When it comes to construction workflows, RFIs and submittals are two critical ones. When these processes are set up for success, contractors can create more predictability and projects run smoother. “Submittals and RFIs are core processes in construction. Enhancing them prepares us for future issues, and streamlines projects overall,” says Camille Hardin, Project Manager, Overaa.
We caught up with Camille to learn more about her role at Overaa and how she leverages technology to improve RFIs and submittals.
Tell us more about your role.
I’ve been with Overaa for eight years. Overaa works on a variety of projects, including municipal infrastructure, education, and healthcare. I started as an intern and then became a project engineer and now a project manager. I am currently working on a $30 million elementary school in Albany, CA. As a project manager, I’m responsible for overseeing the projects’ processes, including RFIs, submittals, schedule updates and reviews, and document control. I make sure our people in the field who are building the project under the superintendent receive the correct information. I like to say that the PM is mission control, and the people in the field are the astronauts, the ones making sure that we’ve got everything to make it work correctly.
Like most industries, the construction industry has been through significant change in the last six months. What was the experience like for Overaa?
Approximately 70% of Overaa’s work is public work, and the Bay Area was one of the first and strictest lockdowns in the country. Because most of Overaa’s work is considered essential construction, we kept going and had to get on the ball right away with new safety measures. This applied especially with how people interact with each other on site and social distancing. People in the field have PPE, hand sanitizer, and bleach bottles to sanitize their tools. We are required to have a full-time safety officer and use technology to sign people in. We ask the questions, “Are you feeling sick? Is anybody in your household being tested?” among others. We’ve been recording that digitally because we can’t have our workers share and sign in with a pen. So, we need to have someone record and report safety records digitally to the County.
It was also initially a challenge to balance working at home to reduce exposure and also working on site. But we are getting used to the new normal. We asked ourselves, how do we keep projects moving forward while keeping everyone safe for an active jobsite to reduce spread? That being said, we have leveraged technologies to maintain collaboration. In terms of looking at drawings and plans, we used to huddle together, but we can’t do that anymore. In-person meetings are now Zooms, and we use them to review big sets of drawings. We are definitely pushing people in the field to use more technology now. For instance, we are doing virtual pull-plan meetings instead of all being in one room.
What are some of the typical pain points of RFIs and submittals?
RFIs are time-critical and need back answers ASAP. When you use just email or phone calls, information can get lost in translation. Also, if people in the field don’t have the most up to date information, they might build it wrong. Also, with RFIs, one of the hardest parts is communicating the problem and creating that collaborative approach to solve.
For submittals, the tricky part is lining up what’s in the drawings and in the contract documents and comparing it to what the sub wants to use. The headache is making sure that the submittals are done correctly and on time. There are a lot of changes that happen, especially on a design-build project. Of course, it’s also about getting notifications to a subcontractor about what you need and when.
How does technology improve RFI and submittal workflows?
For RFIs, time sensitivity is key. With tools like Plangrid, you can see where it is in the process and easily access direct links to related drawings. The most current information is always there. It also enables you to take a snapshot right on the spot and submit an RFI as long as you have PlanGrid on your iPad. In the RFI module in PlanGrid, you have all your plans there and can do markups directly.
Using PlanGrid for submittals helps streamline the entire process. Comments are all right there under the submittals tab, and there’s no need to navigate through folders to track items down. Field teams are empowered to look up items and check statuses in real-time without waiting for it to be printed.
PlanGrid has been helpful in just making sure that everyone that needs to be is included. It’s about having it all in one space for subcontractors to access at any time. We’ve even had our inspector starting to use PlanGrid. In schools, you have to have a full-time inspector under the Division of State Architect (DSA), and he’s been able to access the plans and the submittals via PlanGrid. It’s been a really valuable tool to get submittals in on time. It makes the process run a lot faster and more efficiently.
I’m excited to discuss how to optimize submittals and RFI workflows with technology in our upcoming webinar. We’re in a strange time right now. Now more than ever, our industry needs to find better ways of doing things and shift to more technology. Submittals and RFIs are core processes in construction. Enhancing them prepares us for future issues and streamlines projects.
Register for “Optimizing Your Construction Workflows: RFIs & Submittals” on September 22, 11 am PT / 2 pm ET.