To improve health services' quantity and quality, African countries are increasingly engaging in performance‐based financing (PBF) interventions. Studies to understand their implementation in francophone West Africa are rare. This study analysed PBF implementation in Burkina Faso 12 months post‐launch in late 2014. The design was a multiple and contrasted case study involving 18 cases (health centres). Empirical data were collected from observations, informal (n = 224) and formal (n = 459) interviews, and documents. Outside the circle of persons trained in PBF, few in the community had knowledge of it. In some health centres, the fact that staff were receiving bonuses was intentionally not announced to populations and community leaders. Most local actors thought PBF was just another project, but the majority appreciated it. There were significant delays in setting up agencies for performance monitoring, auditing, and contracting, as well as in the payment. The first audits led rapidly to coping strategies among health workers and occasionally to some staging beforehand. No community‐based audits had yet been done. Distribution of bonuses varied from one centre to another. This study shows the importance of understanding the implementation of public health interventions in Africa and of uncovering coping strategies.