One of the key knowledge areas discussed in the Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification is Procurements Management. As part of project procurements management a project manager is mainly expected to be able to initiate, execute and manage projects based on the project contracts. This article is an attempt to discuss about project contracts, to discuss the importance of such contracts and to give an introduction to types of contracts as a precursor to subsequent articles.
The PMBOK® defines a contract as follows.
“Contract represents a mutually binding agreement that obligates the seller to provide the specified products, services or results, and obligates the buyer to provide the monetary or other valuable consideration in return. A contract can also be called an agreement, understanding, undertaking or a purchase order.” (PMBOK® 5.0)
Any project involves two or more parties. One main party that is the buyer and the other the seller. In addition to these there can be other 3rd party elements that are not directly involved in the contract but are interested in or are impacted by the same. The contract between the buyer and the seller happens to protect the interests of the two parties entering into the agreement. The seller provides goods or services to the buyer for which the buyer compensates the seller monetarily or through other financial or non-financial means.
A contract is a formal agreement between the two parties and it is a legal binding amongst the two entities. A formal contract must be in written format and can be used even in court of law in the case of either party failing to honour their commitment or in the case of an appeal against any misdeeds. Dishonouring contracts may actually lead to settlements even in court but should ideally be settled mutually among the disagreeing parties, most probably through a mediator called an ‘arbitrator’.
Normally in large organizations contracts are managed by a separate contract manager or a procurements manager. The management of contracts are done in 2 separate ways namely; centralized contracting and decentralized contracting.
In centralized contracting, one contract manager manages all the contract related matters for multiple projects. This requires expertise in contracting, standardization of contracting practices across the organization and more focused management of contracts. In decentralized contracting, separate contract managers are allocated to manage the procurements for individual projects. This results in full time management of contracts and the contract manager must report progress to the project manager. This results in more focused management of project contracts and with time creates specialized expertise in contracting. However, this may result in duplication of contracting expertise and less standardization of contracting practices across multiple projects in the company.
There are three main types of contracts. They are Cost Reimbursable OR Cost Plus, Time and Material or Unit Price and Fixed Price or Lump Sum contracts. The applicability and use of these contract types based on the type of project, complexity and the parties involved may decide on variations based on the charges involved in order to ensure that the contract terms are mutually beneficial for the two parties. Hence, these contracts vary based on the cost, time and price.
A cost plus or cost reimbursement contract is a contract in which the contractor is reimbursed or paid all the actual expenses they incur when carrying out the work. In addition to this they are also allowed to charge an extra fee allowing them to obtain a profit. For example a contractor taking up building a contract may claim resource costs as well as any miscellaneous expenses incurred for travel, food, purchases as well as charge an additional amount from the customer in order to make a profit from the tasks carried out.
A fixed price contract on the other hand does not depend on the resources utilized or time expended. A fixed amount is agreed upon between the contractor and the customer where the amount is paid to the contractor even if the resources expended is lower or higher than the agreed upon amount.
Time & material contract is where the contracting party is paid only for the amount of time or resources spent. For example if there is a software development firm which assigns 4 resources for a project on a T&M basis the company will be paid an hourly rate for each resource based on the amount of time they spend on tasks in the project.
Each contract type has its own pros and cons for both the contracting and implementation party. For example a fixed price contract is suitable for an organization as they would know the amount due before hand and know that they won’t end up paying extra if the triple project constraints are not met. Similarly, a time and material project may be suitable for both parties, as amount will be charged only based on the amount of work done in the project and for the time spent. Advantages and disadvantages of each contract type depend on the context. Thus, it is important for stakeholders involved in projects to negotiate on contracts wisely.