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OpenSource Management in Practice

Posted by felipegaucho on October 15, 2005 at 10:37 AM PDT

Last week we got a meeting in my JUG and we discussed many ideas about how to enhance the JUG - including several tools we need. The most motivated members suggested the creation of OpenSource projects to improve our site features and another group also suggested a formal commitee for managing those projects. Listening the brainstorm I felt a déjà vu about the excitement around new projects - and I started remembering my recent OpenSource experiences.

It's a very hard task to establish a common sense about an ideia - harder yet if the knowledge is just the result of your own experience and not drawn of a book or some theoretical stuff. I decided to report my recent experiences in Open Source Management - the aim of this blog entry is to share the way I´m dealing with the Open Source challenges and perhaps to inspire you not to give up facing common problems.

I started on OpenSource community just contributing to other projects - I contributed with localized templates for the Bugzilla project. A colleague in the company I was working asked me about an Issue Tracker written in Brazilian Portuguese and I started seeking in the web about that. Bugzilla was a popular choice and I decided to translate its i18n templates. The feedback of this unpretentious effort has opened my mind to a good cause: the Open Source paradigm.

My first independent OpenSource initiative occured three years ago, in a project called e-Sebo. A project based on the friendship and by word-of-mouth. I spoke with several friends about a secondhand bookshop system - which here in Brazil we call sebo - and some of them agreed it was a good idea. Several e-mails were sent but the absence of a more formal commitment turned the project off. It was closed as a set of good intentions. Later on some members of the CEJUG tried to renew those ideas and the project was hosted at this link. Nowadays it is still active but without any release.

Few months later I decided to create an educational project. I was teaching in some faculties and I was also involved in my PhD proposal - which included the design of some tools for teaching. At the same time I was working as System Analyst in an enterprise with the processes based on the CMM model. All those knowledge inspired me to create the Schoolbus Project - a large scope project that started with almost a hundred contributors and some formal requirements. We dedicated much time in defining formal procedures and several meetings were done - people were convinced about the power of the management models and some documentation was published. Time passed by and people lost the initial motivation, consequently the project suffered a decay. I can´t claim the formal models were the reason of the project failure, but I recognize now the extreme difference between a commercial project and a colaborative environment. Some day in the near future I will resume that amazing project and make it a reality.

At the end of 2004, I created the Cejug-Classifieds. That project was created in a controversial way - I started typing the code in a blank page - instead of trying to create the documentation and to set formal processes. The scope was reduced to something feasible. The requirements pop up from my imagination while I was not worried nor about contributors neither in explaining somebody else about my intentions - it was a raw programming experience. Step by step the code came on the screen, and friends started to ask about the project. The more code I produced the more documentation naturally appeared - the draft over my desk started to make sense and it was converted in some Portuguese words about the project aims. More people started asking about my efforts, then I decided to create a very incomplete contributors guide. Despite those documentation effort - you will note how far it is from a useful documentation - the code is still pushing the project ahead and the idea of something I can watch on the screen is still attracting people to the project. Nowadays the project has about dozen people with a bunch of very active members. The code is stable and we are preparing a preview release for the next few weeks. That first release was made with 4-8 hours per week in an year of efforts. I am still responsible by 90% of all effort and organization - including coding, the site updating, documentation, communication, tests and the release planning. Believe me: to see the project becoming a reality is a pleasure for all team members.

Cejug-Classifieds is my first personal success in the OpenSource world - three years after I have turned my spirit to the free community. I won´t nor enumerate rules about this success neither suggest you about that strategy is better than others. There are lots of blogs and papers on the web about Open Source management strategies - and I recommend you to read some of them eventually.

There is a long way in order to promote myself to a mature manager, and I´m current reading a lot about that, including comercial models, agile strategies and my own experiences - but there is a good feeling about the learning process: never give up.

If you are thinking about creating your own project, just start it. Don´t wait nor for the time you will be ready to model all aspect of a formal project, neither for knowledge about every skill a huge project needs. Just follow your spirit and put your hands on the code. It will be sucessfull anyway, it couldn´t be at your first try, neither in a second chance, but some day your ideas will be successful.

I hope to see your project in our community.

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