Does outsourcing dev/design work for tech companies? — Twiga Foods Case Study

Kipkorir Kirui
Jul 15, 2019 · 6 min read

As a tech or tech-enabled company, what would you do if you needed senior design or developer resources quickly? Sometime around May 2018, Caine Wanjau (Twiga’s CTO), Jacob Chencha (Software Project Manager)and I (Kipkorir Kirui, CEO at Made by People) met to discuss this specific challenge.

About Twiga Foods

Twiga Foods is a startup that links farmers and vendors to fair, trusted, modern markets by sourcing quality produce from Kenyan farmers, and delivering to vendors in urban areas. To achieve this, they utilize technology in every aspect of the supply chain. Consequently, Twiga has an internal developer and design team that supports different components of the platform.

Twiga employees at pack-house sorting produce (image courtesy of Twiga Foods)

About MADE

MADE offers design thinking and software development services to organizations building digital products for African markets and beyond. We work with startups, corporates, and NGOs across Africa to help them realize the value of human-centered design as a problem-solving approach and to leverage the power of technology to solve some of their most pressing problems. Made’s services include but are not restricted to, user experience research, design thinking facilitation, service design, and software development. Companies we have worked with include Open Society Foundation, PCI Global, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Barclays Bank, Cooperative Bank, Kenya Wildlife Service, and Linkoping University, PharmAccess Foundation, Mark’s Rate, Epic Africa, Adeso, Twiga Foods, and World Vision to name a few.

The Challenge

As a high-growth startup, Twiga came to MADE with a specific request — help us bridge design and development capacity. Traditionally, most tech companies prefer to build internal capacity instead of working with external consultants. However, seeing how long it takes to recruit senior design and engineering talent in the Kenyan tech ecosystem, this strategy will not work if you need these types of resources on short notice. Recruiting internal resources doesn’t also work well if you have cycles of high resource demand followed by relatively lower resource demand.

The typical consulting model employed by consulting companies is a project-based approach. It is a pretty straightforward approach as you simply estimate the effort and time it will take to complete a project and allocate the right resources. Another common model is the developer/designer placement model where the consulting firm places a resource in the client’s team. The resource is managed 100% by the client and is technically part of the client’s team. There are two key challenges developers/designers face with the traditional placement model:

  • Culture fit — most techies join a specific organization because of the org’s culture. Most times, the client’s culture is very different from the consulting firm’s culture. You sold your culture to the resource and now they are technically not part of your team anymore

The Approach

At MADE, we have been experimenting with a model that addresses the issues outlined above and still meets the objectives of our clients. Lazily named ‘Resource for Hire’, from a contracting perspective, it works as follows:

  • The client identifies a resource gap and an estimate of the time commitment they will invest in to plug the gap using iSC’s team.

On a day-to-day basis, it works as follows:

  • Planning and task allocation — this is done by the client and not managed by the Made team. The idea is to embed the Made resource in the client’s team

For Twiga Foods, MADE allocated one senior back-end engineer and one senior front-end engineer. Each was allocated 80 hours a month and the initial engagement was for 6 months.

Outcomes (so far)

Our work with Twiga is still ongoing. Below are some of the highlights from the engagement so far. The work was done in collaboration with the rest of the Twiga Foods tech team.

  • DevOps set up — ensuring Twiga’s infrastructure is up to date and developers can be on-boarded faster
A screenshot of Twiga’s Soko Yetu e-commerce platform

Lessons Learned

We have been working with Twiga for about a year now and along the way, we have learned valuable lessons that have kept the partnership intact.

  • Trust is the most critical element for success — you need to ensure that the client is confident that the hours they bought are being used on their project. We did this by tracking time on the project, regular check-ins, and most importantly being true to our word

It has been an exciting time working with the great team at Twiga and we hope to do more with them going forward. The quote below from Caine Wanjau sums it up nicely.

We engaged MADE to provide us with consultants to work on various teams in our technology department. As a fast-growing company having a high rate of product development, we wanted to ensure that we worked with experienced engineers that would produce quality work in a timely manner, and they were able to execute this for us — Caine Wanjau, CTO, Twiga Foods

Interested in learning more about our services and how you can engage Made by People? Check out our website or drop us an email hello.[at].made.ke.

Built for Africa

War stories from Made by People about building products for African markets

Built for Africa

A publication by Made by People, a Nairobi based product strategy, design, and implementation firm. We use this space to share stories from our work across Africa

Kipkorir Kirui

Written by

Ex-child, Reluctant adult, Experience Designer, UX Researcher, Design Facilitator, Senior Product Manager, Co-founder Made by People

Built for Africa

A publication by Made by People, a Nairobi based product strategy, design, and implementation firm. We use this space to share stories from our work across Africa