Start with value, not scope

The biggest frustration working as a producer in advertising was that I had to write large scope documents for websites, campaigns and content projects we hadn’t figured out yet. Each activity and feature requirement was documented based on what we thought was right. The scope was quoted and a fixed price was given to our clients. It was a great way to work with each other — it’s very clear who is doing what, when it will happen and what the outcome is going to be.

The one issue that we didn’t want to talk about; what if we were wrong about the solution? What if we found this new ‘thing’ that could make our product so much better?

There was no room for change or improvement.

Now, working as partner at Velvet Onion with Matt and Charbel, we had the opportunity to rethink how we wanted to engage with our clients.

Matt has a background in product design; an industry that is one step ahead in this practise (not all product companies, but a large majority of the product companies we love do). Agile, Scrum and sprints aren’t new and they are beyond a buzzword status; here to stay. Everyone has created their own versions, most will be based on the principles from the Scrum Guide. This is fantastic and we can learn and improve from each other. Our version is a blend too; we combined our experiences from working in product and agency environments.

Our engagement takes into account that our clients don’t have the unlimited budgets like the companies we often read about do. Although we do offer fixed-cost projects, these projects are based on an understanding of our clients objectives and an agreement on how we’re going to work towards achieving those objectives, rather than a fixed scope of work.

We work in weekly design sprints, designed to be iterative, flexible, open to opportunities from inside or outside the project. Most importantly, the sprints are focussed on delivering value to the client and their user. We can learn and improve throughout the project as the detailed requirements are captured and updated when they appear and prioritised before each sprint. This is how we make sure we address things that matters. This instead of producing designs and features based on a document created before we actually understood what needed to happen. We rather talk about the value for your customer. The features will follow.

This doesn’t mean we don’t create any documentation. In place of a 50 page Statement of Work is a 5 to 10 page Project Plan that outlines the project objectives and how we are going to work together to achieve that as one team; client and agency together.

This approach starts with trust.

Trust that we are working towards the same goals. We start this by sharing what success looks like early on (read this article on how we kick off projects and align the two teams).

We trust that our clients engage us for our value, not for a fixed set of screen designs or a list of features. Sure, this could be the result. But this is not what it is about. Our goal is to improve life; our clients and their users.

It would feel strange to respond to trust with a contract or Statement of Work outlining exactly what we will be doing and what not. Like in any relationship, you start with a first date.

So let’s start small; a workshop, a coffee and a chat.


Velvet Onion is a Sydney-based Service and Experience Design Agency that believes by co-designing seamless experiences with the people who use these services, we can improve life in a meaningful way.

image by; https://unsplash.com/@alejandroescamilla