Open Source Goal Setting

A soccer goal with a gorgeous snow-capped mountain backdrop.

(This is the third post in our Open Source At Large series.)

Open source is a strategic tool, not an end in itself. It is the stone in your stone soup. You don’t eat it ā€” it’s just the invitation.

You reach for open source to create effects that will support your broader strategy. We’ve talked to dozens of clients about why they invest in open source, and the reasons tend to be fundamental and long-term: to achieve a cultural change in their technical organization, to influence a market’s direction, to recast relationships with partners, etc. Direct revenue is rarely the main goal of open source investment, even for for-profit businesses. Rather, open source is used to create an environment in which revenue-generating activities can thrive.

Below is a checklist, or rather a provocation list. It’s meant to help you answer the question “What effects do we most want from our open source investment?”

Treat this list as a menu, not a buffet. Pick three items and make them your high priority targets. Focus on effects that connect best to your strategy, and, ultimately, to your organization’s mission. You need to know where you want to go before you can chart a course to get there. We’ve broken the goals into three categories, but you can mix and match across or within categories as you please.

Development and Collaboration

  • Expand or amplify developer base
  • Gain market insight
  • Gain or maintain insight in a particular technical domain
  • Influence a technical domain
  • Create a framework for partner collaboration
  • Lead a standardization effort
  • Disrupt an incumbent, hold off insurgents

External Positioning

  • Ease customer fears of vendor lock-in
  • Deepen engagement with users, create more paths for engagement
  • Transparency for customers and partners
  • Establish a basis for product reputation
  • Organizational branding and credibility
  • Product branding and credibility

Internal or Structural Change

  • Improve internal collaboration (cross-individual or cross-departmental)
  • Create opportunities for internal mobility
  • Expand or reshape developer hiring pool
  • Improve morale and retention
  • Create flow-paths for bottom-up innovation
  • Improve and maintain open source capabilities (technical and social)

Again, we emphasize the importance of picking just a few. Winnowing down to just the most important goals is usually illuminating, because it forces your organization to articulate what it’s really after. Every item on the menu might look inviting, and any of them can be pursued opportunistically, but a strategy that tries to chase all these goals at once will go nowhere.

If you have goals for open source investment that don’t appear on this list, we’d love to hear them. The list was built up over years of experience, and we generally find that we can map from it to the specifics of a particular client’s or project’s needs ā€” most open source dreams appear somewhere on this list. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be surprised, and we’re always happy when we are.

Thanks to Microsoft for sponsoring the Open Source At Large blog series.

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