure a more accurate bid. 

You’ve heard of these RFIs but you’ve never had to submit one. After all, they can be intimidating. 

But with this guide, we answer all your questions about RFIs. Questions like:

  • What does RFI mean in construction?

  • When is an RFI needed in a construction project?

  • And more

Read on to find out how you can simplify the RFI process by incorporating 5 best practices into your RFI management.

  1. CM Fusion: Simplifying Construction RFI Management and Tracking
  2. What Is RFI in Construction?
  3. How Does the RFI Construction Process Work?
  4. Types of RFI for Construction
  5. 5 RFI Best Practices: How to Simplify the RFI Process
  6. How to Respond to an RFI
  7. Manage Your RFI Efficiently With CM Fusion

CM Fusion: Simplifying Construction RFI Management and Tracking

Gone are the days of poor RFI management. No more breakdowns in communication or organization. No more unnecessary waiting or delays. 

With CM Fusion’s management software, keeping track of your RFIs is a breeze. CM Fusion’s construction RFI management software lets you:

  • Create RFIs

  • Manage the RFI process; and 

  • Access your RFIs from anywhere with speed and efficiency.

We’ve provided RFI templates as well as a user-friendly interface designed to simplify your life. 

Some of the software’s features include:

  • Having one place for all parties to communicate directly

  • The ability to track RFI assignments in real-time

  • Getting notified when there are changes or updates; and

  • An increase in your overall response time, enabling you to stay on budget and on time.

What Is RFI in Construction?

An RFI in construction is a request for information. They are commonly used in situations where something might need to be cleared up about:

  • Construction plans

  • Specifications

  • Drawings; or

  • Agreements.

Typically, a contractor or designer will submit an RFI if they need clarification or if there are gaps in any important documents. 

RFIs are very common in construction and will likely be used at several points during the life of the project.

RFIs are considered to be quite formal and sometimes even have implications in legal matters.

What Is the Purpose of RFI in Construction?

A party can make a request for information (RFI) about a number of topics. 

For example, if a contractor was looking to fine-tune a bid in the bidding process, they may submit an RFI to fill in any gaps that may be present. 

Likewise, a contractor or supplier could submit an RFI to:

  • Formally document any concerns about the materials

  • Seek out more information about how the parts might be used

  • Recommend a change or substitution to certain materials; or

  • Gain clarification about contract terms or any other relevant project information.

Who Uses RFI for Construction?

Any party that needs information from another party can submit an RFI. 

RFIs are a useful tool in construction projects to create information flow between those involved in the project. 

Typically, a Request for Information is used by the party ‘on the ground’. In other words, it is most common that a subcontractor or supplier is requesting information from a designer or a higher-tiered party.

When Is an RFI Needed on a Construction Project?

RFIs can sometimes carry a negative connotation. They can be viewed as a sign that there are problems within a construction project.

To an extent, they can be associated with project issues: According to a 2012 study from the Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, a large number of RFIs coupled with slow response times is an indication of poor project performance.

Despite this reputation, RFIs are useful to gather information at any point during the life of a project or job. 

Common situations where a Request for Information (RFI) may be necessary include:

  • A contractor needs lender information from an owner

  • Information is needed to send notices

  • There are gaps in project documentation

  • Information is needed to make a claim

How Does the RFI Construction Process Work?

Submitting a Request for Information (RFI) is simple, but the overall process that follows can become a bit complex. 

How complicated the RFI process is can depend on a number of factors:

  • The complexity of the project

  • Term-length of project

  • Stakeholders involved

While the official process can differ depending on which state you are in, the steps within the RFI process are generally the same. 

When going through the RFI process, you can expect the following steps to take place:

  1. The subcontractor will submit an RFI to the general contractor clarifying the terms of the contract, including design, standards, specifications, and vision. 

  2. The subcontractor will receive an answer (if possible) to the RFI that was submitted.

  3. If the contractor is not able to provide the requested information, they will submit an RFI to someone higher in the chain of command. 

  4. Once an answer to the original RFI is received, it is returned to the subcontractor.

  5. If satisfied, the subcontractor continues to work on the project. If not, they can revise and resubmit the RFI until sufficient communication has been achieved. 

To keep this as simple as possible, it is important to learn how to navigate the RFI process efficiently and effectively. 

