Klaus Breyer Tech Leadership, Product Delivery & Startup Strategy.

Redefining Client Work - The Agency's Guide to Shape Up.

Two different agency worlds. In the first, designers and developers hustle, juggling multiple client projects, always feeling the pressure of looming deadlines. In the second, there’s a noticeable contrast. There is a structured flow, with teams confidently navigating client work.

The difference? The latter agency has embraced the Shape Up methodology. Originally designed for product development, how can Shape Up be the game-changer in the volatile world of agency work? Let’s delve in and find out."

Why Shape Up? And Why Clients Should Opt for Shape Up

Shape Up emerges as a beacon in a landscape of product development. Its main emphasis is on continuous de-risking, aligning projects with the client’s vision, and efficient resource utilization. By integrating clients into the process, it fosters transparency, collaboration, and synchronization. The allure of Shape Up lies in its commitment: although the exact nature of the outcome might evolve, the promise of a tangible deliverable remains constant.

The Critical Role of Client Involvement

The Shape Up methodology, while potent, is not a catch-all solution. Its success hinges heavily on the relationship between the agency and its client. Here’s a candid breakdown:

  • Active Participation, Not Passive Observance: Clients can’t be mere bystanders in the Shape Up journey. Their hands-on involvement during shaping and at key checkpoints ensures that projects align with their vision.

  • Trust or Bust: Here’s the blunt truth— if the agency-client relationship is fraught with distrust, incessant arguments, and undue pressure, then implementing Shape Up is an exercise in futility. In fact, it raises a bigger question: is it even worth having such a client? Agencies need to evaluate if the monetary gain is worth the mental strain and potential damage to the team’s morale.

  • Educate to Elevate: The onus is on agencies to guide clients through the Shape Up maze. By helping them navigate its intricacies, clients can appreciate the rationale behind decisions, ensuring they’re more than just passive beneficiaries.

  • Transparency is the Best Policy: By looping clients in at pivotal stages, agencies can cultivate a culture of openness. This not only builds trust but ensures there’s mutual agreement on expectations and outcomes.

Crafting the Perfect Setup

  • Scale: Projects need at least 2 weeks.
  • Strong Product Guidance: They keep clients from unknowingly derailing projects. A developer and product specialist together, refining client objectives.
  • Product over Project: It’s pivotal to have product managers guiding the vision instead of merely managing tasks.
  • Leadership: Top-level client support is a must.
  • Expectations: Be clear, especially with fixed budgets. Sometimes, “no” is the only answer.
  • Deadlines Matter: They force essential decisions.
  • Guaranteed Outcome: If it takes longer, the agency foots the bill.
  • Pitch as Part of the Contract: The initial pitch becomes a component of the agreement, integrating the client’s vision from the onset.
  • Shaping as Negotiation: With client involvement, shaping becomes a negotiation about what’s feasible within a set timeframe, fostering mutual understanding and respect. And thats a good thing.
  • UI Design at the End: It ensures a functional project with a great user experience.
  • Backlog Management: It’s essential to gather what the client wishes to have, but also to agree on how available hours will be spent before commencing the work.
  • Continuous Learning: It gets better with each try.

A Practical Example

In this YouTube video, Ryan Singer, the creator of Shape Up, discusses with a dev shop owner about implementing Shape Up in client work.

Their process is distilled to these steps:

  1. Discovery Phase: A 30-minute introductory call is followed by a 2-hour discovery session. During this time, with the involvement of the client’s founder or top management, all ideas are collated. Often, once noted, some ideas might not be revisited.
  2. Shaping Phase: The agency team dedicates time to outline problems, potential solutions, sketches, and pinpoint potential challenges. The ultimate question posed is, “What does success look like?”
  3. After two weeks, clients are presented with a series of pitches / packages, each spanning six weeks.
  4. Building Phase: Monitoring hours is crucial. For instance, a two-week project might translate to 60 hours spread across different tasks. Clients are updated, empowering them to make budget-conscious trade-offs.
  5. Business Model: At the conclusion, clients are offered fixed product durations of two-week, four-week, or six-week cycles, and a maintenance subscription.
  6. Maintenance Subscription: The agency accumulates client requests, gauges time needs, and collaborates at the beginning of the month to determine how the designated 20 hours will be allocated.

In closing, for agencies navigating the crossroads of innovation and delivery, Shape Up can be the guiding star. It promises structured flexibility, client engagement, trust, and guaranteed results. With Shape Up, an agency can distinguish itself in a competitive marketplace.