Two risks when working as employee in Free Software communities

I would like to point two risks that I have experienced myself and as manager throughout the last few years working in open environments (Free Software Communities) or projects involving interactions with them.

1.- In any community, there is so much to do…., so many interesting and innovative areas, so many disruptive ideas that can make a difference. There are so many projects that, with a little extra effort and some knowledge, could improve so much….everybody would notice the change, the difference, the impact.

When working as employee or as sponsored contributor you interact with so many people that needs help, that deserves to be helped, that you can learn from… that if you are not strong enough, after a while, without noticing, a significant part of your agenda is somehow determined by those who you help. But although you work on the same project that they do, share principles and environment, they not necessarily share your goals, your responsibilities, your duties, your motivations.

Spreading the energy through different areas, working under demand instead of having a clear control of your agenda, focusing on short term results instead of mid term ones, becoming a pillar for everybody else work in detriment of your own goals, of your own results, is a common syndrome I have suffered myself for a while, specially when working remotely from home, and I have experienced as manager of teams and projects.What makes the action of any team (or professional) significant in any environment, and particularly in a open ecosystem like a Free Software community, is their ability to maintain during a long period of time a sustained effort focusing its energy in a single point. Only when the plan is achieved or after a proper analysis, jumping to another one is the right thing to do (in normal conditions, obviously).

The effect is even bigger when those points of focus are linked, serving a mid/long term purpose, aligned in a concrete direction. Then the impact is multiplied by the alignment of other people around you.A key toward success is selecting targets with high impact, spreading its positive effect through the entire project. This multiplying effect requires a high amount of energy in early stages (activation energy).  The chances to create a significant and direct impact in several areas of any project at once are very low unless your team is big… and many not even then.

So the first risk is the loose of focus and its consequence is a reduced impact of the work done.

2.- Working in a Free Software community is one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in my life. I feel appreciated. My contributions counts. Many people is aware of them. I can work to make them more noticeable. The more popular my contributions become, the more people express me gratitude. The more relevant I become, the more people listen and interact with me…This process is a spiral that you can learn how to climb in an effective way after some years. We end up learning how to play the game.When you are a long term contributor and you are in charge of a key part of a project this is exactly what might happen. You arrive to the top of the pyramid, which is a comfortable zone. Too comfortable sometimes.

If internal and external balanced forces are not applied, like competition, an adequate professional environment, external pressure/challenges… even the best professional can become too pleasant.Reward can become a strong drug. It might elevate you in a bubble that, in the mid term, might have a direct and negative impact in the quality of the work you deliver. This is specially true for engineers/contributors that lead significant areas of a community project in which there are not enough contributors to create quality assurance procedures. Or are not applied to the leaders.

The second risk is the lose of “self demand” and its consequence is the reduction of quality of your work.In my case, changing responsibilities and working environments every few years have helped me. I am not sure to what extend though. Others should judge it, I assume.

Building innovation nodes through Free Software Communities (VI): organization

Please consider reading previous post of the Building innovation nodes through Free Software Communities  series:
This project must have a legal entity that support the activity it will generate. That legal entity must be as flexible as possible. In Spain, for example, it would probably be an Association formed initially by legalized Local Free Software Communities (LFSC). When new ones get a minimum state of maturity, they will be invited to join the association as members.

Each Association would name a representative for this project. The Association’s Assembly then will be formed by representatives of every legal LFSC involved. They would elect a Board, that initially, it would be formed by a President, a Vice-president, a Treasurer and a Secretary.

This Association will represent the project from a legal, economic and “political” point of view. Its basic role is to coordinate efforts and to make the project sustainable, keeping the independence of every member.

The Assembly would organize itself in groups taking care of different tasks. Several groups should be created:

  1. Activities coordination group: All the activities, schedule and organization details will be coordinated y this group. The schedule is should be presented to the Board for approval and every year, a report should be made to the General Assembly.
  2. Sustainability group: this group will take care of the sustainability of the project, specially the economic side.
  3. I recommend to organize another two groups. One specialized in promo actions and another one that help the Board in dealing with administrative tasks, taxes, etc.
Sponsors and local entities should be invited to join these working groups so they become part of the project building relations with Local Free Software Communities.

