Communities Dynamics – Lead or Manage

One of the reasons I love social media, especially Twitter, is if you’ve built up enough professional credibility (and sometimes even if you haven’t), you can call on your network of contacts – your personal zeitgeist if you will – to help clarify your thinking on topics you find interesting or important.

I recently did this when I posed a question to my Twitter stream asking “What if your ‘community’ thinks it’s a proj mgmt. space primarily, & not a community? How to fix?”. This question came about from some thinking and early results we are seeing on Forge.mil. I realized that while the development community building there was starting to take shape, there is still a prevalent feeling of the space as primarily a project management environment, not a DoD-wide community where sharing and collaboration on technology should occur in addition to the project management activity.

As I had hoped, I received some interesting responses from some of my Twitter followers, and it crystalized my thinking about my role as a community ‘manager’ versus the community’s need for a ‘leader’. Jack Repenning, CollabNet CTO, ‘innersourcing‘ specialist, and original SVN project member noted: “Vendors want a “manager.” Developers want a “leader.” To this, my colleague Carey O’Brien, another CollabNet Community Manager, added: “Communities benefit from ‘managers’ who spotlight and encourage ‘leaders’ to drive the direction and value of the community”. By the way, I did receive a couple of other good responses – I chose to highlight these from the CollabNet folks not out of company loyalty, but because I believe the responses were a good representation of the points I was trying to make.

The good news, in the case of Forge.mil, is I’ve already started to go down this path, not only with an internal person at DISA who is my functional equivalent in community management, but also by trying to identify other internal ‘champions’ within DoD who can help drive this vision forward. It is important to remember these ‘leaders’ are often times not senior people within your target community. As Jack noted to me privately, developers need to have someone with ‘street cred’ to follow, and most often, that is someone who is an actual contributor to the project(s) that are part of the community. I can confirm from previous community experience that he’s 100% correct on that fact. I saw that proven over and over again within internal communities at Motorola & Sun. Identifying these leaders also helps a community manager focus on other important aspects of their job, as illustrated by David Kinard in a recent blog post: “<strongA community manager is far more than just content publishing and functional oversight. It is hospitality incarnate. It is an essential and consistent human element ensuring that all the pieces fit together.

So, what’s my point here? A lot of companies who are new to the Open Source or community space think that just hiring a community ‘manager’ will immediately give them the same benefits of community that are visible in projects such as the Linux kernel or Apache efforts. Those same companies are also sorely disappointed when ‘community’ or visible ROI doesn’t magically appear overnight. Additionally, a lot of those companies assume that just because a community manager is present, they don’t need to empower community leaders to assist the manager in driving the effort forward. The bottom line: You need both leaders and managers within a successful community to derive all the benefits it has to offer.

Posted in TeamForge

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