By
Will Leaf

If you take a look at the economy, I think it’s safe to say it’s booming. Businesses are busy making products, performing services, building things, and designing products. But who are they doing this with? The answer is simple — the people who are willing and able to perform work for a certain price!

Here’s the thing, though. The employee market is darn near tapped out. I think most businesses know that finding employees willing and able is like looking for water in a desert. And, you know how easy that is. It’s not. It’s a constant theme, and one that I believe most of our own construction and design professional clients are dealing with.

So, what does this all mean? Well, for starters we see wage increases, distribution increases, inflated stock prices and, for some, it might even mean that under qualified people are working in positions that need to be filled. Yikes!

This has created a number of challenges for contractors and design professionals. But for purposes of this blog, I’d like to focus on the increased number of requests for information (RFIs) contractors are sending into the design team.

Naturally, as development and construction trades get busier and busier and the client demands increase, responding to RFIs in a timely and professional manner is vital because RFIs are tactics both contractors and design professionals can point to when things aren’t going exactly as planned.

A few things to point out:

  • Contractors suggest that design professionals are providing less details in drawings because they’re under staffed and don’t have time to provide great work.
  • Design professionals suggest contractors don’t have adequate staff to complete great work in the timeframe they agreed to in contract terms.
  • Public work or design-bid-build work has more RFIs than design-build work.

As you can see…it gets messy…and FAST. Contractors are being pushed to send RFIs to design professionals to decrease their liability. They understand that if they submit RFIs, they can argue delays and timeframes were not met due to another party — the design professional. With that said, if you’re a design professional, you need to understand you have rights and obligations as well. Here are a few steps we encourage you to take to mitigate risk:

  • Assign experienced and qualified staff to review and respond to all RFIs. Failure to do this is what ends in a majority of claims related to RFIs.
  • Share with that team that you will track the number of RFIs and the response type for each RFI. You will share this number with the team (client and contractor) as the project goes through each phase. Make certain your firm has a reliable team to do this. And while you’re at it, document the process, transmittals and checklists.
  • Clearly define duties in the contract. Explain items you are also NOT responsible for, such as dimensions, quantities, weights, or means and methods.
  • Identify drawings by type and define which ones you, as a design professional, would be required to review and which ones you aren’t required to review. By receiving a request, you aren’t required to review, you can simply stamp, “Not required to review.”
  • Before construction starts, you should provide the contractor a list of the RFIs you expect to receive. Provide a schedule for the RFIs and insist the contractor meet this schedule. Of course, you also must adhere to the schedule, so make sure you provide enough time to review and return the RFI accordingly.

Last, but certainly not least, remember as a design professional, you will be held to the “professional standard of care.” You must use the reasonable skill and judgement in each request review and respond the same way other professionals would have in similar circumstances.