I joined the Linux Foundation and many other open source professionals at the Open Source Leadership Summit OSLS in Squaw Valley this week. It was full of great and interesting people who make the open source community live and thrive. I can’t mention everyone, so I will just call out two of the exceptional people, Sarah Novotny and Jono Bacon. Both Sarah and Jono have a track record of consistent community leadership. Both of them spoke at the OSLS. I would like to re-emphasize a common open source community theme they hit on.
Clear Communication Leads to Strong Communities
The community supporting the projects needs to understand where they are headed. The practice of “extreme clarity” in all aspects of the community activities, builds strong communities. For example, as commercial products are relying on the projects for feature development and bug fixes, clear communication on the product strategy helps everyone considerably. Transparency and good communication between project and product teams leads to successful outcomes. This obviously makes sense in the private development of products. When combining upstream and downstream work, it is even more critical.
Failures are a common occurrence. When missing a development deadlines, how is it handled? The community must meet the challenge head on and discuss the problem transparently and publicly. Not communicating well or ignoring the problem leads to distrust of the release schedule and project strategy. Not every problem needs a full debate, but the process of discussion, resolution, and documentation, leads to broad acceptance of outcomes.
The community processes themselves must not be taken for granted. The people involved in the projects, governance, and products with evolve over time. By holding consistent, transparent reviews of the community processes, the communication will continue to be strong. It is often taken for granted how the community functions. It shouldn’t be. New contributors need to understand why and how the community mechanics work. They need to be able to debate their views on how to improve the process of contribution.
To conclude my point here, clear communication is a key attribute of successful communities. Consistent contribution, as Linus Torvalds spoke about at OSLS, is critical for successful projects. But without clear communication, consistent contribution cannot be maintained.