Tag Archives: Time and Materials

How Do You Negotiate Milestone Contracts? Three Suggestions

Situation:  A company’s contracts are based on milestones versus time and materials. This is common for their industry.  However, end products are poorly defined at project outset and product requirements frequently evolve and change, making milestones squishy. How do you negotiate milestone contracts and payment schedules?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In addition to payment schedule, there are four elements to a project negotiation – specifications, schedule, project flow, and budget. Tell the client that to hit their budget target, they need to give you control of any two of the other three factors. This means that if they want to specify budget and schedule, then they have to yield you control of the specs and project flow. Any change to these means that they have to be willing to change budget and/or delivery date. Finally, to keep the project going on a timely basis, they must make milestone payments on time and on schedule.
  • Try to transform the project, as much as possible, to time and materials. Here’s your talk line:
    • To give you 100 hours of effort on a fixed bid basis, we have to budget 110. Time and materials, in the long run is less expensive because you only pay for what we need to deliver your product.
    • Your credibility to deliver on a time and materials basis will be based on past performance and the relationships that you have developed with your clients.
  • Milestone contracts are especially difficult in low margin industries because of project variability. One solution is to bid 130 hours cost for 100 hours work. The challenge is that this looks uncompetitive, especially compared with offshore resources. Therefore, an option is to develop offshore capability so that you can deliver your projects using a variety of resources with variable costs. Price everything based on domestic prices, but use offshore resources to improve your margins and your ability to cover project overruns without killing your profits.

How Do You Help Managers Think Bigger? Four Guidelines

Situation: A company is transitioning from a time and materials to a fixed price bid model. Estimators and project leads find this transition difficult. We need them to think like business managers. How do you help managers to see and think in terms of the big picture?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • First, set up a framework that repositions projects in a business framework.
    • All projects are business go/no decisions with expenses, minimum profitability targets, and incentives provided for beating initial projections.
    • This will help generate more consistency in bids and final gross margins per project.
  • Next, teach managers and employees industry and company standards within your new model.
    • Do post-mortems on all projects. Did we make or lose money versus initial estimate? How much? How did we perform against estimated time and expense? Were client expectations met? Were they exceeded? What was good or bad about the project? Were there errors in the original estimates? Where could we have saved cost?
    • Use this information to improve your estimating process over time.
  • You have a long history of T&M projects. Categorize these by project type. Look at the hours required to complete the projects – both engineering and management time – as well as other costs. Establish range and averages within each category.
    • Look for key variables among the project categories: scope of project, learning curves, efficiency of team members.
    • Work through known costs and outcomes on past projects as examples to teach the process.
    • For new projects, calculate best, medium and worst case hours and costs. Bid based on your worst case as you develop your learning curve.
    • Make sure to include a project management fee on top of your T&M estimates. Eventually you want to develop an overhead percentage to cover project management.
  • Team your estimator with the project lead both for project input, and performance against the bid.
    • Evaluate and compensate both based on project outcome.
    • The critical measure will be gross margin generated versus gross margin estimated on the project.

Key Words: Leadership, Project, Time and Materials, Fixed Price, Bid, Framework, Consistency, Standards, Variables, Estimator, Lead, Incentive