Metro DC Government Client Review

Oct, 13 2016

Heidi Bonnaffon, Sr. Planner, MWCOG

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review summary

Determining the scope took longer than expected, but once the coding began, Sunflower Lab put in extra effort to accommodate the client's needs. Their communication and project management processes could be more sophisticated and efficient.








Willing To Refer




Introduce your business and what you do there.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments is a non-profit organization of the local governments surrounding the District of Columbia, so it's DC and the surrounding suburban cities and counties in Maryland and Virginia. We have a variety of regional planning efforts with regards to the environment, transportation, homeland security, and so on.

My area is the environment department, and specifically water resources. One of our programs is called the Community Engagement Campaign. It's a committee formed of water and wastewater utilities in our region that are doing public outreach and messaging about the safety of tap water and promoting drinking tap water, and also about addressing wastewater issues.

I am an environmental planner.


What challenge were you trying to address with Sunflower Lab?

They devised a phone call. We partnered with this organization called TapIt in New York. TapIt in New York was the organization who chose to go with Sunflower Labs and create a mobile app. Our region's TapIt program is built off the national TapIt program, which has signed up businesses and government agencies and so on that want to provide reusable water bottles and access to refilling stations to the public. The public can come into a business or restaurant and refill their bottle and they're not expected or obligated to buy anything.

What we wanted was a phone app for the public to go on this app and locate businesses where they can go and fill up their water bottles. If someone is out biking or running and they're thirsty, they can pull up their app and see that they can go, for example, to this restaurant here on the corner.

TapIt was started in New York and they started working with Sunflower Lab. Then, TapIt dissolved and we took over the program for our region and called it TapIt Metro DC. We needed to revise the phone app to make it local only to our region and to fix it because we needed to load locations and everything from our backend. That's where our partnership with Sunflower started, revising the app to be Version 2.0.


What was the scope of their involvement?

They had to do coding for the app. It's a GPS-based app, so it has to be able to pull in latitude and longitude locations for all of our businesses that we're partnering with. The app is available on iOS and Android.

Before the 2.0 revision, you couldn't search by a business name, by neighborhood, or section of the city and find what's right around you. It used to be that it was only for where you are in the here and now, based on the location on your phone. We wanted to be able to search anywhere, for instance, “well I'm going to be heading off to Silver Spring, Maryland, what is there? If I'm on a long bike ride, can I fill my bottle there?” We wanted people to be able to look ahead and search by location and business name, so we added those features to the app. It took some doing but it works now.

How much have you invested with Sunflower Lab?

Around $4,200.

What is the status of this engagement?

The project was from February 2015 to June 2015. The project is complete.

Results & Feedback

Could you share any evidence that would demonstrate the productivity, quality of work, or the impact of the engagement?

The best reference would just be the reviews we've received of the app. There haven't been a lot. I don't know what the stats are in terms of how many people have downloaded it. What happens is that it's kind of a seasonal app where in the summer people would download it, but often they don't keep it on their phone. That's not really a reflection on Sunflower, that's more the utility of our app overall to people.

Most of the reviews were positive and said it worked well. The first version, when it was initially designed for New York, had a lot reports of it crashing on people, and there were very poor reviews. That's why we said we needed to revise it and make it a more robust and user-friendly app. Now, the reviews have been pretty positive from the few that we've received.

How did Sunflower Lab perform from a project management standpoint?

Our organization always operates with purchase orders including full details of the task and the costs. That took a few months’ work out in writing. It wasn't very efficient actually. That was communicated via email. Most of the time, we communicated via email until it got to the point when we received the beta version. We tested it and we'd find some bugs, and then we'd communicate that over the phone. We'd often take a screenshot of how the app was appearing on our phone because I have an Android and another person at work has an iPhone, so we were able to send then screenshots from both versions. Then we'd have to communicate over the phone quite a bit to straighten out the bugs.

What did you find most impressive about Sunflower Lab?

They did understand what our upgrade needs were and they put in more time than they were originally contracted for because they stuck it out, to make sure it was working the way we needed it to. I would say what distinguishes them is their ability to continue to work at designing a product until we were happy with it in the end.

Are there any areas Sunflower Lab could improve?

I think they were new to dealing with organizations like ours that demand written-out paperwork before work begins. Their invoicing went very smoothly but the initial contract was a little challenging. Having a really good system of contracting would be one way to improve.

Initially, I would say they were dragging their heels a little to have some phone conversations. There's basically two people in the business. We initially worked with one person but then we were referred to a second person, and he was very responsive and helpful. He was the actual designer, I think. When we started spelling out some of the initial bugs, just in the beta version, he was able to understand what we were talking about and address them.

In the end, they were effective but it took a little while to get there.

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