Volunteering at the 2017 SFBay ACT-W conference

Space Dev

What Was This

I had the privilege of volunteering for the Open Source Initiative (OSI) table at the ACT-W conference at Galvanize, San Francisco this last Saturday with Erich Clauer and Zachariah Sherzad. It was an event focused on giving women the best information on advancing in technical careers. Keynotes and talks sounded excellent on paper, but I missed out on them, as I was in the career fair part of the event for the day. There were many volunteering tables set up in the career area. OSI was one of them. Pyladies, Chicktech, Docusign, among others were there to support technical women. I answered questions about OSI and open source. There was a mix of experience levels, but most were just starting their technical careers.

What Was Happening

Everyone was networking, which is always a good practice. The energy was positive and welcoming. I was able to talk with many women on what OSI stands for and what I could help them with. Describing the benefits of open source is very enjoyable. Especially relevant there were a lot of opportunities to engage people directly. I felt my mentoring on how to join public open source teams was good and valuable information. However, I wasn’t helping with the most important need of all, a paying job.

How To Improve

I should have had a list of open source positions from all the OSI affiliates. Through the ACT-W organizers, I should have asked for digital resumes and LinkedIn URLs before the event started. As people came forward, I could have looked up their resume and matched them with possible openings. Then I could counsel them on their experience and plans.
So, I am going start working with OSI to figure out how we can add these and additional services.

Cheers!

10 Steps for the Boss to Understand Your Upstream Project

steps

Previous articles on Open Source First  have been more strategy than recipe. You need a clear, easy to understand plan for making the case for an upstream project to your manager. To help you with your boss, I have rewritten the How to use Public Projects to Build Products article into a list of ten steps. These steps are comprehensive, covering strategy to implementation. A motivated Developer, Development Manager, or Open Source Director should lead these organizational changes over the many months it will take to implement them. I wish you success on your journey to better, stronger organization.

10 Steps to Supporting Upstream Projects

  1. Strategy: When you set out your strategy and objectives for the year, highlight the open source projects you will be working with. This is important for recognizing the risks, dependencies, and commitments you are making working with the external engineering team that is the open source project.
  2. Partners: Treat a public open source project like another engineering organization. If you are going to work with another engineering team, you expect to have a clear understanding of their responsibilities and timelines. You need to have the exact same expectations when working with a public open source project.
  3. Individual Contributors: Often, a developer will step forward with the desire to work on an open source project that is not part of the organization “plan.” This is exactly what the organization needs. Self motivated engineers are developing leadership skills . Allow the developer to allocate some of her/his time. Set responsibilities and timelines. This is just as much to protect the developer as is it is the company. Encourage open source contributions as technical social good efforts.
  4. Fully Support What You Start: Middle management needs make upper management aware of what the upstream open source work purpose is and its importance to supporting the overall development strategy. Never commit to an open source project that your organization is not willing to fully support.
  5. Reviews: Annual developer performance reviews and headcount updates must include the upstream open source projects. This means that the Development Managers are ready to defend their open source developers with the facts of their work. Developers that excel at working with downstream and upstream development projects are the people who you want to recognize and promote. These developers are very often your best people and likely team leaders.
  6. Products: Make sure your Product Managers understand how the public open source work contributes to delivering the product. In your private Project Management tool, establish an epic for each upstream open source project. Create stories for each upstream feature that is being worked on. Link each upstream feature to a product epic or story that a Product Manager is responsible for. The upstream developer needs to work with the Product Manager at least month to month, so as the upstream work progresses, there is a tight understanding of how that work will go into the Product Manager’s product. A developer advocate like an Open Source Director or Development Manager can be an alternative to work with the Product Manager.
  7. Projects: Make sure the Scrum Master works with the upstream developer just like the rest of the downstream developers. The upstream stories need to be in the backlog along with the rest of the development work. It is likely the upstream schedule of delivering features is different from your downstream product. Adjust your stories for your backlog to match your downstream scrum schedule. Meaning, if your downstream team is on a two-week sprint, then make sure your upstream stories can be delivered in that two-week sprint. Treat all of your developers equally for equal results.
  8. Test, Build, Test, Repeat: As the upstream work starts to take shape, get the code into a testable branch on your software pipeline. Make sure you have quality unit and build tests to verify the upstream work, so it can be more easily merged into your code base trunk when the time comes. Get members of your team to comment and help with the CI effort. As interest in what you are working on gets more help and visibility, you probably will get some public commits from your downstream development team.
  9. Report: Track all your development work and report on progress. Highlight the upstream and downstream work as separate, but equal. Update leadership on the upstream project progress as much as the private development. Approach this as updating on the progress of a valued engineering partner.
  10. Schedule: Keep up to date with the public projects release schedule and strategy. Internally, publish both your private release schedule alongside the public projects release schedule. Alignment of schedules is critical for success.

