The worst job in OSS?

I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day you bet on people, not on strategies.”
Larry Bossidy.

In a recent post, I spoke of the challenge in getting the right balance between two scarce assets, customers and human resources.

This got me thinking about how tough it is for organisations in the OSS industry to retain some form of balance on the resourcing side.

In other industries, if you win a swag of new customers but don’t have adequate resourcing, you can simply go to market and hire new ones or contract them in to meet resourcing spikes. In most industries, there is usually a wealth of talent with skill-sets that are transferable to your needs.

Unfortunately in the OSS industry, whilst outside experts will have transferable skills, it will still take them months to become proficient at a particular vendor’s solution. Similarly, the OSS market is so fragmented that only a select few vendors are ever able to find their unique proficiencies outside the confines of their own organisations (ie available on the market, not on the payroll).

Resourcing is one of the toughest jobs in OSS for a number of reasons:

  1. If they’re not in your organisation, you’re going to have to plan how to manufacture experts via your apprenticeship program, with new starters likely to take somewhere between 6 and 24+ months in the knowledge transfer factory
  2. That means you have to predict your required resource load roughly 6 months in advance
  3. These predictions need to take into account the number and size of new projects / products, the number and size of lost customers, the number of defections / resignations / retirements, which particular skill-set mix will you require, which locations will the resources be required in and many more factors
  4. It would be ideal to have great bench-strength across all skill-sets that are ready to go for any future ramp-up, but we all know about the executive pressures that prevail with regards to the funding of head-count, especially under-utilised resources
  5. If a talented resource does leave, their replacement is unlikely to be even nearly as efficient, in the short-term at least

So, what to do? There are two initiatives that spring to mind:

  1. Devise a strategy that builds up a pool of resources with skills in your solution without needing to have them on your payroll. This could be through the use of associates or third-party organisations, but a better model is to build a strategic advantage through your external training programs
  2. Develop an employee retention program to ensure that talented resources don’t want to leave. Easier said than done, but at least having a proactive plan in place is better than just reacting when valuable staff signal an intention to depart

Do you have any stratagems to ease these resource pressures on OSS executives and internal resourcing staff?

Do you think that resourcing is the worst job in OSS? There are probably many others that come close, including being the Operations Director when multiple customers are screaming at you (probably caused by a dearth of skilled resources being assigned to each) and you have to jump from customer to customer, from bushfire to bushfire. I’m sure you all have some wonderfully horrendous stories to share.

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