Mediated Communications in Construction Projects
No matter how much technology we add to help augment the management and control of our projects, they are still run by people.
People who work for different companies, people who have competing interests and agendas, people who are working to bring a project to completion, with the constraint of schedule and budget.
An RFI (request for information) is used by the builder to communicate with the design team. In traditional construction contracts the owner holds separate contracts with the builder and architect. An RFI was created as a contractual approved communication between builder and architect.
Thus, an RFI has the ability to change the construction contract. Typically this role is reserved for lawyers. Additionally, most RFIs are actually written by trade contractors who discover conflicts in the drawings while comparing their scope of work against the other trade contractors.
So, with an RFI we’re requiring plumbers to ask questions that may have cost and schedule ramifications. We’re asking an electrician to review the architecture drawings, reflected ceiling plans, medical equipment drawings as well as their own MEP drawings and identify the differences, conflicts, coordination issues, and use the response from the architect to change their scope of work, pricing, and scheduling the revisions identified in the RFI.
Furthermore, because the architect’s response to an RFI has the ability to change the contractor’s contract, of which the architect is now a third-party, the architect is professionally obliged to state that there is no schedule or cost associated with the response to the RFI because saying otherwise may suggest an error or omission in their design.
Since most design and construction data exists in searchable documents—3D models, pdfs, and CAD (computer-aided design) files, it should be easy for our computers to conduct searches and report variance in those documents and ask our questions for us, and propose contextual and objective changes to our designs, and our budgets and schedules.
Indeed, the tools and processes that do just that are beginning to get a foothold in the industry. However, the majority of them of them function by providing variance review within models or provide code checks for models, through the use over overlaid building codes.
As the design and construction industry moves to augmented machine review of documents, the missing functionality is the ability to establish contextual clarity. Rather than just identifying variance and discrepancy, there is an urgent need for tools that assist the workers in the industry; the plumbers and electricians, in how to better write the queries that are raised through overlay review of the documents for construction.
Furthermore, these tools, if designed correctly, would be able to leverage the ability of the members of the design team, to better respond and answer the queries raised by RFIs.
The workers in the industry would be well served when the large tech firms create mediated communications through the use of RFI query templates or document review chatbots that would have the ability to not only identify variance between documents, but remove and neutralize the human emotions that are invested in designing and building the work.