Later on in this guide, we’ll discuss five best practices that will simplify the RFI process for you.

Types of RFI for Construction

When it comes to RFIs in construction, there are several types. The categorizations of RFIs generally correspond to the nature of the request. 

For example, a ‘Design Coordination’ RFI is going to involve clarifying information about the design elements of the project with everyone involved. 

The types of construction RFIs are as follows:

  • Design Coordination

  • Constructability Issues

  • Construction Coordination

  • Timing & Phasing

  • Design Clarification

  • Design Change

  • Deleted Scope

  • Change in Method or Process

  • Incomplete Plans or Specs

  • Material Change

  • Site Conditions

  • Value Engineering

  • Utility Conflict; and

  • Other Issues

5 RFI Best Practices: How to Simplify the RFI Process

Since the RFI process can become complicated, we’ve come up with these 5 RFI best practices that are sure to help simplify the RFI process for you. 

The five best practices to keep in mind are:

  1. Read the contract.

  2. Make a straightforward request.

  3. Provide context.

  4. Include pictures.

  5. Suggest a solution.

#1: Read the Contract

Construction contracts should include stipulations for the RFI process. 

The contract should advise you on:

  • The submittal processes and RFI procedures

  • What formats to use, documents to provide, and other specifications

  • Timing for RFIs (including when to expect a response)

By not reading through the instructions set out in the contract, there is an opportunity to incur unnecessary costs and delays. 

If you are given the opportunity, ensure these stipulations are included in the contract. 

Clearly defining expectations, standards, and terms as well as making sure all parties are aware and in support of said things can make a huge difference to the overall flow of the project. 

#2: Make a Straightforward Request

When submitting an RFI, a person will often make the mistake of making it more complicated than it needs to be. 

What usually happens is the person who submitted the RFI will:

  • Add too much information

  • Use fancy or convoluted wording, or

  • Add unnecessary ambiguity to the RFI.

This ultimately muddies the waters and creates confusion. It is best to make a straightforward request. 

When doing so, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Use a neutral tone — don’t try to make anyone look bad. 

  • Write clearly and be concise.

  • Don’t ask more than one question per RFI.

#3: Provide Context

Another common mistake in construction RFIs is not providing enough context for the recipient. 

As a general rule, you want to assume the recipient has no knowledge of the situation. 

You want to provide enough context so that your request can be easily digested and understood by anyone who would receive it.

Important pieces of context to provide would be:

  • What information is missing from the situation

  • Who is impacted

  • Which part of the overall project is affected

  • When a response is needed

#4: Include Pictures

Ever heard the saying: “A picture is worth 1,000 words”?

When it comes to RFIs for construction, this saying couldn’t be more true. 

Including pictures in your RFI is a great way to provide context for the recipient. 

Attaching a photo, video, or drawing is easier than ever with RFI management software. 

CM Fusion’s RFI image management software is a game-changer — anyone on the project can easily snap a photo of the issue and upload it to an easily accessible location for everyone to view. 

#5: Suggest a Solution

This may seem counterintuitive. After all, if you already had a solution, why would you need to submit an RFI?

Chances are, you have enough expertise to suggest possible solutions to the issue being raised — but that isn't even the point. 

The key purpose of this practice is to prompt action from the recipient of the RFI.

How to Respond to an RFI

If you work on several projects a year, especially large projects, you may be swimming in RFIs. 

If that’s you, it is extremely important to have an effective and efficient process for dealing with and managing RFIs. 

When you receive an RFI, you’ll want to:

Manage Your RFI Efficiently With CM Fusion

Construction management software is the best way to effectively manage RFIs. 

Using CM Fusion’s RFI software will allow you to streamline every aspect of the process, from submittal to response. 

Let CM Fusion help you:

  • Manage complex projects

  • Run things efficiently

  • Store important information 

  • Access data from anywhere at anytime

  • Save time; and

  • Stay on budget. 

Try CM Fusion, risk free for 30 Days – Your first project is FREE!

If you are trying to figure out where to look now, our company CM Fusion offers a free version of Construction Project Management Software. Not to mention, our customers brag about it’s ease of use, so you should be able to sign up and start managing your projects in minutes.

Try CM Fusion for Free