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Leadership Master-class: Speeding up response time of RFIs

September 10, 2021
By Peg Landry

Hosted by Eric Anderton, Construction Genius and featuring Slater Latour, Chief Marketing and Product Officer at Newforma.

In this podcast episode Slater Latour frames the challenges that the construction industry faces when taking a concept and design and then building it in the real world. He also explains how the whole RFI process can be managed more effectively.

Here are the highlights from the podcast:

Q: Why do RFIs cause tension in a construction project?

Slater: The simple answer is that RFIs add time to the process. Tension occurs when the design team expects the contractor to look at the design documents which are great. But the contractor is out in the field and might have a different view. It always comes down to cost, time, and efficiency.

Q: Who is responsible for the efficient processing of RFIs?

Slater: That’s another layer of tension. Closing out an RFI is a collaborative effort. No one really owns it fully, but it requires input from both sides. And if those two sides are not working together the project will suffer. When there is not a clear owner who is directly affected by the outcome and the speed of resolution tensions emerge.

Q: What do you think we can do to reduce that tension – assuming that we are not going to lay blame on anyone?

Slater: Start by taking ownership on both sides to provide the appropriate context around the RFI, and then make sure it submitted to the right people. This is where technology can help in relating information to the drawing or model. It can also automatically distribute to the right design team, consultants, and engineers.

Q: What is one way that we can reduce the pain of RFIs consistently and remove the human elements that introduce problems that often come up?

Slater: The decision has to be made on what construction management software will be used. Regardless of which side “wins”, both sides are going to keep very detailed records of all of these exchanges. You now have two systems with the same sets of data that require administrators on the project to basically do everything twice. Once in their system of record and then again in the other party’s system. This is just total dead weight to a project. When you’re asking people to upload multiple documents to multiple systems eventually something is going to be missed. Consequently you’re not going to have those two record-keeping systems match.

Q: Your company, Newforma, is positioning itself to be that hub for the information.

Slater: Yes, we are that hub point, but we also deliver the sync points between solutions. For example, we have projects where the contractor is working in Procore and the design team in Newforma and everything is sync’d automatically between systems, so the turnaround time is just much faster. There’s also a lot of communication that happens in the design phase that is often in email. Our system captures all of that communication and relates it to the project as objects. This provides the full context of decisions because you have the documentation on how decisions were made during the design phase.

Q: You mentioned that change management is important. What are some of the hallmarks of companies that have managed change successfully?

Slater: It’s always about identifying the right champions within the firm, but then you need real executive buy-in and the modeling of behaviors that is going to make it work. I think that’s true of every software deployment.

Q: Let’s assume the best, what can they do to come together at the beginning of the project to make the RFI process go smoother and reduce that tension?

Slater: I think there are a few things that can be done including expectation setting at the beginning of the project. Doing the pre-work, coming in prepared, and agreeing upfront to what the process will be will also help. It wouldn’t hurt to discuss what the turn-around time is. And defining the benchmarks to measure the performance against would help. It’s not based on a survey, it’s actual results.

Click here to listen to the podcast in its entirety.