Keytree creates the ‘Open Project System’ – streamlining GLA funding applications

London is one of the world’s most desirable and expensive places to live, and for residents, buying or renting a property can be a challenge. The Greater London Authority (GLA) is combatting the issue by planning to commence building over 90,000 affordable homes by 2021. Keytree helped the GLA digitalise the grant application process for organisations developing and building these new homes.

To make the plans a reality, the Mayor of London has secured more than £3bn of government funds to support building affordable homes, and in November 2016 launched the Homes for Londoners: Affordable Homes Programme 2016-21. The programme will help housing associations, community groups, London boroughs and private developers obtain financing to build new affordable homes in London.

The GLA previously supported its housing programmes with a range of heritage IT systems from the Homes and Community Agency that were either being switched off, no longer supported, inefficient or represented poor value for money. These legacy systems made the process of applying for funding slower, often with navigation issues encountered by users.

Following a competitive process, the GLA awarded Keytree the contract to create a simplified and efficient way for recognised providers to apply for funds – and the Open Project System was born.

“Submitting a funding application meant users had to navigate a range of legacy systems, which was time-consuming and inefficient. The Open Project System, created by Keytree, collates and combines all information in one centralised system, making the application process faster and easier for applicants to navigate. Exactly what we wanted.”

Greater London Authority

Using Agile methodology to meet the needs of the GLA

The GLA had a vision of a new, flexible system, which was flexible enough not only to support the current housing programmes but could also be configured by the GLA for future programmes – with little or no additional development taking place. The system also needed to meet expectations for a modern, responsive, user experience to allow ease of adoption and minimal training for GLA and its external partners. Early progress, flexibility of build, and delivery was essential to meet the timescale of the yet to be launched housing programme.

Keytree delivered the Open Project System (OPS) using Agile, user centred design methodologies. These drive an understanding of user needs and match these against business objectives – this was started with a ‘Roles’ and ‘Goals’ workshop with project stakeholders to review and agree on business aims.

OPS is the largest GLA project to use an Agile method and an essential GLA requirement was for Keytree to bring extensive Agile skills to coach and support GLA in adopting the method within the organisation. The partnership and one team approach, was instrumental in the successful project delivery.

The project followed the approach of the GDS Digital Service Standard. The Scrum methodology used for project delivery includes sprint planning meetings, sprint reviews and retrospectives. Each sprint has a fixed duration of two weeks with a single GLA Product Owner who manages a flexible, prioritised product backlog. In line with GDS guidance, the project code has been developed to be Open Source. The system is deployed to an AWS cloud platform managed by Keytree.

There has been a total of 24 releases to date. The initial release, the Minimum Viable Product (MVP), was released to production six weeks after the project began: a webpage letting users register and set up an account. Each further release followed two fortnightly sprints, and at the start of 2017, the GLA used OPS for the new housing programme for external users to submit bids. Three months later when the initial bidding phase closed, the system had recorded an initial £1bn of funding applications for affordable housing.

Monthly ‘show and tell’ events are used to demonstrate to a broader audience the latest release and an early view of upcoming features. These events are also used as a platform to gain feedback, for improvements to be incorporated into the product roadmap.

logo Mayor of London GLA

A streamlined approach for funding applicants

The new user-friendly portal enables organisations to submit bids to access funding but also manages housing grant allocations and allows the creation of bespoke reports on developments. All data is now in one place. OPS provides accurate and consistent data, flexible reporting and a more responsive system allowing the GLA to be more efficient in their management of housing grants.

Keytree also migrated historical data from previous funding programmes where projects are still ‘in-flight.’ Existing providers were migrated over to the new system. Organisations applying for grants, whether they are from a UK council or a construction company, no longer need a nominated specialist to complete the process – the new solution walks the user through the process with minimal training required.

Flexibility of OPS

The GLA vision of a system that is flexible enough to be configured for programmes across different GLA areas has been demonstrated; to date, this includes the London Borough of Culture and the Regeneration, with the potential for more in the future.

Historically, all Housing and Land Directorate programmes and projects had to be set up and configured by the HCA – the owners of all the GLA’s IT systems, but OPS now enables GLA staff to quickly and easily do this work in-house, saving time and money. Since the introduction of OPS, usability and efficiency have both vastly improved. Quantitative User testing, with internal and external users, generated very high satisfaction results, via the System Usability Scale survey – an industry standard tool for measuring usability of systems applications.

Support before, during and after

Keytree provides DevOps support with our Managed Service Team, providing incident management, development support and release management throughout the six weekly production release cycle.

“We wanted to introduce Agile working and the selection of Keytree as our partner did not disappoint – they have a wealth of expertise in this methodology. By taking an Agile approach, it allowed the solution to grow organically, as the landscape evolved – meeting our requirements and those of the applicants.”

Greater London Authority