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What is a fixed-price contract? (risks and advantages)

5 May, 2023 · 5 min read·Contracts & eSignature
What is a fixed-price contract? (risks and advantages)
Explore the ins and outs of fixed-price contracts and learn about their potential risks and advantages in our latest blog post. Make informed decisions about contracts for your business today!

Fixed price contracts are an integral part of project management for most businesses. These contracts are a method of pricing projects that establish a set amount that must be paid for the work to be completed, regardless of the amount of time, effort, and resources invested. The appeal of this approach is it provides a clear and concise framework for both the client and the vendor. Yet, it is not without risk. 

In this blog post, we will discuss the benefits and potential drawbacks of utilizing fixed-price contracts, common agreements, and best practices and help you determine if a fixed-price contract is right for your project.

What are fixed-price contracts?

Regarding business contracts, fixed-price contracts are a popular choice. With these arrangements, the seller agrees to provide the agreed-upon goods or services for a set price, regardless of any changes or unforeseen circumstances that may arise. This section will introduce the basics of these contracts and what they entail.

A fixed-price contract is a pricing model that sets a specific rate for a product or service to be delivered. This type of contract is based on the seller’s estimation of the cost of production, overhead, and profit margin, which is agreed upon with the buyer before the project’s commencement. This type of contract benefits buyers since they know exactly how much they will spend upfront.

The fixed-price contract is commonly used in construction, software development, and consulting services. An example of a fixed-price contract in the construction industry is when a contractor agrees to build a house for a specified price based on the agreed-upon plan and specifications. Similarly, in software development or consulting services, a fixed-price contract can be agreed upon based on the scope of a project.

One of the primary reasons buyers and sellers often prefer fixed-price contract is that it offers more predictability than other contract types. These contracts assure the seller that they will be compensated fairly for their work while allowing the buyer to budget their expenses ahead of time. Also, it saves time for both parties by providing clear terms and conditions from the outset.

Benefits of fixed-price contracts


One of the primary benefits of fixed-price contracts is the predictability factor. Since the price is predetermined, clients can accurately budget for the project well in advance. This helps them manage their cash flow better and plan their resources effectively. Fixed-price contracts also help establish clear deliverables, timelines, and milestones, which ensures that both parties are on the same page from the outset.

Less risky

Another benefit of fixed-price contracts is that they are often considered less risky than time and material contracts. This is because the buyer knows the exact price they will pay for the project, which minimizes the risk of budget overruns. Additionally, since the vendor is committed to the fixed price, they are incentivized to complete the project within the given deadline and budget constraints.

Additional control

Fixed-price contracts also provide clients with greater control over the project. Since the deliverables are well defined in advance, clients can easily track the project's progress and ensure it is on track. Clients can also use their leverage to renegotiate the scope of the project or price in case of any significant deviations. This establishes the expectations and roles of both parties, which helps build a stronger relationship between them.

Risks of fixed-price contracts

Underestimating costs

One significant risk is the potential for the contractor to underestimate costs, either intentionally or unintentionally. If costs are higher than anticipated, the contractor may be unable to fulfill their obligations, resulting in delays or contract termination.

Additional scope

Another risk is the possibility of scope creep, where additional work is added to the project beyond the agreed-upon scope. This often leads to increased costs, which the buyer may need to approve. Managing scope changes is essential to mitigate this risk as they can disrupt the project schedule and quality standards and may result in cost escalation.

Dispute resolution

Dispute resolution is another significant risk factor associated with fixed-price contracts. Differing interpretations of contract terms, project scope, or quality standards can lead to disagreements or even litigation. Establishing clear communication channels, a well-defined change management process and a thorough contract review can help manage dispute risks.

Long project duration

Fixed-price contracts can pose a risk when there is a long lead time between the start of the project and its completion. Market and economic conditions may change, leading to increased costs or unforeseen circumstances. Risk mitigation strategies include upfront planning, contingency planning, and negotiating provisions for price adjustment in exceptional circumstances.

