Open Source Vision, Strategy & Execution: The Community Garden Analogy

I’ve been working on a white paper series about open source culture and projects based on my experience with at Dell with Crowbar and OpenStack.  I’m hoping to show off the first result of that collaboration soon, until then I’m glad to share some ideas that we’ve been throwing around to help explain the fundamental shift that we see taking place in the technology community.

It’s obvious that executing a collaborative open source project is fundamentally different than a either a licensed or an open single contributor project.

However, we have yet to describe the culture, process and success criteria needed to drive a collaborative open source project.

I am not saying that projects are not being successful – there are many great examples (OpenStack, CloudFoundry, Apache). My point is that we I do not have articulated the vision, strategy or execution needed for people grounded in traditional software delivery to understand why these projects are different and how to navigate the differences. Lack of alignment within the lead delivery team can be highly disruptive to the project.

Community gardening is all about people working together to produce something tangible that is bigger than they could accomplish individually. Each participant has an expectation of return – a garden is not a charity, it must produce; however, there is a community drive rewards a garden wide focus.

  • You could just pull weeds from your plot, but doing extra means that the garden as a whole will prosper.
  • Fixing the fence keeps the “MQ” rabbits out of your carrots and your neighbors lettuce
  • The person growing the mint also keeps out the ants and so helps the entire garden.
  • The oddball that wants inverted chinese radishes may also be an expert vermiculturist who nurtures the whole worm population as a side interest
  • While everyone may want tomatoes, they may not want to same variety or amount. You may want a small batch of heirlooms for your salad while someone making pasta sauce wants

For a community garden, like an open source project, the specific objectives of the participants do not have to be identical for the garden to florish. In fact, the very diversity of intent is what makes the garden successful. A single gardener may only plant watermelons and corn, but the community group will likely have a complete crop.

But the analogy does not end with the gardeners. A community garden is also strengthened by the cooks and dinners who enjoy the food because they are the audience.

This post was designed to plant some seeds of understanding.  I know it does not get to the meat of the vision, strategy or execution for open source, that will come in future posts.  Specifically, I’m planning to discuss how OpenStack and Crowbar measure up as they near their respective second and first anniversaries.