Using Transparency for Building Strong Organizations

I have broken down below a simple six part outline of what a technology platform organization is and how to run it. The platform organization is the bottom of the technology stack. The top of the stack will differ from the platform, in that, it will have external customers and more focus on product design and the user interface. However, this outline can still largely apply. This plan is built up over 20 years of working in an around technology organizations. You will find my ideas on Open Source First is the rallying cry of how to run a better platform organization. All the steps that follow have the Open Source First behavior mixed in. Coming from my Open Source First post, transparency is the key thread throughout this outline.

1. What Are You?

A platform organization can be defined as all the underlying functions required to build and / or support customer facing software applications. That includes the data center, server, network, load balancer, firewall, storage, datastore, service bus, service registry, data search, data analysis, data visualization, application server services, monitoring, and alerting (did I miss anything?) in all their various forms and sizes. All that follows is how to run a platform organization with transparency, not what technology to utilize.

2. Know What You Support

Services

Each platform organization supports various services. I loosely call services as something that is listening for requests from a client that the customer is using. There are a variety of service support levels. A Network Operations Center (NOC) is a form of a service. The NOC is listening and waiting for requests. A Service Bus that is implemented at each data center and supported by a centralized team is a service. Each implementation of the Service Bus is listening for and relaying messages.

 

The new sexy is Functions as a Service (FaaS) or Serverless. These are still services. The main point of the new names is that you are building software utilizing well defined cloud based services that are always available. By the services being considered Microservices, you can assume that they are fully portable with the same functionality and that they can be spawned and destroyed for specific short term implementations. Susan Fowler wrote a book on the subject.

Products

The software developer creates a software product. A product can utilize services as outlined above. A service can be defined as a product as well. A software product is versioned with specific features and bugs. A product has customers with expectations. A service that is also a product will have similar customer expectations. The critical attribute of a product is the customer. A product has a customer. For example, when you acquire a product and your expectation is that it will continue to function as is for a year. When the product fails after a month, you expect to have it replaced or be compensated. A product has transparently communicated iterations of increasing functionality or also called versions. Each product version has advertised, expected functionality. Product bugs happen, but are expected to be corrected in a reasonable period of time.

 

So the point here is from a platform leadership perspective, you always have customers. Therefore you manage products for your customers. You have services as part of your product(s) functionality. If you were to only focus on the services, then you miss the customer aspect of your responsibilities. You have products that you stand behind and guarantee of level of service delivery to your customers.

Now Define What Products You Support

Make their versions, service levels, end of life, outstanding customer requests, support, documentation, current features, and features to be implemented transparent to everyone. Being transparent means starting with everything being public information. 

3. Know Your Customers

So often, we rush through designing and implementing a great product that has little to no customer interest. You must understand and personally know your customers. Schedule recurring meetings with your customers and key product managers. Hold those meetings on time no matter what. Delivering bad news in person is just as important as good news. Remember that the platform organization exists to serve its customers. And that your platform customers are the people that make the profit in the P&L.

4. Define your Roles

Every organization needs well defined roles with responsibilities. I have used the RACI model to help describe the roles. I have outlined below the most critical roles for a platform organization with a few of their most important responsibilities.