Common types of fixed-price contracts

Firm fixed-price contract (FFP)

The most common type of fixed-price contract is the firm fixed-price (FFP) contract, which is one that involves a specific amount of money for a product or service. The FFP contract is considered ideal for the seller because the buyer takes most of the risk of the contract.

Fixed-price incentive contract (FPI)

Another common type of fixed-price contract is the fixed-price incentive contract. In this type of contract, the seller can earn extra when they perform better than what was initially agreed upon. The FPI contract is considered a balanced approach to risk allocation because it incentivizes the seller to perform well, and the buyer incurs minimal costs for ineffective performance.

Fixed price with economic price adjustment contract (FP-EPA)

The fixed price with economic price adjustment (FP-EPA) contract is another type that is distinguished by applying price adjustments based on market changes. This type of contract is often utilized when the price of commodities and services fluctuates widely and is considered ideal for long-term contracts.

Time and materials contract (T&M) 

The time and materials (T&M) contract is often utilized when the scope of work is continuously changing. In this type of contract, the buyer pays for the actual time and materials used, which puts most of the risk on the buyer. Despite the risks that the buyer assumes, the T&M contract is often used when the cost of delivered services or products is unknown.

Understanding the different types of fixed-price contracts is critical in identifying the appropriate contract for your project. This ensures that the contract is aligned with the scope of work and the needs of both parties and that it can deliver successful project results.

Best practices for negotiating and managing fixed-price contracts

Establish clear requirements

Firstly, it is essential to establish clear and specific requirements for the project. The contract must outline the work scope, expected deliverables, timelines and milestones, acceptance criteria, and quality metrics. Clear requirements ensure that all parties involved have a common understanding of the project and its objectives.

Define roles and responsibilities

Both the buyer and the seller must understand their respective obligations and deliverables. This means defining who will provide inputs, who will be responsible for testing, and who will handle any changes or variations to the original project plan. Establishing roles from the outset mitigates risks such as misunderstandings, disagreements, and disputes.

State clear change management process

Changes are inevitable in any project, and fixed-price contracts are no exception. However, changes can cause scope creep, delay timelines, and impact budgets. To avoid these issues, establish a change management process that outlines how changes will be handled, who will approve them, and how they will impact the contract price and timelines.

Construct detailed reporting and tracking system

Lastly, it is recommended to have a detailed reporting and tracking system. Measure and document progress against milestones and delivery schedules. Regular reports ensure that each party knows of any issues or delays and can take corrective actions promptly. It also offers transparency and accountability on both sides.

Following these best practices, a fixed-price contract can be viable for many projects. Its benefits outweigh the risks when the contract is well-negotiated, well-defined, well-managed, and well-reported.

Is a fixed-price contract right for your project?

Whether a fixed-price contract fits your project will ultimately depend on various factors. Consider the size and scope of your project, as well as your budget and timeline. If your project is well-defined and the scope is clearly understood, a fixed-price contract can provide certainty and predictability not offered by other contracts.

However, there may be better options than a fixed-price contract if your project is complex and evolves over time. A time and materials or cost-plus contract may be more appropriate in such cases. Your project team and relevant stakeholders should carefully evaluate the needs of your project and weigh the benefits and risks associated with each type of contract before making a decision.

Regardless of the contract type chosen, it is important to work closely with your legal and procurement teams to ensure that contracts are negotiated and managed effectively. By following best practices, such as establishing clear expectations and deliverables, maintaining communication and transparency, and monitoring performance metrics, you can minimize potential risks and ensure successful project outcomes.

Overall, a fixed-price contract can provide a sense of security and predictability to your project, but there are better choices than this one. Careful consideration of your project's unique requirements and a comprehensive understanding of the associated benefits and risks will ensure selecting the most effective contract type for your specific circumstances.

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