How Bluesquare managed rapid growth without losing track of who we are
About the authors
Romain Olekhnovitch joined Bluesquare in January 2018 to lead the company’s data science strategy. His main goal is to leverage all types of data to provide deciders and citizens with the best and most up-to-date information about health services. Since 2019, he has overseen the management of all projects undertaken by Bluesquare as COO.
Nicolas de Borman is passionate about health financing and universal health coverage. He founded Bluesquare in 2012 to help countries build reliable and efficient data systems in health and to support the allocation of resources. Prior to launching Bluesquare, Nicolas was deep in health financing reform and Results-Based Financing, already working on implementation in several countries.
Working at Bluesquare has been the most exciting adventure of our careers.
When Romain joined the team in January 2018, Bluesquare’s main focus was building data systems for Performance-Based Financing and Monitoring & Evaluation programs. We were a small team of 25 people with a yearly revenue of 2M€ and significant cash flow issues, but a team with great ambitions.
Fast forward to today, and Bluesquare numbers over 60 employees across 5 offices on 3 continents, brings in a yearly revenue of around 5M€, and is active in 3 additional focus areas: monitoring of campaigns, geographical data management and data science.
Growing a team and a set of services at such a rapid pace brings challenges. So, as we near the end of Bluesquare’s most successful year yet, we wanted to look back on a few of the key challenges of the last three years, and the lessons we learned along the way.
Deploying an internal structure fit for project delivery
Historically, Bluesquare was split into two teams: the project management team (PM) and information technology team (IT). The IT team included two types of profiles. Technical experts involved project implementation; and software developers that built the underlying digital tools themselves.
As our projects started to grow both in number and size, this siloed structure quickly began to fail. Communication between PMs and the IT team became more difficult. Simultaneously, the technical experts were implementing our tools without understanding the larger picture of the project they were working on. Moreover, the line within the IT team between the technical experts and the software developers was becoming almost nonexistent.
This situation had major consequences on project management. PMs had a hard time communicating clearly to our clients what product features were already available; and product roadmaps were highly dependent on project needs and interpersonal negotiation within the team.
So in 2019, following the leadership of Martin Van Aken, Bluesquare’s (amazing) Chief Technology Officer (CT0), we created what we call today the delivery team. Instead of separating teams based on their technical skills, we created an autonomous team in charge of project delivery for clients, effectively combining the technical experts and the project managers into a single unit.
And just this year, with our new CTO Martin De Wulf, we set up proper product management processes. This ensured that roadmaps were consistent with our long term vision and with project priorities.
This reorganization of teams and processes allowed Bluesquare to develop the internal structure required to deliver on the growing number of incoming projects. But you know what comes after solving a challenge: the next one.
Attracting the right talents to nurture our culture
While we were reorganizing our internal structure, we also had to look at increasing our capacity to be able to tackle the flow of new projects.
Due to our business model partially based on service delivery, the more projects led to sharp growth in our team. This is why in the past 2 years alone, the Bluesquare family has more than doubled, with most new hires going into the delivery team. Hiring this many people in a short time had to be done right.
Identifying the profiles you need to sustain growth
We quickly prioritized two types of profiles in our recruitment process. We first searched for people with a technical and quantitative background, putting less emphasis on the knowledge of the global health sector. This allowed us to strengthen our expertise in our core business activities: data analysis & management.
Next, we invested in senior profiles for key positions. This was both a significant financial investment and a high risk in case of vision misalignment. However, the expertise of people such as Charlotte Schelstraete in project management and Moritz Lennert in geospatial data allowed us to grow top-notch project management and geospatial information system teams.
Safeguarding your company culture
Successfully growing our team was a matter not only of technical capacities but also of values. To keep Bluesquare’s culture intact, we undertook two main initiatives.
First, we collaboratively defined the values we wanted in the delivery team. We focused not on external communication but really on how we wanted to collaborate on projects. Secondly, we set up speed dating interviews during the hiring process, meaning that three persons of the delivery team also interview potential candidates to provide their feedback on the cultural fit. Their decision is a big part of our decision in hiring new colleagues.
These actions ensure that any new hire is a great match for the culture strive towards in our team.
Going from technical actor to strategic partner
In 2018, Bluesquare was mainly seen as a technical actor with contracts focused on the implementation of data systems. Over the past three years, we’ve used our experience and track record to gradually position us as a strategic partner in global health. This has allowed us to lead multi-million dollar projects that include, in addition to the technical work, governance, institutional and strategic consulting.
Making that switch was an intentional evolution. Bluesquare has always been willing to work in complex environments, and our approach has continued to depend on building partnerships with local governments and health actors. For instance, when implementing data systems, we always ensure that ownership is transferred at the end of each project.
To do so, we developed local networks of experts throughout the years, enabling a deep understanding of local issues. This led us to the deep roots we have today in many African countries such as Senegal, DRC, Burundi, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Niger and Ivory Coast.
Looking ahead to the next challenge
Through the actions described above, and many others such as the tremendous improvement of our administrative and financial processes by CFO Sissy Windisch, Bluesquare is now at a point where it can rely on a great team, strong partnerships and the trust of key global health funds like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Being recognized as a strategic partner by major actors is a validation of our in-depth expertise and the hard work that we have put in over the years.
Bluesquare is now set on a strong foundation. Yet, we can already see the tipping point to the next phase. Our growth both in terms of personnel and projects has yet to slow, and the next years are sure to be full of more change, more challenges and more excitement.
We’re looking forward to seeing Bluesquare’s team and tackling those head on, and sharing our story along the way.