If you want to go far, together is faster (I).

This is the first of a series of two articles describing the reasoning and the steps behind the idea of correlating software product delivery process performance metrics with community health and collaboration metrics as a way to engage execution managers so their teams participate in Open Source projects and Inner Source programs. What you will read in these articles is an extension of a talk I gave at the event Inner Source Commons Fall 2020.

Background

There is a very popular African proverb within the Free Software movement that says…

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Many of us used it for years to promote collaboration among commercial organizations over doing it internally in a fast way at the risk of reinventing the wheel, not following standards, reducing quality, etc.

The proverb describes an implicit OR relation between the traditional Open Source mindset, focused on longer term results obtained through extensive collaboration, and the traditional corporate mindset, where time-to-market is almost an obsession.

Early in my career I got exposed as manager (I do not code) to agile and a little later to Continuous Delivery. This second set of principles and practices had a big impact on me because of the tight and positive correlation that proposes between speed and quality. Until then, I had assumed that such correlation was negative, when one increases the other decreases or vice-versa.

During a long time, I also assumed unconsciously as truth the negative correlation between collaboration and speed. It was not until I started working in projects at scale when I became aware of such unconscious assumption and start question it first and challenging it later.

In my early years in Open Source I found myself many times discussing with executives and managers about the benefits of this “collaboration framework” and why they should adopt it. Like probably many of you, I found myself being more successful among executives and politicians than middle layer managers.

– “No wonder they are executives” I thought more than once back then.

But time prove me wrong once again.

Problem statement: can we go faster by going together?

It was not until later on in my career, when I could relate to good Open Source evangelists but specially good sales professionals. I learned a bit about how different groups within the same organization are incentivized differently and you need to understand those incentives to tune your message in a a way that they can relate to it.

Most of my arguments and those from my colleagues back then were focused on cost reductions and collaboration, on preventing silos, on shorten innovation cycles, on sustainability, prevention of vendor lock-in, etc. Those arguments resonate very well among those responsible for strategic decisions or those managers directly related with innovation. But they did not work well with execution managers, specially senior ones.

When I have been a manager myself in the software industry, frequently my incentives had little to do with those arguments. In some cases, either my manager’s incentives had little to do with such arguments despite being an Open Organization. Open Source was part of the company culture but management objectives had little to do with collaboration. Variables like productivity, efficiency, time-to-market, customer satisfaction, defects management, release cycles, yearly costs, etc., were the core incentives that drove my actions and those around me.

If that was the case for those organizations I was involved in back then, imagine traditional corporations. Later on I got engage with such companies which confirmed this intuition.

I found myself more than once arguing with my managers about priorities and incentives, goals and KPIs because, as Open Source guy, I was for some time unable to clearly articulate the positive correlation between collaboration and efficiency, productivity, cost reduction etc. In some cases, this inability was a factor in generating a collision that end up with my bones out of the organization.

That positive correlation between collaboration and productivity was counter-intuitive for many middle managers I know ten years ago. Still is for some, even in the Open Source space. Haven’t you heard from managers that if you want to meet deadlines do not work upstream because you go move slower? I’ve heard so many times that, as mentioned before, during years I believed it was true. It might at small scale, but at big scale, it is not necessarily true.

It was not until two or three years ago that I started paying attention to Inner Source. I realized that many have inherited this belief. And since they live in corporate environments, the challenge that represents convincing execution related managers is bigger than in Open Source.

Inner Source programs are usually supported by executives and R&D departments but receive resistance from middle management, especially those closer to execution units. Collaborating with other departments might be good in the long term but it is perceived as less productive than developing in isolation. Somehow, in order to participate in Inner Source programs, they see themselves choosing between shorter-term and longer-term goals, between their incentives and those of the executives. It has little to do with their ability to “get it“.

So either their incentives are changed and they demonstrate that the organization can still be profitable, or you need to adapt to those incentives. What I believe is that adapting to those incentives means, in a nutshell, to provide a solid answer to the question, can we go faster by going together?

The proposed solution: if you want to go far, together is faster.

If we could find a positive correlation between efficiency/productivity and collaboration, we could change the proverb above by something like…

And hey, technically speaking, it would still be an African proverb, since I am from the Canary Islands, right?.

The idea behind the above sentence is to establish an AND relation between speed and collaboration meeting both, traditional corporate and Open Source (and Inner Source) goals.

Proving such positive correlation could be help to reduce the resistance offered by middle management to practice collaboration at scale either within Inner Source programs or Open Source projects. They would perceive such participation as a path to meet those longer term goals without contradicting many of the incentives they work with and they promote among their managees.

So the following question is, how we can do that? how can we provide evidences of such positive correlation in a language that is familiar to those managers?

The solution summarized: ISC Fall 2020

I tried to briefly explain to people running Inner Source programs, during the ISC Fall 2020, a potential path to establish such relation in five not-so-simple steps. The core slide of my presentation enumerated them as:

1.- In addition to collaboration and community health metrics, I recommend to track product delivery process performance ones.
2.- Correlate both groups of metrics.
3.- Focus on decisions and actions that creates a positive correlation between them.
4.- Create a reporting strategy to developers and managers based on such positive correlation.
5.- Use such strategy to turn around your Inner Source/Open Source story: it is about creating positive business impact at scale through open collaboration.

A detailed explanation of these five points can be found in the second article of this series:

If you want to go far, together is faster (II).

You can also watch the recording of my talk at ISC Fall 2020.

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