 

transparent platform
transparent platform leadership roles
Image 1: Platform Organization Hierarchy

 

In my definition of the platform organization, everyone reports up through the Platform SVP. There are four Development VP positions for Services, PaaS, IaaS, and Hardware, one Product VP position, and one Operations VP position. Six VPs report to the SVP. The Network Operations Center with the first and second level operations engineers report up through the Operations VP. The Development VP positions oversee their slice of the platform technology and are accountable for the third level operations engineering. The Product VP oversees the Product Managers, Scrum Masters, and Release Managers. The Product Managers report directly into the Product VP, while the Scrum Masters and Release Managers for each technology slice can be dotted line to the Product VP.  This allows the Scrum Masters and the Release Masters to be closer to the developers that they support. As long as there is accountability, it should not matter who reports direct to whom.

 

Each and every person in the organization is expected to be involved in development and operations practices through CI / CD. That means everyone practices DevOps and the resulting agile behaviors.

 

Platform SVP role

  • Responsible for the annual strategy derived from the CTO strategy
  • Accountable for leading the organization
  • Accountable for hiring practices of the organization
  • Responsible for the organization budget
  • Accountable for the platform products
  • Accountable for on-boarding new customers through platform operations
  • Recognize the the buck stops here with the SVP. The SVP delegates responsibility to the chain of command.

Development VP role

  • Responsible for the annual strategy for their slice of the technology organization
  • Accountable for quarterly objectives
  • Responsible for leading their slice of the organization
  • Accountable for hiring in their slice of the organization
  • Accountable for their part of the organization budget
  • Responsible for their technology slice platform products
  • Accountable for layer three operations engineering support

Development Manager role

  • Very similar to the Development VP role, except they are responsible for the capabilities of the VP in their slice of the organization

Product VP role

  • Accountable for quarterly objectives
  • Responsible for the Platform Product Managers and Scrum Masters
  • Accountable for regular meetings to determine the status of the release schedule
  • Accountable for planning and organizing the product roadmaps, releases, and reporting
  • Responsible for the Product Management retrospective and Product Management roadmap review scoring processes
  • Accountable for the platform products schedule
  • Responsible for coordinating product release schedules and product milestones across the entire organization
  • Consults with Security, Operations, Open Source, Legal, and other horizontal teams on requirements and assistance

Product Manager role

  • Very similar to the Product VP role, except they are responsible for the capabilities of the VP in their slice of the organization
  • Responsible for prioritizing the Product Roadmap(s) features while working directly with the Scrum Master and Development Manager
  • Responsible for product backlog scoring used during scrum retrospectives
  • Collaborates with other Product Managers on Product Roadmap risks and dependencies
  • Responsible for demonstrations, roadshows, and product showcasing
  • Accountable for engaging with customers through Customer Advocacy meetings
  • Responsible for marketing the product for customer adoption and on-boarding new customers
  • Responsible for accepting or rejecting product delivery from the development team for a release based on product reviews and quality

Operations VP

  • Accountable for quarterly objectives
  • Accountable for general operations support (layer one and two) including the Network Operations Center
  • Responsible for managing alerting and monitoring services
  • Responsible for managing the CI / CD infrastructure
  • Accountable for the Data Center Operations. This includes public (AWS, GCE, Rackspace, Azure) and private (owned, leased, colo) based infrastructure
  • Responsible for on-boarding new customers into the platform organization

Release Manager role

  • Responsible for their own personal quarterly objectives
  • Accountable for software pipeline quality
  • Responsible for tracking unit and build test application. Are the tests doing anything useful? Do the tests get set to noop during the push for release?
  • Responsible to work with the Development Manager(s) on how testing can be improved. Are the same tests being run for gate and build? Can some of the tests be run pre patch submission by the developer? Are there some project teams that are having problems with test implementation?
  • Responsible to work with developers and/or the Infrastructure Manager reviewing software pipeline logs for information and errors.
  • Responsible to work with the Infrastructure Manager on maintaining the software pipeline. Especial focus on keeping the software pipeline functional towards the end of a product release cycle when there will be heavier than usual load.
  • Responsible to work with the Product Manager and Development Manager on the product release cycle.

