Inviting Clients to Join Our Team

By Mike Kenny

In many recent engagements, we have seen an opportunity to collaborate directly with our clients and facilitate true co-creation. One of our guiding principles at Big Spaceship is to partner with our clients and it isn’t just lip service – it’s a way out of the echo chamber. Looking at every single member of the team, both agency and client, brings about a level of insight and shared understanding that cannot be achieved otherwise. Here are a few ways we have seen that evolve our thinking and get us to some of the work we are most proud of.

Shared Ownership

Working within an agency, you learn to align a team vision and bring it to a client as one cohesive voice. As the agency team and client team work together to further refine that vision there is a certain give and take over the course of review and discussion. Internally, we go through the same process as we turn our chairs around and chat through ideas posted to Basecamp or jump into a room to whiteboard our thoughts and build team consensus. Why wouldn’t we invite our clients to work with us in that same capacity? We get to a point of shared understanding exponentially quicker and meet stakeholder needs in minutes rather than days. Not only does this help our internal team get to the right approach quicker, it also creates work that is intrinsically mindful of the business needs and scalable across any given product or communication landscape. The confluence of multiple thinkers collaborating on an expansive vision leads to an end result that an “ivory tower” mindset cannot attain.

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Sketching with our clients builds consensus on the spot.

Untraditional Inspiration

One of our favorite quotes from concept development sessions with clients is, “I am not creative, but…” because it invariably precedes a game-changing insight or interaction approach from an engineer, product manager, etc. who does not see him or herself as an “idea person”. Speaking with an analytics engineer leads to a deeper understanding of not just how people are using a product, but how analytics are tracked on a product and how they can evolve to capture new methods of data analysis that would otherwise be unconnected dots with no meaning. These new perspectives refine work faster and in ways previously overlooked.

Moving Away From Client Reviews

By combining our teams, where possible, and reducing friction in the sharing of ideas and feedback we have seen some of our engagements make a natural move away from the typical client review we have come to know. The discussion around a new feature or template layout becomes a quick call or Google Hangout to go over what’s working and what isn’t rather than a 60 page deck with 48 hour feedback periods and a hit or miss mindset. Movement away from the client review cycle is further facilitated by a more transparent development process with shared access to high fidelity prototyping and Github access, showing daily progress and giving more room for refinement. This has netted positive results on both the agency and client end with far more iterations but far more “back to the drawing board” moments – and the quality of the end product tends to speak for itself. The closer primary stakeholders can be to these informal iterations, the quicker our teams can get to an end product that unilaterally meets our shared goals.


Some fun using Google Hangouts.


Breaking out of traditional work methods can be painful. We’ve found the inclusion of new voices in that conversation to better facilitate that process and inform our ever-changing deliverables and goals. Even for our small, flexible teams this sort of change has been a challenge. Some organizations are not yet in a position to transition with us, or perhaps can change in ways that differ from other clients we work with. This has resulted in a need to tailor each engagement with a specific organization in mind and share with clients the potential value that can be attained through mixing our teams and inviting in new voices. Although challenging, these changes to our engagements have continually guided us to some of our best work in recent years and some of the most rewarding collaborations with our clients.

Embracing less traditional methods of collaboration is not just a challenge we look to share with our clients, but one we look to share with our industry. As you begin your next engagement or tackle the next challenge within a current project, try to rethink the path to your answer and invite more voices into the conversation. Look for new ways to break out of the antiquated review cycle and see what innovations can be accomplished outside and between those meetings. You are likely to get to your output faster and have an expansive team sharing in that success.

For more on our collaborative process, check out our work on OneHP.

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