Last month we launched the MVP (minimum viable product) of Propel‘s grant application portal for our lovely clients London Funders

We did it in 3 months flat, over summer, with lots of unknowns, a group of 67 funders to gather requirements from, a client we hadn’t worked with before and a fixed deadline due to funding obligations. Anyone who has worked on digital projects before, I invite you to take a moment to breathe again having read that list of parameters. 

So what was the recipe for us to be able to get the launch over the line?

Establishing all of us as a team right from the get go

A screengrab of the Miro we worked on to create the goal for the project, orange box over a triangle with 'GOAL'. TH text of the goal is: Connect funders, grantees, and LF through a collaborative, equitable and effective digital portal so that we can shift power and create space for systemic and behavioural change in London's grant making'

As you can see from this article on how to lead a digital team we always, always run a Theory of Change workshop with clients when starting a new project. This brings all the key do-ers and decision makers together to collectively agree and clarify exactly what on earth we are actually trying to deliver.

Being honest about what we were worried about (and supporting London funders to do the same)

If you want an open and trusting relationship with your client, it has to start with you being open and trusting too, which means being brave. In our Theory of Change workshop we ran a Hope and Fears exercise at the end where we pushed ourselves to be honest, very honest about what we were worried about. This led to a fabulous conversation about the challenges we face in spending the time and effort needed (within our timeframe), which meant we had to really embed our collaborative approach and practices. And we acknowledged this was a long term challenge that we had huge hope of working on together, whilst recognizing we were fearful that we wouldn’t get to where we wanted to as quickly as we would like.

Investing time in detailed user journeys and testing these with real people

Screenshot of London Funders grantee user journey

Despite the short timescale and the temptation to skip important steps to move and to build quickly, we protected the time to create and iterate on the key user journeys, and ooof did it pay off.

The image above is a screenshot of one of the journeys we mapped out. We were a relatively remote and asynchronous team and this approach meant we could work collaboratively without having to find the same time in everyone’s diaries.

We also found having them in this format made bringing new members on to the team much more seamless (together with sharing the overall goal from the Theory of Change) and this Miro board is probably the most valuable asset that all the team reference and keep up to date with as we have moved in to build and launch.

Having clear boundaries and saying no where we thought it was safe to

There is a tendency with agencies to want to please their clients (for obvious reasons, they are paying us) but if you truly want to build the best product that achieves the goals you have set, sometimes that means saying no when something that isn’t high priority is suggested or asked for.

Rather than diminishing trust, which is often a fear when saying no to those in power/above us/paying us, we actually think it builds trust more, and reflects what our experience, expertise and strengths are, and ultimately the value we bring to the project. So, with respect, no, we can’t add in a completely different question type 2 days before launch. But yes, we can add it to the backlog for later.

Being flexible with changing requirements but being clear with the impact of this

Having said it is ok to say no, sometimes allowing flexibility when a high priority change comes in is vital. Communicating the impact of changes is even more so though.

Roughly half way through the project, rather than one single grant programme being launched, there needed to be two. Although this was always part of the longer term requirements of the portal (running multiple programmes at the same time), it was an addition to the MVP. This meant building in some different logic and some more complex user journeys than had initially been started and planned in. It meant it was likely that something else had to be de-scoped. For us that meant the extra design time, rather than bringing the site more visually to life, would be invested in making those journeys more functional.

From our perspective we have a launched site that isn’t at the quality point we feel most comfortable with in terms of visual consistency and aesthetic, but we do have the two programmes running concurrently and a high priority backlog item for us to invest time in bringing the site more alive visually.

Regular retros during the project

Retros are often left til the very end, but we were strict with ourselves in doing small and regular time in our meetings for reflection and learning – what small steps can we make for the next sprint to improve how we work? What has gone well that can feed into wider projects at Outlandish? How happy is the team?

These session took small amounts of time but delivered a lot of value – ironing out mis-communications or assumptions about how things were working, improving the layout of our task board, clarifying which comms channel to use when, defining ‘what is done’ more clearly and identifying larger process issues that we as an organisation can work further on (the communication flow of requirements between the different functions of the team for example). Retros are also a bit of therapy – sometimes just sharing that thing that happened was annoying is enough for people to move on and feel heard.

Being ok with good enough for now (its an MVP!)

This is a really tough one for us at Outlandish, although one we live by. Nothing will ever be perfect, and we were saying our mantra of ‘Good enough for now, safe enough to try’ throughout to help us make decisions about what was the most important and vital tasks to be getting on with. We have every hope that this product will be one that we will work in close collaboration with London Funders on for years to come, so we needed to have patience with ourselves and our dreams about the things we can do with this portal to truly realise our collective aims.

Watch this space for more updates and additions to this fabulous project and if you know London based charities who could be eligible for funding, get them applying!

Photo credit, Heidi Fin