Saving The Project From Itself

No one wakes up in the morning and says to himself: “Today I’m going to cynically manipulate procedural forms in order to be an irritating obstructionist.” Instead, such actions are often preceded by a semi-paranoid feeling of being shut out of group interactions and decisions. The person feels he is not being taken seriously, or (in the more severe cases) that there is almost a conspiracy against him—that the other project members have decided to form an exclusive club, of which he is not a member. This then justifies, in his mind, taking rules literally and engaging in a formal manipulation of the project’s procedures, in order to make everyone else take him seriously. In extreme cases, the person can even believe that he is fighting a lonely battle to save the project from itself.

— Karl Fogel, Producing Open Source Software

3 thoughts on “Saving The Project From Itself

  1. Hello Gerv,

    I’m not sure I understand your (syndicated) post correctly. However, let me point out first, that the Mozilla project is about people. People like you and me with different views on the world, people living on it etc. What’s being called “obstructionists” here, in fact means people with opinions that differ from the general path the project would like to take. Now, given that each opinion has its own value and should be heard, I am opposed to the term obstructionist per se. If this is indeed about Mozilla, note that each contributor invests a substantial amount of time in this project and (I sincerely hope) this should give him the right for his voice to be heard. Note that “semi-paranoid” suggests that some part of this feeling (to be shut off) is indeed paranoid. But what about the other?

    Assuming you’d give those members a way to voice their concerns, the formal manipulation part should not occur in the first place because why would these people bother to manipulate if they get the feeling that they can voice their concerns in the open? It’s a vicious circle:They don’t get the feeling they are shut out of decision making if you value their opinions. And in order to get to a better consensus, you especially need to listen to the few voices that don’t say “yes” to everything that’s being said. Because it might happen that it’s these voices that really show the substantial problems with a given way of doing things.

    So, saving the project from itself can only be beneficial. When dealing with community, let’s remind ourselves that we’re dealing with ‘people’ in the first place.

    I sincerely hope that my comment isn’t beside the point you wanted to make.

    –Tobias Markus

    • Tobias: I’ve been posting quotes from “Producing Open Source Software”, an excellent book by Karl Fogel, for many months now, although I haven’t posted one recently. They are supposed to be food for thought – not making a particular point about a particular project. If some of them happen to be relevant to things going on in Mozilla at the time, then it’s a coincidence. I selected the quotes I thought were thought-provoking a long time ago and I am going through them in the order they appear in the book.

    • To also comment on some of the things you’ve said: I agree that contributors who have invested a substantial amount of time in the project should be heard; but not everyone who has an opinion meets that criteria. Not everyone with an opinion has done the same amount of thinking about the problem under discussion, or has taken account of an equally wide range of customer needs or resource constraints.

      Mozilla actually doesn’t have much formal decision-making machinery. This has pros and cons; one of the pros is that the sort of problem this quote refers to doesn’t happen very much in Mozilla. One of the cons is that it’s sometimes hard to work out who makes decisions and how, and it’s sometimes hard to get to a decision at all.