Communication, in many cases, can be challenging, especially when it comes to project management. The AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) industry consists of employees with different roles, education backgrounds, and communication styles, who tend to struggle with collaboration. The miscommunication brought on by these differences often creates confusion and friction between workers that can cause errors and unnecessary project delays.

So, why is communication so difficult?

Communication typically works best amongst those who share common beliefs and opinions, and while all project members work together to achieve a common goal, workers with varying roles may express differences in the way they think, speak, and solve problems. For example, architects often have excellent visualization abilities, but may lack the ability to successfully communicate their ideas to customers or other members of their team.

Even when architects and engineers work closely with one another to conceptualize a design, they may still struggle to effectively communicate specific details to downstream contractors. All the same, there’s no doubt collaboration is always critical to the success of a project.

Miscommunication can happen through all stages of a project but often presents the most challenges as the project progresses to its latter half. A misinterpretation on behalf of vendors and contractors can lead to costly mistakes that can push back deadlines and leave customers dissatisfied.

Many organizations realized these issues early on, which is why construction companies created the RFI. An RFI (Request For Information) is a formal procedure used by designers and downstream contractors to fill gaps in information needed for the successful completion of a project. It’s typically submitted as a standardized form that seeks the clarification of plans, drawings, and specifications, allowing engineers and contractors to collaborate over projects while keeping continuous records of the changes and clarifications made.

With that being said, most architects and engineers don’t get everything right the first time, yet, this doesn’t mean they’re bad at their job. People often make mistakes and/or neglect information, which is why the RFI exists in the first place. Nevertheless, RFIs are a great way to increase the accountability of project members, as this information can be archived for subsequent review and analysis.

Like other written forms of communication, RFIs provide managers with insights into who requested the information, the engineers assigned to a project, and the request description. They also provide key information regarding the schedule or cost impact it has on the project, which can be beneficial for managers who need to propose changes in the budget or project deadline.

Many organizations are beginning to stray away from traditional RFIs, however, since paper-based RFIs can actually hinder project completion time. Today, thanks to advances in workflow and EDMS technology, organizations can manage RFIs electronically, simplifying communication between all parties involved. These electronic document management systems e.g., ImageSite and Engine-Box, can also automate much of the process by utilizing internal, and external email notifications.

RFI managers can attach needed files and documents directly to the RFI using ImageSites’s RFI/Submittals Module. Doing so provides recipients with a clear understanding of what needs to be changed and greatly reduces miscommunication.

Managing workflows is also a common challenge for many firms, as they typically consist of complex approval processes, with step actions governed by specific conditions. Electronic document management systems make it easy to manage both simple and complex workflows by automating what would usually be menial and time-consuming tasks.

Additionally, workflow automation promotes communication and collaboration by displaying project information in a single digital location that’s accessible on any device regardless of location. Put simply, it takes meaningless, repetitive tasks out of the equation, so workers can focus on what’s important – communication.

While workflows and RFIs are great tools for improving communication, nothing helps more than the workflow and document management system itself. Hosting files in a single location enables relevant employees to markup and comment on drawings and documents quickly and easily. Unlike traditional file management systems, workers can use the systems robust search tool to find files and documents instantly, significantly reducing the amount of time required to share documents.

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