Development Management

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An Agile Approach to Delivery

Like many organisations wanting to improve, a focus on AS IS – TO BE mapping is often considered the best approach. 

In Waltham Forest Development Management Service this was the case until we intervened and encouraged focusing on a problem solving, prototyping, and taking an Agile approach to delivery.

We started by holding a large workshop with all staff to ask how they felt about the service they delivered. We took this opportunity to share with them how we’d like to work in collaboration with them (not at them) and our approach to change. 

We shared with the service that instead of making plans we can’t deliver on without causing a lot of pain we’d rather work iteratively and in an agile way by working in ‘sprints’ of time-boxed effort. This meant that every two weeks we would collaboratively ‘plan-do-review’ outputs delivered in the preceding two weeks and agree together the focus for the next sprint of work.

We also set up an online workflow board using Trello so everyone could see the work being delivered as well as a huge ‘information centre’ in the corridor. Instead of hiding work in spreadsheets or wasting time making pretty plans, all the work was on the wall for all to see. 

Through our engagement and discovery, we were able to highlight numerous issues and opportunities. One of which, that we felt was a root cause of other impacting issues, was 'the front door'.

Through our work, we focused on the whole service but paid special attention to customer-facing processes. This meant focusing on the Customer Journey and initial validation processes that could unlock improvements falling in to place without having to focus effort downstream.

One of the key pieces of work was a rapid improvement event called 'the validation prototype'. 

Starting out with one person for half a day every day and only looking at householder applications only, we created a backlog of potential improvements and started to test the ones that we agreed might provide the highest impact for the lowest effort, on live cases. 

By doing this we were able to quickly implement easy, obvious improvements (or just do solutions). This created 'breathing space' to tackle the more deep-rooted issues (namely quality). 

Over the duration three sprints, we were able to grow the prototype in size (of people) and scope (the type of application), adding one person and one type per-sprint. 

The impact of this work was

  • The application backlog reduced from nine weeks to 10 days, this improved the customer journey, gave officers more time to do a quality job and reduce extensions of time

  • A reduction in delay from 4 weeks to 0 days (for valid applications from the point of processing). Additionally, the average time to process a Householder application reduced from 40 minutes to 26 minutes

  • Developed the quality of validation through regular quality out reviews. This has impacted positively on the whole system by reducing re-work or amendments

  • Tested and proved a proactive response and resolve ethos which saw the service engage with applicants and agents to (in some cases) resolve an issue within minutes rather than causing a 28-day delay or a withdrawal. Validation officers are now the main point of contact until a planning application is live to reduce non-value adding activity. The Head of Service is no longer named on invalid communications meaning a better point of contact resolution for issues

  • Standardised descriptions established, improving the clarity of communication with customers and internal staff

  • New team established and fully trained on the new process

  • Reduced duplication in checking. Validation officers, Planning officers and Managers checking the same information throughout the process caused a lack of ownership and accountability. Revising lists reduced this to give Officers and Managers time back to focus on core functions (saving 51% of an FTE in year 1)

Want to hear more?

matt barnaby