Who are the real heroes of your OSS project? It might not be who you think!

When I first left uni with my freshly minted degrees, whenever I thought of salespeople, I had an image something like the one below in my head.

This image might still be true if you’re on the hunt for a used clunker. However, nothing could be further from the truth for the salespeople that make OSS projects happen.

In fact, I prefer to think of these people as the rainmakers, the ones who bring the rain that allows the farmers to tend their crops. The ones who feed and sustain an entire village.

Without the OSS rainmakers, we wouldn’t have the OSS projects to work on. The entire village of architects, developers, trainers, testers, analysts, project admins and more are all sustained by the person who was able to create a compelling OSS solution (or vision) that solved a worthwhile problem (or problems).

The interesting thing here is that the rainmakers are not even necessarily salespeople employed by suppliers. Often, these are the internal people who raise the business case that allows suppliers to bid for the work.

Nassim Taleb says, “I still don’t know what leads to ‘success’. But I know what leads to insuccess: A temperament of complaint, the mentality of permanent victimhood, and the collective and individual propensity for lamentation.”

If you’ve worked in or around OSS, you’ll know that there are a lot of people who complain about the problems with the status quo and can find a million reasons – constraints or blockers – that prevent a better solution from being initiated. We all know there are challenges, complexity, volatility, risks, unknowns and other reasons why it would be safer to remain with the status quo (the pain of same is less than the pain of change). We know that there will be many sceptics, often key sponsors or stakeholders, who have experienced project failure before and are highly dubious that “better” can be achieved.

Many people just don’t trust OSS project implementations (and that even includes the people who are responsible for implementing – the ones who use advanced procrastination techniques such as endless documentation to compensate for the fear of being tarred with the brush of an unsuccessful implementation).

Steven Covey suggests that there are 7 taxes arising from distrust:

  1. Redundancy: In low-trust environments, work often gets duplicated as people hesitate to rely on others. This leads to inefficiency
  2. Bureaucracy: Distrust leads to more rules, regulations, and approval layers, slowing down processes
  3. Politics: When trust is low, political games and internal battles consume a lot of energy
  4. Disengagement: Employees become disengaged when they don’t trust their leaders or colleagues, affecting productivity
  5. Turnover: High levels of distrust often lead to higher employee turnover
  6. Churn: This refers to the loss of stakeholder trust, possibly leading to loss of clients or customers
  7. Fraud: In a low-trust environment, the likelihood of fraudulent activities increases, thus increasing the prior 6 taxes

As a result, we often have a situation of information overload, but implementation underload.

The OSS rainmakers aren’t complainers. They certainly aren’t victims. By contrast, they have a few outstanding characteristics:

  1. They are doers
  2. They can not only see the problem (or problems) but can really comprehend the contributing factors
  3. They can create a vision of a transformed future (and often the steps / solutions required to make the transformation)
  4. They can inspire others to join them on the journey of transformation, even many of the initial naysayers
    This is particularly true when it comes to inspiring sponsors as they often have many other compelling projects that they could choose the fund ahead of the OSS projects. It generally requires business, operations and technical savvy to craft a case powerful enough to trigger an OSS project against the backdrop of all the constraints and laments mentioned above
  5. They have the energy to overcome the inertia, pushback and sometimes even the political ramifications conspiring against investing in OSS projects

Whilst I’ve seen many heroic actions by “villagers” to keep the village (i.e. project) running and everyone else sustained, it is the rainmakers who are the real heroes. They’re the ones who overcome all the obstacles and get the projects started.

It’s to the rainmakers that I’d like to send a big shout-out. Without you, I would not be passionate about OSS and there would be no Passionate About OSS (the company). Thank you! You’re certainly not the stereotyped used-car salesperson!


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