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    Fixed Bid vs Cost-Plus Contracts. Which Should I Use?

    By Michael Manzo
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    It’s hard enough to choose between software companies based on their merits, but it’s even harder to choose between them when they offer two different types of contracts. Startup CEO/CTOs probably get a dozen emails a day from software vendors. How will they figure out which vendor will deliver the best quality product at the best price?

    This article will review just one of the many considerations that go into vendor selection, which is choosing between the two types of vendor contracts– fixed bid and cost-plus.

    Fixed Bid

    This means the outsourcer will quote you a single price for an agreed-upon Scope Of Work(SOW), usually broken up into smaller installment payments. This seems like a great option, right? If I choose this option, then can’t I just send out a Request For Proposal (RFP) to as many vendors as possible and then select the vendor with the lowest price?

    Well, yes you can. However, it’s not always that simple. Why not?

    First of all, a vendor will only agree to a fixed-price bid if you both can agree on a DETAILED, and I mean REALLY detailed, scope of work document. This document will have to define every single feature completely and thoroughly. You’ll have to provide them with what every component on every page in the entire app is supposed to do. This will be a very long and tedious exercise, and do you actually know this level of detail on your product idea?

    Secondly, the vendor will give you exactly what you asked for, even if it makes no sense at all. So you may get your final build and then discover that several of the feature ideas looked great to you when you were doing the SOW, but when you see them actually built, they turn out to be bad ideas.

    Third, when working on a fixed-bid project, it may be months or even years between when you start the project and when the vendor presents you with the finished product. There is no collaboration in between. So what happens if you learn something new about the marketplace two months after starting a project? You don’t get to implement those changes until the entire agreed-upon SOW is done.

    Changing project scope after it starts requires a “Change Order.” It’s time-consuming and costly. The vendor can charge as they see fit because you’re already committed.

    In summary, a fixed bid contract has its advantages because it’s clear what you’re getting and what you’re paying. But if you choose this option, you better make sure you: a) know how to define your product completely and thoroughly, and b) trust that your vendor isn’t going to gouge you if you need to make a change order.


    This model essentially makes an outsourcer an extension of your internal team. The vendor will charge you whatever they are paying for the resource, plus a percentage to cover their overhead.

    Sounds simple right? You don’t have to spend countless hours defining scope of work and you can modify your scope along the way as you build, test, and tinker with the product. Furthermore, it is easy to compare vendors because you can just pick whoever has the lower hourly rate, right?

    Simpler but less incentive. Vendor efficiency and deadlines may suffer. After all, they receive payment regardless of whether you release your product or not, correct? Additionally, while you can compare hourly rates, it can be challenging to determine who will complete the job most efficiently. Choose model carefully. Wrong vendor needs effort. Manage projects and clients. Meet deadlines and optimize productivity.

    You may want to read: Product Focused vs. Project Focused: What better option to outsource your project?

    In summary, a cost-plus contract encourages collaboration, reduces administrative paperwork, and offers greater flexibility.

    Choose honest vendors. Check work ethic. Ensure accountability. Meet deadlines and deliver commitments.

    Christian Schraga

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    President & Chief Executive Officer

    About the author...

    Michael Manzo has nearly than 30 years of experience managing all aspects of software development including product management, user experience and interface design, engineering, quality assurance and marketing. Michael has served as President and CEO of CodeStringers since September 2014, having served as the company’s founding Chief Product Officer from July 2012.Prior to CodeStringers, Michael was Chief Marketing, Product and Strategy Officer at Openet, a leading global provider of transactional business and operational support system (B/OSS) software for telecom and cable firms, where he led marketing, product management, strategic planning and growth initiatives for the company. Manzo joined Openet as part of a turn-around team and, during his tenure, Openet grew from $15m in annual revenue to more than $150m, became the worldwide market share leader in the company’s primary product category, and developed a widely recognized reputation as the telecom infrastructure industry thought leader.Previously, Michael was Vice President of Products and Marketing for Traverse Networks, a fixed mobile convergence enterprise solution provider, which was acquired by Avaya. Michael has also held executive positions at Voice Access Technologies, Omnisky (acquired by EarthLink), Telocity (acquired by Hughes DirecTV), and Notify Technology Corporation. Michael has a BA in Journalism from the University of New Hampshire. In his spare time, Michael is an amateur woodworker, building indoor and outdoor furniture for friends and family. Until injuries sidelined him, Michael was an accomplished triathlete, having completed six Ironman distance races and numerous shorter distance races. Michael also served nine years in the U.S. Army Reserves and National Guard being honorably discharged as a Sergeant.

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