The Agency Delivery Approach Conundrum

Why do some agencies struggle with some projects?

Harry Bailey
4 min readMay 1, 2024
Agency team weighing up which delivery approach to select for a project

The Challenge

Let’s sum up the challenge in a question:

How can an agency choose delivery approaches which consistently maximise success and minimise risk when every client and each project is unique?

That’s a recurring question I’ve been asked while working with agencies. It’s often based on negative experiences with challenging projects and demanding clients.

Answering that question has been my primary focus recently. I’ve dug in and done the hard work to find viable solutions to the challenge that agencies face when delivering bespoke client projects.

Having run software businesses — including agencies and product houses for over two decades — I know the challenges agencies face well and have the network of relevant peers who’ve helped me create something we all believe is valuable.

The classic situation when it comes to delivery approaches at agencies is this; An agency will stick to two delivery approaches. Either the agency will deliver on a clients’ fixed set of requirements (a spec or blueprint or brief) or a client will request a more flexible and iterative delivery approach where changes can be requested. Usually the approach is chosen by the client, not the agency.

In many cases, neither delivery approach is consistently delighting clients. The quality of the output and not the client experience often repeatedly saves too much embarrassment.

The result of my time focused on this challenge is a set of workshops, tools and digital resources that support agencies in avoiding many of the situations which led to project pain in the first place.

Some highlights are:

  • Support for agencies redefining approaches to be trusted and consistent
  • A process to surface the risk and potential for value creation for each approach
  • A tool for selecting which approach will deliver the best result for the project
  • Guardrails and risk mitigation to implement when the client isn’t best suited to that approach
  • Client focused education and project inception workshopping

The Steps

First, an agency needs its whole team to understand and trust the way it delivers client projects. There needs to be consistency. The approaches should match the needs of the clients and projects the agency will work with.

That also means defining ways of working which clients can understand and buy into. Repeatable, consistent stages and language for taking a project from day one to completion.

Next, the agency need a way to select which of the approaches to use for each project. Gut instinct alone isn’t going to ensure the right approach is used. A system which can be fed information about the client and the project to find the best approach to deliver success.

Once the best approach is confirmed, the client needs to buy into using it. If there is a mismatch between the best choice for the project and the client’s approval or suitability, a less desirable approach may have to be chosen. If that’s the case, guardrails and risk mitigation can be put in place to ensure success can still be achieved.

Finally, the agency needs to ensure the best possible start to the client relationship (for new clients) and for project success. Ensuring there is a shared vision of ‘Why’ the project is happening, what good looks like, ‘What’ we’re building, ‘Who’ is involved and ‘How’ it’s being built. We also need an understanding of value so that any prioritisation can be justified by more than simply client opinion. The stage for all this is sometimes called a client initiation, project inception or project initiation workshop.


Being able to consistently choose and use the best approach for each project ensures balancing or mitigating of risk, and the agency is set up for repeated delivery success and client delight.

The new trusted processes smooth over any gaps between the sales process and handing a project to the delivery teams. No more surprises or challenging expectations when the trusted process has been followed.

The end result is a happier team — who trust the approach selection and delivery process — and happier clients — who are better aligned with the ways of working and have their expectations met.

If you’re experiencing these challenges at your agency I offer a free foundations workshop that helps agencies like yours make fast progress.

If you’d like to discuss implementing better processes, or the agency delivery approach workshop, get in touch via LinkedIn or my Harry Bailey website. If you’re outside Manchester then travel costs apply. It lasts about 3 hours.



Harry Bailey

I write about enhancing agencies project delivery approaches, plus tools and techniques to improve delivery outcomes and project management success insights