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The Steel Detailer
Steel Advice - The Fabricator's Resource
December 2011
The Project Manager
Watch out for frivolous RFI Questions. Nothing annoys a customer and the designers more than questions that are answerable within the drawings and specifications.

An example of this might be details shown in the architectural drawings that support structural drawings, such as building elevations relating to the steel. Other conditions might include canopy steel connections or mechanical framework details.

Review all the RFIs before you send them on. Does the question and the way it is asked, make sense? Are you sure that the information being sought is NOT found anywhere else in the project drawings, details or specifications.

If the designers pick up on the fact that they are answering questions for things that ARE shown at the drawings they will quickly decide that your company and your steel detailer are incompetent.

Once the designers get the idea that you are not doing your job, everything else becomes much more difficult.
Giving due diligence to the RFI process is paramount to all jobs. The timing and condition of this ask and answer session sets the stage for the whole project. Some projects have so many RFI questions and answers going back and forth it is a lot like trying to work in a tornado. Maintaining management of the process requires the full attention of the project manager.

There is more for the project manager to do when handling RFIs than they may be aware. Keeping a spreadsheet log, entering data and periodically sending out pleading reminders is not enough. Think about the context of the questions being asked and see if there isn't a way to help retrieve some answers. It may mean going to extremes and getting out from behind your desk to visit the contractor's office and/or the jobsite.

An example of this would be RFI's concerning column and beam locations where there are no dimensions. Arrange for a conversation with the project manager at the contractors office and maybe the jobsite superintendent to see if being involved in some field measuring might do the trick. Chances are that the designers are going to come back with an answer like this anyway. You would save yourself the waiting time in finding this out early.

Understand that you need to operate as though the delays will have a very personal impact on you, because they do. None of the other players are losing time and money over the lack of information at this moment like you and your steel detailer.

Even if the missing information is someone else's fault, and the delay for getting an answer is generated by conditions beyond your control, it is you who will need to make up the time loss and to finance the extra costs. It is you who will have to provide the back up documentation to prove the added cost conditions, and it will be like pulling teeth to get paid for it in the end.

Write a weekly update regarding the impact of unanswered questions. Know for yourself what exactly they are holding up and keep the list updated. When an RFI is answered, make sure that the answer back from the designers closes the issue. If not, make sure to write a notice about what is still to be done and why. Make certain that this information is passed along to the general contractor so that they are clear about what is completed and what still needs to be done. Take all these steps towards a successful project.

Partial and incorrect answers add to confusion.
Successfully Handling the RFI Process
Even the designers can make a mistake and misunderstand what we are trying to ask.

Review those returned RFIs to be sure that the designers have answered the question completely and adequately.

If the returned RFI does not provide a resolution, look to the contractor for advise on what to do next.

This is where projects can get messy. Sending the same RFI back through may add to confusion, so the contractor may want to submit a new RFI and ask the question a different way.

Whichever the case, follow the contractor's lead and proceed accordingly.
Check the RFI Questions before you send them on!
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