On 15 April 2020, I received a phone call from Didier Schwarz from the Foundation for Technological Innovation (FIT) in the canton of Vaud. On 7 May 2020, Vaud’s COVID-19 platform to support start-ups in the canton went online. The first COVID-19 credit applications for start-ups can now be submitted and approved via this web-based platform. Let’s take a look back at the project’s key stages and the reasons for its success.
😱 Wednesday April 15 – Emergency
The canton of Vaud needed to find a solution that could quickly support start-ups in the canton that were affected by the coronavirus crisis. FIT was appointed to award credit of 20 million Swiss francs to Vaud start-ups. The canton, via the foundation, therefore needed a digital solution that could efficiently manage these credit applications. Didier Schwarz told me what was needed – the online platform had to:
- Be online on May 1st
- Be secure and hosted in Switzerland
- Allow applications to be approved using a specific workflow
- Be easy to use, both for those applying for credit and FIT advisers evaluating the applications
Pressure was high. There was no time to lose. Didier had already mapped the features of the future platform using FlowMapp. This needs analysis saved us time during project estimations and development.
🚀 Monday April 20 – Kick-off
Three working days and some hectic moments regarding our internal planning later, FIT accepted our offer, we put together a development team, and the project began. Our plan incorporated around 20 user stories for a total of 28 story points. The term ‘sprint’ became key, even during a period that can best be described as a marathon. The platform would consist of a landing page, a substantial form and a back office for approving applications.
The development team, made up of Céline, Jonathan, Sergio and Benjamin, met with Didier via Google Meet – we were all working remotely during the time of social distancing.
‘I’d never seen anything like this! In less than a week, we had learned of the project, approved a budget and found a trusted partner. Liip is the epitome of responsiveness and efficiency!’
Development and production environments were quickly set up. The first designs were delivered the following day.
⛔️ Friday April 24 – Crisis meeting
The Federal Council announced to support start-ups within the country with several million Swiss francs of funding. Credit applications had to be submitted via the online platform covid19.easygov.swiss. We were stopped in our tracks. The cantonal platform project was put on stand-by until the national government and the canton of Vaud could clarify the process of granting credits to start-ups.
😨 Monday April 27 and Tuesday April 28 – Worry
Two days of nothing. We didn’t know whether or not the cantonal platform would be going ahead. Didier was drip-fed information from the national government and the canton of Vaud.
🚀🚀 Wednesday April 29 – Kick-off number two
The platform had to be adapted. We stopped developing the general form. Instead, we worked on a form that matched the one being presented by the national government. This would be used downstream of registration on covid19.easygov.swiss. Registration for the Vaud platform would therefore be by invitation only. The back office validation steps also changed.
Five user stories from our initial plan (three of which had already been developed) were discarded as they were no longer relevant, and we added another eight. The additional workload took another seven days. Fortunately, the date for the website to go live was postponed from May 1st to May 7, 2020. The schedule remained on track, but it was going to be tight!
🔥 Thursday April 30 – Updating our backlog
This was a big day for me as the project’s product owner. It was all about digesting the changes we had been told about the day before, and updating our backlog. I used Balsamiq to design and explain the back office approval screens.
Over the next few days, the self-organised development team finished the user stories one by one. We were confident that we would be ready to go live on May 7.
🎉🍾 Thursday May 7 – Go live
Fantastic – the backlog was empty. In other words, we were live! Didier was delighted. The canton of Vaud was the first canton to announce its support for start-ups. It now had a vital high-performance tool to handle applications from Vaud start-ups as quickly as possible.
‘You have done a remarkable job! I have also received fantastic feedback from the canton of Vaud, Innovaud and my colleagues at FIT. With your help, we have managed to achieve e-administration in just three weeks within a reasonable budget.’
The next day, the first credit applications were submitted via the Vaud COVID-19 platform to support the canton’s start-ups.
🐞 Saturday May 9 at 1 a.m. – Bug
A credit application submitted via the form failed to be transferred to the back office. It was almost midnight on Friday evening. Jonathan received an alert and started looking into it. As it turns out, the database does not support large amounts of text. We touched base with our hosting company Oriented.net. At 8 a.m. on Saturday morning, we switched from MariaDB 10.1 to Oracle MySQL 5.7.30, which had an additional option to handle large amounts of text for a database record. It was another intense moment, but we managed it. Big ups to Jonathan and Marc at Oriented.net!
😴 Monday May 11 – A well-earned break
Credit applications were still being submitted without a hitch via the Vaud platform to support the canton’s start-ups. Back office processing by the canton of Vaud’s task force was going well. It was time for the whole team to have a well-earned break.
‘It was as if we've created a start-up, condensed into just 20 days. Learning about the project, budget negotiations, creating a team, kick-off, working day and night, screaming to a halt, rethinking the tool following the Federal Council’s announcement, a great recovery, fixing last-minute bugs. Despite everything, I was sure that the platform would go live on time – you are solution-oriented, you always deliver on time, and what you deliver is great quality and works. I knew that I could trust you.’
The keys to success
Since our clients are better placed than us to say whether a project has been successful, we are going to pass this one over to Didier.
‘The whole team was hugely committed right from the very beginning. You took the project on board as if you were developing the platform for yourself. You were all invested in the mission of providing support to Vaud start-ups to safeguard current and future jobs. We kept end users in mind at all times. We worked day and night (including weekends) on this project, even though we still have not met in person. It is crazy that we have achieved together whilst still at home.
I loved the team’s dynamic and we built a connection that was stronger than a supplier-customer relationship – you are real partners. I can’t wait to share a beer with all of you as soon as we’re allowed!’
‘Agility is not just a buzzword at Liip. You live agility. Your internal organisational structure allows you to be incredibly responsive – both when submitting the offer, and when mobilising your team and launching the project. You provided regular deliveries that were always on time.
In just three days, you had already set up a functioning initial version of the form. My access to the staging environment meant that I could track the project’s progress virtually in real time. We were perfectly aligned in terms of working methods. Your adaptation of the development project after the Federal Council announced its measures also proved your agility.’
Liipers’ technical skills
‘You are made of tough stuff and are solution-oriented. What you deliver works well and is of high quality. Your initiatives to simplify development and save time were also great! I am really pleased to have been able to work with you – a massively skilled team!’
Thank you, Didier, for your trust in us. We also really enjoyed working with you, FIT and the canton of Vaud. And we look forward to what this partnership brings next!
Thanks also to Sara, who kept an eye on us throughout the project so that she could take charge of communication activities, including this blog post. ;-)