Home Programming The product strategy to open supply communities

The product strategy to open supply communities

The product strategy to open supply communities


Open-source communities, just like physical products or software applications, can be viewed and managed with a product-oriented approach. In fact, product management principles and strategies can better serve both the communities that support open-source software (OSS) projects and the businesses that depend on them.

Let’s get one thing clear before we start: OSS communities are made up of humans—generally passionate, devoted humans at that—and should never be thought of as commodities. Rather, because they aren’t commodities, I argue that OSS community management deserves the same intentionality your organization shows to product management. A business wouldn’t take its product development for granted, so why would you neglect the OSS community that’s fundamental to the project’s very existence?

The world runs on open source technology, but open source communities notoriously face challenges ranging from resource constraints, governance issues, and a dependence on volunteerism, which itself is dependent upon individual passions and constrained time commitments. Executing open source technology well takes strategy—and a different mindset. To be effective, we need to think of it more like a product—dare I say, business—if we hope to achieve an open-source community’s goals..

My career has spanned both product management and engineering, often in an entrepreneurial setting where everyone is building something from nothing. Throughout it all, open source has been at the center. The products that my colleagues and I created wouldn’t exist without the extensive use of open source software. Now at Sauce Labs (whose founders are also the Selenium creators), open source is even more relevant to the work I do every day.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned on my journey, it’s that open-source projects and the companies that depend on them fail to grow if they lack good product management principles and don’t balance business interests with community stakeholders. We don’t require additional contributors, features, or bug reports; instead, what we need is alignment in processes and procedures. This means we need strong and streamlined product management practices and the right product market fit in place in order to accommodate the duality of success in both practices.

Viewing a community as a product in the context of software development means treating the community surrounding a product, such as users, contributors, and supporters, as if it were a product itself (again, not a commodity!). This perspective focuses on intentionally developing a community so that it satisfies customer needs.. The journey starts by understanding product-market fit.

What is product market fit?

Whereas particular definitions of ”product market match” (PMF) range, the idea is the diploma to which a product satisfies the wants and preferences of a goal market. Product managers know this effectively; we spend numerous hours studying tales from firms which have reached this milestone and, sadly, much more headlines about these that don’t. Let’s break this definition down:

The market

In an open-source context, the market is the group of people that use the code and care sufficient about your undertaking to contribute extra code, concepts, characteristic requests, testing, translations, bugs, safety audits, weblog posts, and extra. It may be fairly difficult to determine, however accessible market analysis needs to be used always.

For instance, developer surveys from GitLab, Stack Overflow, and others present nice perception into the several types of developer teams and their wants. Much like a product, you must frequently re-evaluate the market you use in to know if that market is altering or evolving.

The group is extremely essential as a result of these are the individuals who will contribute to the undertaking indirectly (a minimum of a small subset will). We have a look at group as a technique to give again and provides ahead. What we imply by that is contributions from the person group play an indispensable position within the success of open supply tasks, permitting them to repeatedly evolve, stay related, and serve a wider viewers. It fosters collaboration, innovation, and community-driven growth. Serving the open supply group and constructing upon it implies that contributions might be user-centric, supply worth, implement suggestions and iteration, maximize progress methods, and monetize on long-term sustainability. In some ways, this can be a symbiotic journey; an OSS group could make a enterprise’ PMF extra exact, and the enterprise could make the OSS group stronger due to it.

Generally the customers of the undertaking are very totally different from these with the experience or want to contribute again, that means the customers of the software program could have totally different backgrounds, abilities, or motivations in comparison with those that actively take part within the growth of the software program. This can be a sticky scenario to be in since you is perhaps compelled to go down the trail of discovering “mercenary programmers” to maintain the undertaking in movement. That is one other space to maintain prime of thoughts and re-evaluate repeatedly; if the person group is just not naturally contributing to the undertaking, undertaking leaders have to usually consider the choices and methods for protecting the undertaking alive and progressing. It is essential to contemplate whether or not paid builders or various technique of assist are essential to maintain the undertaking over time.

The product

The “product” is basically the answer you’ve gotten created to unravel an issue for a gaggle of customers in your market. My favourite strategy (and the strategy of the greatest product firms) to discovering the correct product is to consider it based mostly on 4 key threat elements:

  1. Worth – Will prospects discover sufficient worth in my resolution to decide on it?
  2. Usable – How straightforward is it to make use of my product?
  3. Viable – Can I afford to construct the product?
  4. Possible – Do I possess the abilities and expertise to construct it?

This is how one can implement the important thing ideas that profitable product firms use in your open-source undertaking; Cal.com is a superb instance of an open supply undertaking that builds with a PMF targeted strategy. Ask your self these questions, and also you’ll uncover the solutions you must transfer ahead. Don’t fear, you don’t should be a product supervisor with a long time of expertise to get this proper:


  • What’s your very best buyer profile and persona?
  • Who’s the choice maker (it won’t be the developer)?
  • What drawback do you resolve?
  • Who’s the competitors? How do you differentiate your self?


  • How straightforward is it to onboard? What’s the time-to-value on your undertaking?
  • What friction factors exist within the workflow of your product? Are you aware?
  • How do you get suggestions from customers?


  • At a product firm, you’re solely viable when you can afford to pay individuals to construct your product. The equal is constructing a group in OSS.
  • How do you propose to construct the group? Is what you’re constructing attention-grabbing sufficient to construct a group round? Will your personas discover it attention-grabbing to contribute to?
  • Are you planning on constructing your group from the workers of an organization?

That is the place a enterprise mannequin turns into important, and lots of firms select between fashions such because the Purple Hat mannequin or open supply managed providers.


  • Associated to the group, do the abilities of your goal persona match those that have to contribute to your device?
    • For instance, we have noticed cases of GenAI tasks that do not align correctly, the place the device is created by information scientists however for builders.

Open-source expertise is altering quickly because of the collaborative nature of those tasks, elevated monetary assist, market demand, and the flexibility to adapt shortly to rising applied sciences and altering circumstances. Amid all these modifications (or maybe due to them), open-source undertaking upkeep charges are in steep decline, and the way forward for open supply is at a crossroads.

We have to underscore the concept profitable open-source communities require planning, group, consideration to person wants, and ongoing enchancment, much like the way in which a product is developed and refined. Open supply performs a central position in enterprise, however companies are taking actions which are reshaping the dynamics of this relationship. As a consequence of numerous conflicting pursuits and undertaking licensing intrigue (manner an excessive amount of to get into right here), an “Us vs. Them” mentality pervades the discourse round open supply.

Profitable open supply tasks and thriving open-core companies should not mutually unique. The truth is, lots of the most profitable OSS tasks rely on company sponsorship. Out of context, it’d sound callous to undertake a product supervisor’s mindset to an open-source undertaking made up of the collective efforts of passionate people.

Nevertheless it’s my perception that maintainers who align the pursuits of each group and enterprise are those who construct lots of the most sustainable, enduring tasks. You are not a sellout, you’re a buy-in.



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