Building innovation nodes through Free Software Communities (V): services

Since this is the fifth post of the Building Innovation Nodes Through Free Software Communities, I strongly recommend you to read the previous four (I, II, III and IV)
This post will explain my ideas about what are the basic services that the initiative should provide so Local Free Software Communities (LFSC) and local player might organize activities that allow the project to be successful.

As enumerated in the second post of the series, the basic services that should be provided by the project to its members can be divided in six major areas:

  1. Administrative.
  2. Legal.
  3. Financial and accounting.
  4. Marketing and communication.
  5. Business development.
  6. Facilities maintenance and management.
The rest of the activities needed will be developed by participants, that is LFSC members, the catalyst organization or local players.

1.- Administrative

The administrative service can be divided in the following way:

  1. Administrative services related with the project itself.
  2. Administrative services targeting Local Free Software Communities.
  3. All of the above.
1.1.- Administrative services related with the project itself
  • Board support: as you can read in the Organization section, the project will be managed by a Board, elected from the Assembly. This Board will need administrative support.
  • Contact/agenda management for project representatives.
  • Accommodation management for activities organized within the project.
1.2.- Administrative services targeting Local Free Software Communities.
 
LFSC legalization: help LFSC that want to become part of the project in the near future with the basic administrative work in order for them to become a legal entity.

1.3.- Administrative services for both, the project and every LFSC participant

  • Regular post management: notifications, legal papers and material shipment, this is, regular post service is one of those difficult area to manage when you are a distributed organization where board members chance quiet often.
  • Membership management: the management of current and new members is a tedious task that every organization must put resources on. Having an administrative service can help them to become more efficient, specially to those where a each member has to make a yearly quota.
2.- Legal

The basic legal services needed are:

  • Advice about basic legal aspects related with statutes and everyday decisions and operations for any LFSC and the project itself.
  • Basic legal advice about licensing.
  • Legalization of LFSC.
  • Institutional agreements.
  • Legal advice related with funding.
3.- Financial and accounting
This service should be given to the project itself and for every project member:
  • Accounting support.
  • Budget and economic reports. Costs control.
  • Advice in financial decision and taxes.
4.- Marketing and communication
  • LFSC and Project activities promotion in mainstream and social media.
  • Project press releases and announcements.
  • Local marketing actions support.
5.- Business development

Since the project will need to look for funds in order to grow, business development activities become a key part. The project will provide a service in this area that support participants the following areas:

  • Relation with local agents/players.
  • Sponsorship management support.

In another article I will talk about the resources needed to lauch the project and make it sustainable.

6.- Facilities maintenance and management
 
The facilities assigned to the project will be when the activities take place. The project will provide the following services:
  • Facilities management.
  • Security.
  • Material manage, storage and control.
  • Activities support.
  • Connectivity.
and others needed to organize and support the activities defined by participants.

Building innovation nodes through Free Software Communities (IV): localization/facilities

Please keep in mind that this is the fourth of a series of post. Please read previous ones ( I, II and III) before the following.
The venue is very important in order to be successful. I suggest to launch the project in a city with the following characteristics:
  • Big not not too much, so activities created have a global impact in the city. 
  • With at least one big University with Computers Science and Engineering/Science Faculties. This will ensure potential contributors.
  • Well communicated with bigger cities so activities organized can attract visitors from those cities.
  • With an international airport so it is easy for the Global Free Software Communities (GFSC) to celebrate promotional and technical activities with foreign speakers and attendees.
The facilities are a key element in order to have success. Some of the most relevant characteristics that the venue must have are: 
  • Close to the city center, well communicated with the airport or train station (if there is international airport) and close to the University if possible.
  • Close to hotels, hostels or other accommodations. It is important to have cheap accommodation around the facilities.
  • Some kind of garden or natural area where to talk comfortably outdoors.
  • Cafeterias, bars and restaurants must be close to the facilities.
  • Facilities must have, at least:
    • A room for conferences up to 75 – 100 people.
    • High quality Internet connection. Wifi in the area and outside.
    • AC Plugs.
    • A meeting room.
    • A computer lab or a room prepared for plugging laptops.
    • A networking area with some tables.
    • Stock
To be successful, the place must have a comfortable atmosphere. It must be a quiet but informal. It must promote interaction but also intimacy. 
Go back to the description post.

