How many times have you found that you don’t have enough information to accurately price a potential contract? This is a common occurrence for electrical estimators during the tender process and means that you need to seek clarification in the form of a Request for Information (RFI). If you need to take this step, it’s important that you go about it the right way, both to get the information you need and to create a good impression with the client. No one wants to be going back and forth! Here are some steps to take when submitting an RFI:
1. Thoroughly review documents and drawings
Your first step is always going to be to conduct a thorough assessment of the information you already have. You’re looking for a clear understanding of what is required and to identify any possible ambiguities or gaps in the information. It’s helpful to have some context while you’re reviewing the documents as this can reveal those possible gaps. As you’re looking things over, consider the following questions:
- What is the function of the building?
- What will people be doing inside?
- What is the layout?
- Where are the electrical rooms?
- Does the scope of work match the requirements of the bid form?
- Are specs generic or custom?
- Does this compare to past projects you have worked on?
- What inconsistencies are there in the tender information?
- Do any of the specifications appear to be outdated?
Note down anything that you find needs clarification. You’ll often find that any previous projects of similar size and scope can provide a valuable comparison; if something seems to be very different in the new project, it can warrant further investigation.
2. Formulate your questions
We have a few tips to help ensure that your questions are clear and that you put yourself in the best position to get the answers you need. To begin with, you might like to separate them out to include questions related to “known” versus questions related to “unknown” elements. You also should consider:
- Ensuring that your questions actually are formulated as questions (a sentence for which you attach a question mark on the end). Sometimes contractors have been known to create more of a statement than a question, which might not get them the answers they’re looking for. As an example, suggesting “detail 23 on sheet A8.2 doesn’t work” is a statement (and an ambiguous one at that!)
- Being very specific about what you’re talking about. Project managers get frustrated with vague RFIs (like the statement outlined above), because they can create extra work for them in clarifying the clarification! Provide clear context around the question so that anyone can understand the issue without having to dig around to find it. A suggestion is to think about the following questions when you form your question:- What is the conflict? - Who or what will be impacted? - Where is the problem? - What is the sheet reference?
- Providing any additional information that would help. For example, could a sketch or drawing make your question clearer?
Your aim here is to ensure that the response to your RFI doesn’t require another RFI to get an explanation!
3. Use the correct format
Besides making your queries clear, there may be a standard RFI document or tender query schedule that the client has developed and expects all contractors to follow. Make sure that if this is the case, you follow the format they have laid out. This is something to double-check before creating your own RFI document. Remember, you’re managing your impression with the client too, so don’t lose credibility by failing to follow the process they have created to suit their purposes. It is quite common for a standard document to be used on large projects where there may be multiple companies vying for the tender. To look at it from the perspective of the client, it could create all sorts of logistical headaches for them if every competing company sent in an RFI in their own, unique format.
4. Review your queries
Once you have a list of draft queries put together, review them critically to ensure that they a) should get you the answers you need and b) will present you in a good light to the client. To flip that another way, what could make you lose credibility with a client?
- Asking questions that can be answered on your own if you thoroughly read the documents provided.
- Poorly formulated, vague statements or questions.
- Obvious spelling or grammatical errors.
- Failing to follow their instructions for RFIs.
Seek to minimise the time that the client would need to spend on answering the RFI. This can go a long way to establishing your professionalism with them! As another point, consider suggesting any solutions where applicable. This communicates that you know what you’re doing and are looking out for the client’s interests.
5. Send your queries
Choosing the right time to submit your queries upstream is always a balancing act. You don’t want to fire off a new or updated tender query schedule for every new question you have, but equally, you don’t want to wait until near the end of the tender period and send an extensive list of queries that the client now has little time to respond to. The right answer here is going to depend on the following:
- Length of the tender period.
- The size of the project.
- The completeness of the tender information, balanced with the number of tender queries you have (and when in the tender period you have them).
- What (if any) instructions your client has given regarding queries. Check the tender enquiry letter - they might have specified to send any queries at specific, regular intervals.
6. Manage ongoing queries
You may get an answer straight away to some of your queries. You may never get an answer to others. You might discover additional questions as soon as you’ve hit send on your carefully crafted RFI document. All of these things are part of the RFI process, and need to be handled accordingly. The important thing here is to ensure that you’ve given thought to how you will manage any changes to the documentation in a clear way. You don’t want to risk duplicating or missing information, creating confusion in the tender process.
7. Convert queries into clarifications and exclusions
On every project you’re going to have a list of clarifications and exclusions, outlined within the tender letter, that will accompany your final tender bid. Some of these clarifications and exclusions are going to be template statements that go out with every tender, however, many of them are going to be project specific. Tender queries that remain unanswered at the end of the tender period are a concrete source of project specific clarifications and exclusions, and you’ll need to convert your queries to read as such. This is where taking the time to make your tender queries clear, specific and understandable has another benefit - you can easily convert them to clarifications and exclusions. The point of these is that they create clear boundaries around your bid and make it understood what is, and isn’t, included. Re-read these and perhaps get a second person to read them for understanding - you want to make sure that there is no ambiguity so you don’t run into the situation where there’s a difference in interpretation.
The RFI process should be carefully and thoughtfully planned out to give you the best chance of success with it. The idea is that there should be no ambiguity between your interpretation and the client’s, leading to a more harmonious project relationship. Work through these tips and take the opportunity to craft a good RFI in the first place. You’re helping to improve both your reputation with the client and the potential of getting offered the project based on how credible they find you.