I just celebrated my four year anniversary at Dimagi. Four years… In some ways, it seems like forever. In others, like time has yet to pass. When I got off the plane in Lusaka, Zambia in May 2010, Dimagi was a 10 person company. I was the first Dimagi hire to be based in the field, rather than the Boston office. My first day working at Dimagi, was the day I landed in Africa. I wouldn’t meet the rest of the company for years to come. The concept of field support for our technology was quickly evolving at the time from periodic onsite support from software developers to a new cadre of employee, one with a focus less on the technology, and more on its implementation. This was the birth of the Dimagi Field Manager.
Now, Dimagi has nearly 80 employees spread across country offices in India, South Africa, Mozambique and Senegal. We have other field staff based periodically in Thailand, Nepal, and a handful of other countries. Half of Dimagi staff are now based full time in the field, rotating between country offices, project sites, and everything in between. In the last four years, the role of the Dimagi Field Manager has evolved significantly.
What once was the role of a ‘fellow’ to ideate and expand Dimagi’s reach, has now become Dimagi’s face to the partner. FMs are the front line of project and software support. Outside of large, complex, or custom projects, what once required software developer interaction at some level of project execution is now conducted by FMs from start to finish. Field Managers are key to both the current model of project implementation and future models of service delivery. FMs allow Dimagi as a company to meet the following objectives:
- Design under the mango tree: FMs allow close coordination directly with the users of our software. This allows projects to be customized for our users, which often requires a large amount of time spent iterating on content and usability in the field. This also enables our software development process to stay closely connected to the field through the FMs.
- Dev-less implementation: FMs can run many projects from start to finish without the need of a developer. Projects with new features, custom development, or which are large and complicated will often require developer input. However, Dimagi’s tools have advanced to the point where developers are no longer needed to help support ‘bread and butter’ CommCare projects. This allows both FMs and Devs to do what they do best. Devs are able to spend time focusing on new features, software robustness, and scalability. FMs are empowered to design, implement, and train on an application. While field-dev interaction is still crucial, and Dimagi works hard to ensure devs understand the FMs role and vice versa, FMs running projects allows Dimagi to support more projects in more locations than would otherwise be possible. Soon, FMs will help Dimagi achieve FM-less implementation, where a partner will be able to design, implement, and train on an application and hire FMs for additional value added services and expertise.
- Explore new initiatives: FMs provide a cadre of workers with the freedom, flexibility, and local context to trail blaze new internally led ideas. This can range from new business models, new research projects, or new software products. Being able to quickly and easily try out new ideas allows Dimagi to retain its ability to innovate as it grows.
The nature of the FM role, in meeting the objectives above, means that FMs are also:
- The eyes and ears of Dimagi: FMs working in the field experience the best and worst of Dimagi’s software. They are the first to hear praise of Dimagi’s tools and their usefulness. They are the first to hear if something goes wrong or feel the embarrassment when the software stops working as it is expected to. FMs know what works and doesn’t work, and are key in constant iteration and improvement to Dimagi’s software products.
- The face of Dimagi: FMs are where Dimagi’s tools intersect our users. They are the frontlines to our users and our partners, and reflect Dimagi’s culture, quality, and innovativeness.
- Put into stressful, demanding situations: FMs on project sites are put into situations demanding performance and quality, delivered on a tight schedule. Preparation and planning will not always prevent projects from being frustrating or require long hours. These are just some of the challenge of being a Dimagi Field Manager.
I look back fondly on my time as a Field Manager. The sharpness of frustrations have mellowed with time, and the moments of inspiration have become more memorable. As I celebrate four years at Dimagi, I am excited about how the company continues to improve as it grows and spreads its ideas to new places.