A Closer Look At Contract Types In Project Management

A Closer Look At Contract Types In Project Management

For successful business outcomes, organizations require efficient contracts. Here’s all you need to know about different contract types available for project management across the board.


Every project contributes to an organization's broader mission. Hence, companies require effective project management to define clear goals and objectives, aligning them with the overall business strategy. Legally binding contracts enable businesses to do so by outlining the terms and conditions governing their relationship during the execution of a project. Contractual agreements are essential for establishing each party's rights, responsibilities, and expectations. 

Projects, regardless of industry or scope, inherently involve uncertainties and risks. Comprehensive contracts in project management allow businesses to identify, assess, and mitigate risks proactively, minimizing the potential negative impact on project outcomes. In this blog post, we will go over various contract types and how organizations can use them to create a clear framework for project execution.

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What is the significance of contracts in project management?

Any business project involves multiple parties, obligations, and deliverables. Contracts play a pivotal role in avoiding misunderstandings and scope creep, ensuring everyone is on the same page. They’re a means for organizations to allocate and utilize resources efficiently. It can be human resources, time, and budget, which are critical for business success. Thus, contractual agreements enable businesses to maximize resource efficiency.

Business contracts define project stakeholders' roles, obligations, and relationships, such as the project owner, contractor, subcontractors, and suppliers. This clarity is essential for effective collaboration and accountability. Moreover, contracts establish project timelines, milestones, payment schedules, and budget schedules. This temporal clarity helps to track progress, meet deadlines and financial planning, and facilitate effective project management.

What are the essential elements of a contract in project management?

Contracts clearly outline the terms, conditions, and expectations of all parties involved in the business project. They should typically include essential elements to be legally enforceable and accountable. Offer, acceptance, mutual assent, legal capacity, and consideration are part of every contractual agreement. However, project management contracts must specifically include the following:

  • Time Frame and Completion: The contract should include a timeframe for completion of the project and any relevant milestones. Clearly defined timelines help manage expectations and provide a basis for monitoring progress.

  • Scope of Work: The contract should dictate the project's scope of work. It must outline each party’s expectations and serve as a reference point throughout the project.

  • Payment Terms: The contract should specify the agreed-upon payment terms, including the total contract value, payment schedule, and any conditions related to invoicing and payment.

  • Quality Standards: If applicable, the contract should outline the quality standards that the deliverables must meet. It ensures that the final output aligns with the agreed-upon expectations.

  • Change Management: The contract should include provisions for handling changes to the project scope, schedule, or budget. It helps in managing modifications in a controlled and agreed-upon manner.

  • Termination Clause: The contract should specify conditions under which either party can terminate the agreement. It addresses the circumstances that could lead to termination and the associated consequences.

  • Dispute Resolution Mechanism: The contract should include a mechanism for contract resolution, such as mediation, arbitration, or other alternative dispute resolution methods.

  • Confidentiality and Non-Disclosure: If applicable, the contract may include clauses related to confidentiality and non-disclosure to protect sensitive information shared during the project.

What are the different contract types in project management?

Businesses often depend on various contract types to define the relationship between the project owner and the contractor or service provider in project management. Based on each project's particular needs, these contract types offer a variety of strategies. Ultimately, it depends on the organization to choose the contractual type based on their project complexity, scope clarity, and risk allocation preferences. Moreover, they can also create hybrid contract structures to combine elements from different contract types to suit the specific needs of a project. Here are some common contract types in project management:

  • Fixed Price Contract

A fixed-price or lump-sum contract is the most common type of agreement in project management. In this, the contractor agrees to perform a specific scope of work for a predetermined, fixed amount. This fixed amount is agreed upon before the work begins, and the contractor is responsible for delivering the agreed-upon work within that budget. When the scope of work is well-defined and both parties have a clear understanding of the project requirements, businesses can opt for fixed-price contracts.

Predefined Cost: The total project cost is established and agreed upon in advance, providing predictability for both the client and the contractor.

Clear Scope of Work: Fixed-price contracts are suitable for projects with a clearly defined scope of work. Ambiguities or changes may lead to additional negotiations or change orders.

