A RFI is a request for information, more specifically a documented inquiry from a one party to another asking for additional clarification. A RFI is the equivalent of Pandora’s box in the construction & engineering world. It can be the start of something empowering, humbling, costly, lucrative, or a complete waste of time. While giving the designer a chance to elaborate on how a particular aspect of a project is to created, questions can also identify holes in the projects where areas weren’t adequately conveyed. A series of questions can be a humbling experience to a designer when the questions require additional design that wasn’t covered in the first issue of contract documents. Requiring a redesign of certain portions may be lucrative or costly, the difference is in the details of what has been added, changed, or removed from the original scope.
In reference to a RFI being a complete waste of time, the originator of the question becomes known as [Insert undesirable descriptive here] if their questions are not properly worded or do not accurately convey the information they are seeking. In a world where folks ask questions without researching the information already available, the RFI process evolves into numerous individuals spending an unnecessary amount of time focusing on answering trivial questions. I get the whole “no such thing as a bad question” idea as long as the question relates to additional clarification on the project. There isn’t much benefit to a construction project when the question involves aspects completely unrelated the the project.
I remember a colleague reminiscing from a past employer decades ago where the company policy was never to provide a response to an RFI no earlier than 3 days after the inquiry was submitted. As a general rule, 90% of the questions they received would be resolved by other entities before day 4 arrived. Another side benefit is that it gives the recipient time to fully absorb the question. Time has a way of allowing the individual to really ponder multiple aspects of a question.
- Is there a better way to clarify or simplify the system in question?
- What is the basis of the question being posed? Is it a lack of information, available product, etc.?
- What are the available options on how to proceed? What are the benefits, limitations, and risks associated with each option?
- How will this question and answer impact the time & money allocated to the project?
For those folks who jump at answering questions, give the simmering process a try. You may find there’s less sleep lost wondering whether the first response was the best response. In addition, there’s a reason why the phrase “Patience, grasshopper” is still in use after a few decades.