Scrum Master role

  • Responsible for their own personal quarterly objectives
  • Accountable for managing scrum or kanban boards for measuring progress against the roadmap
  • Accountable for holding scrum or project retrospectives
  • Responsible for working closely with the Product Manager and Development Manager on backlog prioritization
  • Responsible for working with the Product Manager on the product release
  • Accountable for managing appropriate engineers’ time management during sprints
  • Consulted by the Development Manager on feedback around engineers’ performance, productivity, and quality
  • Responsible for identifying and removing risks and dependencies in coordination with the Product Manager

Developer role

  • Responsible for their own personal quarterly objectives
  • Accountable for completing work assigned by the Scrum Master
  • Responsible working within the DevOps software pipeline(s)
  • Accountable for personal technical capabilities
  • Responsible for mentoring junior engineers
  • Responsible for practicing transparency and collaboration

5. Communicate on a Well Defined Schedule

Communication milestones that your customers can come expect is critical to gaining trust. Most importantly these milestones provide transparency to the product development process for customers and collaborators. If delivering on these milestones becomes difficult, consider moving the Scrum Master and Release Manager roles under the Product VP for more accountability for the product management process.

 

Bi-weekly communication to the platform organization

  • Progress on features
  • More in-depth information from blog posts

Monthly communication to the company

  • New product updates
  • Few blog posts to highlight

Weekly to bi-weekly project retrospectives

  • Backlog progress scoring based on backlog reviews by the Product Manager
  • Project epics are created and updated by the Development Manager, Product Manager, and Scrum Master. Then the epics are kept up to date throughout the quarter

Monthly Product Roadmap reviews

  • Each Product Manager updates their published roadmap monthly
  • Each Product Manager publishes a Product Roadmap quality score for each product they are responsible for. The roadmap quality score is based on: are all the roadmap details available, is the roadmap published on-time, and the quality of the roadmap details.

Monthly updates on product, project status based on Product Roadmaps and Releases

  • Report published with last quarter product releases, scoring metrics, progress on features, status of risks, dependencies, and the status of customer requests
  • Updated, published annual product release schedule

Quarterly product roadmap reviews

  • Features, bugs, risks, and dependencies
  • References to epics for cross-project discussions

Quarterly Headcount and Finance review

  • Travel, equipment, events, sponsorships
  • Headcount adjustments by project, product, and roles
  • Fine tuning from the annual review

Quarterly Customer Advocacy meetings

  • Each functional group of products holds quarterly Customer Advocacy meetings
  • These customer meetings can happen as often as required, but with the Product Manager(s) attending, representing the product

6. Create a Culture Based on Transparency

Every organization needs a strategy. But very few organizations have a strategy that makes sense to the organization. That is because most people start with blue sky planning. That is a mistake. This is not a company you are running, rather a team that supports an existing company with a strategy and goals of their own.

 

After putting the platform organization together around products and customers, you have a solid baseline for what your strategy and goals need to be. Before you would have wasted your time. Now you can be clear and spend the minimum time planning.

 

Using that baseline, along with the CTO strategy mixed in, the Platform SVP maintains no more than 5 annual goals, created two months before the new year starts. Those annual goals are the strategy for the organization. The strategy must be clear and timely, so everyone can reference their part in delivering the strategy. The platform leadership, Platform VPs, will need use the annual goals to plan out their annual year products and headcount.

 

To publish and communicate the strategy, use the method of OKRs. My best OKR experience was when each employee started with a blank gdoc indexed to the organization structure. Transparency of everyone’s goals, starting with senior leadership, builds organizational trust and confidence. OKRs can be a key tool for organization change. Transparency of leadership’s goals is an important aspect of open source behavior derived from Open Source First. Once the Platform SVP publishes the annual goals as OKRs, everyone can read, write, discuss, and debate the annual strategy.