Risk Allocation to Contractor: The contractor bears the risk of cost overruns. The contractor is responsible for covering additional costs if the final bill bypasses the original estimate.

Client's Cost Certainty: Clients benefit from cost certainty, knowing the exact price they will pay for the project. It can be advantageous for budgeting and financial planning.

Limited Flexibility for Changes: Changes to the project scope or specifications may be more challenging and subject to additional negotiations. This is because the contract assumes a stable and well-defined project scope.

  • Time and Material Contract

A Time and Materials (T&M) contract is a legal agreement where the client pays the contractor based on the actual time spent on the project and the cost of materials used. T&M contracts offer greater flexibility than fixed-price agreements with a predetermined total project cost. It makes them appropriate for projects with changing or ambiguous scopes. 

Hourly Rates for Labor: The contractor is paid based on the work hours of each team member. The contract dictates the hourly rates for different roles and skill levels.

Materials Cost Reimbursement: The client reimburses the contractor for the cost of materials and supplies used in the project. It can include raw materials, equipment, and other tangible resources.

Flexibility for Scope Changes: T&M contracts offer greater flexibility for changes in project scope. Clients can request modifications or additions to the project, and the pricing adjusts based on the additional time and materials required.

Transparent Billing: The contractor provides detailed invoices outlining the hours worked by each team member, their respective rates, and the cost of materials. This transparency allows clients to understand how these costs came to be.

Suitable for Uncertain Scopes: T&M contracts are the top choice when the project scope is not well-defined initially or when it’s bound to change throughout the project.

Cost Control for Clients: Clients have a direct view of labor and material costs, allowing them to monitor expenses closely. Clients who want more control over project costs may benefit from this transparency.

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  • Cost Reimbursable Contract

In a Cost Reimbursable or Cost Plus Contract, the client agrees to reimburse the contractor for all legitimate project costs incurred, along with an additional fee or percentage for the contractor's services. This contract type provides flexibility for projects with uncertain or changing scopes, as the total cost is not fixed in advance.

Reimbursement of Costs: The client agrees to reimburse the contractor for allowable project costs. These costs typically include direct costs (such as labor, materials, and equipment) and indirect costs (overhead, and administrative costs).

Fee or Percentage: In addition to reimbursing costs, the client pays the contractor a fee or a percentage of the total costs as compensation for the contractor's services. This fee is often negotiated and specified in the contract.

Flexibility for Scope Changes: Cost-reimbursable contracts provide flexibility for changes in project scope. The client can approve changes if the scope changes or unanticipated problems occur, and the contractor is paid for the extra expenses.

Transparent Billing: Contractors provide detailed invoices, outlining the project costs and applying the agreed-upon fee or percentage. This transparency allows clients to understand the costs.

Suitable for Uncertain Scopes: Cost Reimbursable Contracts are commonly used when the project scope is uncertain, and the client anticipates changes during the project.


In project management, the choice of contract type severely affects how costs, risks, and responsibilities allocations occur among the parties. Every contractual agreement has advantages, disadvantages, and suitability for specific project scenarios. Depending on project complexity, scope clarity, and risk tolerance, you can make the best choice for your business. Or you can combine elements from different contract types to tailor them to specific project requirements. 

Dock 365 contract management software makes the job easier by automating the contract lifecycle, from creation to execution. Companies can establish business relationships by creating contractual agreements using pre-approved templates and clause libraries available on the CLM platform. 

Disclaimer: The information provided on this website is not intended to be legal advice; rather, all information, content, and resources accessible through this site are for purely educational purposes. This page's content might not be up to date with legal or other information.
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Written by Deepti Gopimohan

As a creative content writer, Deepti has spent years assisting brands to share their unique voice with audiences, complying with the latest marketing trends and strategies. Her educational background in Literature & Journalism has helped her research and publish content for diverse industries & mediums.
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Reviewed by Naveen K P

Naveen, a seasoned content reviewer with 9+ years in software technical writing, excels in evaluating content for accuracy and clarity. With expertise in SaaS, cybersecurity, AI, and cloud computing, he ensures adherence to brand standards while simplifying complex concepts.

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