For every company, this is where the individualized decisions begin. The process can start from the top down with buy-in from top management or from the bottom up where pockets of developers have been using open source and want to see it formalized. It can manifest itself as a desire to create guidance around legal issues and security, or it can start as a grassroots effort that matures and attracts the attention of corporate leaders. It can even start with a forward-thinking CEO or CTO who champions the cause to drive the company forward and add value by deepening its commitment to open source. That kind of consensus and executive support will be essential to gain traction and move the project forward.
So where do you start your open source program office journey? Here are some critical steps to follow:
1. Find a leader
Regardless of how your planning starts, it’s important to find the right leader to help develop and then run the fledgling program office inside a company. The top candidate will have a detailed understanding about how open source works, along with some technical chops from working as a developer, contributor, or committer on existing open source projects. They should have a broad understanding of your company’s business along with the business acumen and management skills to help inform strategy and plan across business units. And they also need to be sociable so they can convey enthusiasm, knowledge, and information to others and help them understand how the open source initiative is going to transform, change, and improve things for the company. The head of the program office needs to be able to talk with people about the deep technology, but they don’t have to know the ins and outs of every technology at play because there are just too many to master.
In the spirit of open source collaboration, a plethora of online resources exists to help find the best candidates, including detailed sample job description postings for open source program managers and other leaders from a variety of companies that established such roles, including Capital One, Box, VMware, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo.
2. Define your operations
The budget, staffing, and technology tools and systems needed by a new program office are also key issues to resolve in establishing its operations. Some companies begin with a part-time manager, but learn they will only get so far with that approach. Making the position someone’s full-time job is a solid step to get the program off the ground, along with a small support staff to keep it nimble.
If a program office is too large, there’s a danger it can become too centralized. You want to keep developers and open source communities within the company in the process as much as possible. Outsized offices allow others to defer issues to the program office rather than resolving them on their own.
An example of a well-defined open source program office is one that drives needed policy, processes and tools, while also operating with a mantra of eliminating friction where it is found, using tools to automate what can be streamlined, and delegating tasks which need to be accomplished. We’ll cover more specifics on how to set policies and processes in the sections below.
A program office must offer structured policies and processes but also remain flexible. When open source users and contributors need help, the office operates more like a consultancy, providing guidance while still allowing employees to make individual or group business decisions relating to their work. Ultimately, the goal is to establish the right balance of duties and responsibilities to meet the needs of your company and its open source users.
3. Seek feedback and buy-in
Establishing an open source program office isn’t something that should be done in a vacuum. Since it will have a central role in your business, creating it successfully will require open and honest input and feedback from all involved parties inside enterprises. Making sure that everyone from the executives to the developers have a say in its creation will help give the the efforts broad-based support.