 

The organization then updates their OKRs quarterly. Senior leadership should take no longer than a week to create and publish their OKRs. Senior leadership and the rest of the organization publishes their OKRs for the next quarter 2/3’s of the way through the previous quarter. Take no more than a couple of weeks following the first round of OKR publishing, to debate and revise any major inconsistencies. That means timing wise, the whole organization will have their OKRs completed for the next quarter, weeks before that quarter starts.

 

Do not be tempted to create a hierarchy of OKRs from leadership on down. I have never seen it work well. If your leadership understands your products and customers, then their goals will be very similar to the rest of the organization. Senior leadership cannot understand all the details of the working parts of the organization. Additionally, if everyone waits for the leadership goals, before starting their own, it will cause delays of weeks to months. It is better to get 80% accuracy in your quarterly goals while publishing them on time. Think quarterly OKR train release.

 

Points to highlight:
  • Each person maintains 3-5 OKRs each quarter. OKRs should be their priorities only.
  • OKRs are not meant to be a project or product management system
  • Transparency of everyone’s goals to improve collaboration
  • Each manager holds their directs responsible for their OKRs. Use your directs OKRs as part of their leadership mentoring.
  • Each person rates the success of their OKRs. 60-80% OKR success rate is what you want. You can also call this stretch goals.

Let Transparency Take Hold

In conclusion, take this outline as just that, the broad strokes. This outline is focused on the process steps that can allow development teams to independently create their own way of running their teams within the platform organization. When you have a well structured organization with milestones, transparency, and good communication, it encourages merit based work from everyone. And that is a place, I want to work at.

Clear Communication is the Key

communication error
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.

How to use Public Projects to Build Products

Lanai Rock with glass

Project to Product

I want to focus on one specific aspect of project to product development from the Open Source First article. Coordinating upstream (publicly licensed) and downstream (private non-licensed) development work. In any organization that is developing and supporting software, there are some number of engineers that work on public projects. It is a common problem that the Development Managers and the Scrum Masters do a poor job of tracking that public work. Let’s assume that the Development Manager is aware and supports the public development work.

Support the Developer

What typically happens is that upper management is not aware of what the upstream work purpose is and its importance to supporting the overall development strategy. What likely started as support or even direction from the Development Manager to work on the public project evolves into a fog of light understanding.

Many months later, when performance reviews and head count updates come around, typically the upstream developer gets lets left out, as the public work is not part of what upper management understands. This leads to either dropping the upstream work, alienating one of your likely best developers, and/or the upstream work continues, but with zero Development Manager insight. In some cases all three things happen, in which case, you now have a increasingly separated, forked development effort, with a increasing annoyed developer, that is going to be putting in more and more time into the public projects. Not a good workplace situation for the developer or the manager.

Treat Public Projects Like an Company

It takes more work, but there is a proven solution. Treat the public projects like another engineering organization. If you are going to work with another engineering team, you expect to have a clear understanding of responsibilities and timelines. You need to have the exact same expections when working with a public project.

Right at the beginning, when the developer has plans to work upstream, set out responsibilities and timelines. This is just as much to protect the developer as is it is the company. Define what the public work deliverable will be and when it will be delivered. Make sure your Product Managers understand how the public work contributes to delivering the product. Make sure the Scrum Master works with the upstream developer just like the rest of the downstream developers. The upstream developer is still part of the team. As the upstream work starts to take shape, get the code into a testable branch on your software pipeline. Make sure you have quality unit and build tests to verify the upstream work, so it can be more easily merged into your code base trunk when the time comes.

Track all your development work and report on progress. Highlight the upstream and downstream work. Update leadership on the upstream progress. Keep up to date with the public projects release schedule and strategy. Publish both your private release schedule along side the public projects release schedule.

Make It Happen

This is just the broad strokes. You will need to take this and put in specifics for your implementation. Organization structure and tools vary greatly, but hold to the basic tenants outlined above.