Building innovation nodes through Free Software Communities (III): participants

This is the third post of this serie. Please read the first two (I and II) before reading this one.
A.- Participants

As mentioned in the previous post, the participants in a project like the one we are describing can be organized in three different groups:

1.- Source
There are the organizations which represent the innovation source, that is, Local Free Software Communities (LFSC from now on).

Mature Global Free Software Communities (GFSC) are organizing more and more local groups, specially in non-English speaking countries since people in general like to related to each other in their native language. But in most cases those local groups are not configured as legal entities. When they are, most of the times there is no legal relation with the matrix, at least, so they can operate as legal representatives of the GFSC in its country.

Due to law differences, in each country that relation implies different rights and duties, so there no single and simple way of building that relation. But is an achievable problem in most cases. In KDE we created a precedent with the agreement with KDE Spain (link). we are using this initiative as experiment in order to replicate it with more LFSC.

This project should have, as one of its major goals, to help local groups:

  • To become legal entities, so they can grow and mature, by being able to relate to other organizations, not just its matrix.
  • To develop activities that allow them to increase the number of local contributors and the software use by local players.
2.- Catalyst
The Catalyst is the organization that will put the initial effort to attract local communities to the project. Ideally, it’ll will have the initial resources and the localization needed to launch the project. Its major initial goals will be:
  • To coordinate the initial steps and prepare everything for the LFSCs to take command of the project when the Assembly is formed.
  • To promote interactions and networking among LFSCs and between those and local agents.
  • To do marketing with impact beyond Free Software media.
3.- Local agents
The initially act as receptors of the knowledge transfer generate in Free Software Communities. In a second step, little by little, will generate its own experience and knowledge to LFSC to end up providing them developers, experiences and (hopefully) code. Beside interacting with LFSC, Catalyst will promote interactions among them, so they can learn from each other’s experience.

B.- An example: Spain

Local Free Software Communities

Mi idea is giving this project a try in a certain country. Let’s say Spain. It would kick off in a certain big city and could be replicated to smaller ones. The initial LFSC candidates are:

All of them are legal entities in Spain, regularly organize community events and have ten or more members. They are the perfect starters.

Some other local groups must be also involved in the early steps. They are LFSC groups that are not legal yet, but organize events and are active groups. The project should focus on helping them to become members of the project. By the end of the first year, the goal must be to add another 5-6 local groups to the project with the same rights and duties than founders. Distribution LoCo teams (Fedora, Ubuntu, OpenSuse, Gentoo, Guadalinex, Linex, CentOS, etc.), computer language related groups (Java Hispano, Rails-es, etc.), product oriented communities (Zentyal, LibreOffice-es, Plone-es, LibrePlan, etc.) and other ones like OSGEO-es, FSFe, Mozilla-es, etc. are perfect candidates for these second group.

Catalyst
 

In my mind, the perfect catalyst is a non-profit with many local contacts and visibility or a Public Administration (City Council or Municipality). Last November, I presented this idea to one City Council from a big Spanish City. Other options are being under study.

Local players/agents

The best players to involved at early stages of the project are those that have demonstrated in the past some relation and support to Free Software. The plan is to reduce the culture gap initially. My first candidates would be:

  • Regional/national Association/Federation of Free Software SME.
  • Local college (through its Free Software Office).
  • R&D Institutes with Free Software related experience.