Full Contact Project Management
What you are about to read here on Requests for Information (RFIs) is some (almost) super-secret stuff! It's so secret that most of your colleagues don't even know about it. Worse, they don't even know that they don't know about it. But it's not secret to you. Because you're a Full Contact Project Manager (PM); you know these secrets, so you can step to the head of the class. The rest of you listen up you're way behind the curve.
First, Some Basics
If you haven't yet downloaded my "Winning RFI" template, go to www.fullcontactPM.com and look for the Playbook link. You need it now. What you will see there is a sample RFI with a page of explanations. And if you didn't get it last month, that means you missed reading the August issue of Masonry. Don't do that again!
Now, it's time to appreciate how important the well-written RFI can be to your company and to your career. If you want to get someone's attention, send out a RFI. Or I should say, send out a well-written RFI, which can be both an offensive and a defensive play. Here are the key elements to a good RFI:
- Specify dates. The RFI should state the date it was sent and a specific date on which an answer is required. Gone are the days of "ASAP."
- Include a tracking number. This elevates the RFI's importance, plus most specifications require it.
- State the question.
- Stress that this request for information has possible or probable money and time (critical path schedule) consequences.
- Close with a phrase such as, "How shall we proceed?"
These key elements allow you to take command of the situation if you need an answer today, you say so. Even if the specs give the architect two weeks to turn around a RFI, you state the date that you need the answer. Be the squeaky wheel. Let everyone else wait; you need your information now, otherwise time and money issues may arise. If you do everything you can to keep your project on schedule, the construction manager will not complain about your RFIs.
I like to use a log for my RFIs. The log is a document that tracks the date an RFI was submitted and its status. Mainly, was it answered by the date that you required it? If not, how long has it been? I like to give out my RFI log on a weekly basis, generally at the progress meeting. If you want a little more respect shown to your questions, just show your client that the meter is running!
When I ask how we are to proceed, everyone knows that the ball is not in my court. This can be especially helpful if you ever have to go into a claim situation. If some kind of claim or litigation arises, it's pretty handy to be able to trot out a long list of questions (RFIs and letters) that had to be asked because the plans or specs did not provide the answers.
Still think that I'm exaggerating the importance of an RFI? Here's a simple test with two possible grades: pass or career change.
You go to court/mediation for $100,000 over some additional work your company performed. When you present your case, would you rather reference the fact that you had 100 RFIs or no RFIs?
If the issue has to do with liquidated damages, would you prefer to demonstrate that most of the answers to the RFIs took longer to answer than you required, or would you like the opposing attorney to state that you never requested a specific date, only "ASAP," and that his client answered "as soon as he possibly could"?
For the Full Contact PM, anything less than full use of the RFI is not an option!
This month's playbook: One of the benefits of writing a winning RFI is that it will often translate into money for your project. Wouldn't it be nice to have a handy "shopping list" that will remind you of all the possibilities and for what you should be on the lookout? The successful Full Contact PM keeps this list close at all times. Get yours at www.fullcontactPM.com and look for the link.
Guest PM Coach
Use Simple Forms to Increase Information
Documentation is one of the most important tasks of project management. However, getting adequate, timely information from all of your field personnel can be difficult.
Whether you're using a simple paper system or a sophisticated electronic solution, try these practical tips to get more high-quality information from your employees.
Tip #1 - Simplify
Simplify paper reporting forms and data entry screens. Make them free of unnecessary instructions and information. Clutter is a fast track to disaster. Look at it from the worker's perspective. Most have a built-in resistance to paper work, launching mental and psychological defenses at the very thought of it. The first glance must be inviting and simple.
Example: Make instructions on the form simple. For those contractors using paper forms, consider creating a detailed, "filled out" sample version with more instructions. Laminate and distribute to each of your field personnel. For contractors using software, many have features to create descriptive notes that appear as the cursor hovers over data entry fields.
Tip #2 - Consolidate
Consider consolidating several forms into one or try using both sides of the page. How about a larger paper format like 8-1/2 x 14 or even 11 x 17 folded? (Copying is still easy because the folded size is still 8-1/2 x 11.)
Example: I once consolidated the daily report, a trench safety form and a traffic control checklist a total of three 8-1/2 x 11 forms into one 8-1/2 x 14 form without sacrificing simplicity or adding clutter. Then I added an extra work form and a daily schedule into the same form by using the opposite side. With this change, my personnel handle just one sheet of dreaded paper instead of five, and my office staff is delighted as well.
Tip #3 - Employee-friendly Forms
Your employees should never equate paperwork with writing workers' names and classifications, or all the equipment and routinely delivered supplies and materials. Once they've completed that portion of the report, they're finished. We then want them to focus on the more important project-specific, issue-related documentation.
Check daily forms for slots to record delays, disruptions and inefficiencies. Consider using tables on which to record information, with less "text" areas. Add columns to simplify and clarify options, where each column in a table is an option. Include repetitive product information on report forms. In the end, what you'll have is a partially filled-out report so your field personnel aren't discouraged. Make liberal use of check boxes for paper forms and pull down menus for electronic solutions. It makes it easy for workers to simply choose from a list of "approved" options.
Tip #4 - Train Every Day
On a daily basis, train your personnel to recognize issues and to report relevant information in the proper places as it happens. Don't hesitate to walk through an entire issue with them demonstrating how incomplete or unclear information loses credibility under the scrutiny of the change order or claims process.
The most important thing? Never give up!
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