Final Thoughts - Joomla Organizational Restructure

Posted by Michael Babker on Friday, March 27, 2015

Over the course of Joomla's organizational restructure chats, I've been accused of a lot of things, most likely rightfully so.  Anywhere from resisting change to hurting progress, and things like trolling and making false accusations.  I'm probably guilty of all of the above in some way, so to keep myself from being an issue, these are going to be my last words on the topic.

What are we aiming to accomplish?

Something that was missing last year when the proposals "leaked" (a term some of the leadership has used to describe how some of us elected to inform our teams of the proposal before it was open for full public review) was a defined list of what we wanted to actually accomplish.  This is more clearly addressed this time around in the "Why do we want to see a new structure and methodology?" section of the 40+ page document.  The list of items there does in some ways define what we actually aim to accomplish with a top-down restructuring of the organization.

The proposal goes a long way in addressing those items.  I'm glad to see there is progress.  However, I don't see the way the proposal chooses to address many items as being "right" or viable.  In fact, many of them are huge gambles based on human reaction and reception.  Is giving the community the ability to elect leadership (through something like 4 levels of elected team leads and members) going to automatically resolve the trust issues that exist between community and leadership members?  I say no, especially if the same people continue to be involved somewhere in the system.  I'd say the trust issues are not as much structure issues as individual personality and ego problems.

Another item specifically that seems to read well on paper but is questionable (for me) in the execution regards the "No clear plan for cross-team coordination" point in the list.  Frankly, I don't see how this structure enables it.  I see an overly complex structure being required for cross team collaboration.  If I am a member of the Framework Team (assuming one gets created, the proposal requires three team members and myself and George are the only two active members) and require marketing assistance for an upcoming release, I must coordinate this with my team leader, who coordinates this with the Production Department's coordination team, who takes this to the Marketing Department's coordination team, who then figures out which of their teams receives the task and informs them of the request.  At the team leader and team member level, there is not a clear plan for cross-team coordination.  If anything, the departments working in silos seems to be encouraged.  Which, according to some commentary, exists today with the CLT/PLT/OSM structure.  What really changes?

A shift in project culture

In reality we are all part of the same organization - Open Source Matters Inc. We all volunteer for this organization - Open Source Matters, Inc. And this has always been the case.

The above quote represents a major shift in the culture of the project.  As I mentioned on the forum thread for discussing this, I don't see myself as a contributor to Open Source Matters, Inc. and I'm fairly sure many people feel the same way.  I view myself as a contributor to Joomla, the FOSS project which OSM was established to support.  Like it or not, there always has been, and always will be two separate entities within the Joomla project; the FOSS project itself (Joomla) and the legal organization owning the copyrights and trademarks and providing the legal and financial support to the FOSS project (OSM).  The way the proposal is presented, everything becomes a single organization.  I see this as trying to mix oil and water.

There are two entities.  Open Source Matters, Inc. and Joomla have two different missions and purposes by design and nature.  Joomla's mission "is to provide a flexible platform for digital publishing and collaboration" and strangely enough the same mission statement and values are echoed (and always have been) on the Open Source Matters website.  This to me infers that there is not a recognition of there being separate entities.  Everyone views the entire organization as one structure and has blurred the lines between what each organization is responsible for.

I personally see no issue with there continuing to be separate entities.  I'd actually encourage it.  It enables Open Source Matters to continue to focus on its assumed mission and purpose (assumed since there isn't a clear mission statement separate from the Joomla project's) while enabling the Joomla project to do the same.  I don't see an issue with there being a structure where the two entities are working alongside and providing support to each other.  This relationship works best when the members and directors of the board of Open Source Matters are active members of the Joomla project as well, but I would say this should not be a requirement to be a member of the former group.  There are some who feel that the board of Open Source Matters represents the Joomla project and as such should be elected by the project's community, however I would argue at this point that if OSM is treated as a separate organization to Joomla that this is not required and that the board could utilize whatever structure they felt would enable them to best execute their mssion and be in compliance with the laws of whatever state they are incorporated in (presently New York).

Project priorities

A lot of time and effort has gone into analyizing the project's leadership and team structures, crafting proposals for a revised structure, presenting it to the teams and community of Joomla, and discussing it.  By some accounts there have been teams and individuals looking at this for at least 2-3 years.  The document goes a long way to establishing and defining a structure in an environment where one exists very loosely if at all.  However, I don't see where this proposal puts any focus on what I feel the project's number one priority should be; production of its software (isn't Joomla's mission to create a software platform?) and support mechanisms surrounding it.  The proposal and the time and effort spent on it focuses heavily on the number two priority; the community structure and its management.  I think the project's overall focus and priorities are being lost; we are investing more of our resources into the existing community than we are in either expanding our community or supporting the project's software.  I don't have an answer for how this can be addressed; each of the defined departments in the new proposal make up required infrastructure to make the project run.  Something just seems off to me if we have 20 teams to manage the joomla.org site network and a similar number of teams in the Production Department (this is just a guess/assumption, I didn't take the time to count the number of proposed teams in each department).

How do we move forward?

I really don't know.  The only thing that feels certain to me is that as presented, this is not it.  There are a lot of potential successes in this proposal if the right attitude is taken by those involved.  Likewise, there is a large bet placed on this structure and how it enables the project to effectively move forward.  A change in structure does not automatically mean a change in the culture or the philosophies of those who have been involved.  What if the enacted proposal falls flat and does not address legitimate concerns as we feel it will, such as burning out project contributors or being viewed as a toxic project to contribute to?  The Joomla project has grown too big to try any kind of experiment with its full user base and community; any action must we well thought out and executed, be it a change in the strategy that delivers the software to how the community is organized.  Sweeping change is also extremely dangerous in a project this size and to be properly implemented it would have to be a slow shift (another 1-2 years easily).  How much time will we lose to focusing on the implementation of this (or any) large scale change that could be invested in marketing the project beyond our existing community, discussing a roadmap for the next major versions of the existing software platforms, or one of a dozen or so active projects on any given day to in some form improve the Joomla project and community?

Discussion

As I've accused some of being, at this point I really don't think I have anything left to discuss or a willingness to jump into another round of heated chat.  In between sarcastic and trolling tweets and thought through questions posted to the forum, I've offered my opinions on the matter and why I've taken the stance I have.  Some of the feedback has caused me to question whether a discussion is willing to be had, some of it has validated my concerns and not being too far off the beaten path.  Some commentary has made me feel like I've alienated others because of my perceptions, some of it has made me question whether my own stances are valid.  Either way, I feel like I can only become the broken record I've accused others of being, so now it's time for me to gracefully bow out of the discussion.