An open letter to the Joomla Community

I have been involved with Joomla since 2005, both locally in Sweden and Internationally. For the last couple of years as a board member of OSM. Now I’m the President of Open Source Matters, Inc. I have owned a web agency for 12 years. We make web solutions for our clients on Joomla, we offer training and support, as well as develop extensions that are listed on the JED. So, I know a lot of the different aspects of Joomla, both from a volunteer perspective, from an agency perspective, from a leader perspective, and from a community perspective.

I’ve always supported Joomla in good times and in bad times over the years. I have had days when I have been frustrated as **** and then gratefully reminded that I have a full life outside the Joomla Community to balance me out. Some days I’m just purely happy because volunteering my time to Joomla, gives me so much energy that I can go on for days dedicating my time to something that is bigger than me. I am sure that I’m not alone in feeling this way.

I have often expressed these things that frustrates me about the current structure: how ineffectively we do our work (teams that needs liaisons from all LTs is one example) and spend endless volunteer time doing less important tasks (trying to find out what has previously been done or who would know and how can I contact that person.) And how we don’t have a vision and goals that everyone in the our community is infused by.

What makes me sad is that it take so little effort to treat each other poorly and without respect. We see it everyday in forums, in social media or face to face. So please tell me what is so bad with wanting to change some of our culture, if it means that we will change our behavior! I’m all for being more inclusive, more transparent, and more caring for others and I think that is what was intended by the leadership teams when they voted to begin formulating ideas for this restructuring project.

My dream

I have started to dream of a new way to carry out volunteer work for Joomla as a more professional organisation. I truly believe we can be volunteers with a lot of heart and passion at the same time — these are not opposites. I would like to see:

  • An organisation that has a clear and well defined vision and goals that we all want to work towards. So we all know where we are heading and be bold and brave about it. I would love us to shout it out from the roof tops!
  • A professional organisation that is staffed by volunteers. Just because you are volunteering doesn’t mean that others can’t count on you to do the work you volunteered to do! Professional does not mean paid — but that we have an obligation to fulfill the responsibility that we accepted in a competent and timely manner; in short, do a good job.
  • An organisation that is easy to explain to new people to Joomla and to companies that would like to know the organisation of the project to feel safe and secure in their choice of using the Joomla CMS for their website. And an organisation where the journey from local to global is clear and inclusive.
  • An organisation that can be flexible and innovative; that can evolve to meet market needs for years to come
  • An organisation where we don’t have to duplicate our work or burn out our volunteers.
  • An organization that is grateful, and continually involving, recognizing and nurturing it’s contributors.

A new structure & methodology proposal

At the JAB Leadership Summit last May, the findings of the Governance Working Group about how to solve OSM’s need to create a membership-based election system was presented to the full Leadership as a concept and idea catalog for the leadership. The three leadership teams (LTs) decided to task a Structure Working Group, consisting of three volunteers from each leadership team to come up with an initial conceptual plan just to test whether, if a more comprehensive plan was formed, would the three leadership teams be willing to adopt it. I was very happy to be part of the team representing OSM.

The structure team began its work and finalized a first draft proposal at that Summit. Leadership team members were asked to vote conceptually if they thought we needed to change the structure. A majority — 22 votes for and 4 against (the rest abstained or didn’t vote). So, the three leadership teams again picked 3 representatives to be in the Structure Working Group that has been continuing to work on drafting the proposal since JAB. Some of the 9 representatives changed from the first group and some stayed the same.

The outcome from this team has recently been shared as a feedback document to the Leadership Teams and Working Groups where we are asking for input on the proposal. The proposal is incomplete and constructive feedback are more than welcome.

Community members in these groups are now expressing how they read the proposal and what they don’t like about it. We also see other proposals coming forward as new alternatives. That we are discussing this is all good. That is how it should be. We are in a process of creating something extraordinary within our project that is super important. This also shows us the strong passion we all have for Joomla and our conviction to do the right thing.

So let me tell you a story…

I decided a story might be a more illuminating way for me to express myself. This is the story on how I see the proposed new structure and methodology would work if it is implemented:

Say hi to Lars. Lars lives in Sweden and is fluent in Swedish and English. Lars has been using Joomla for a while for his pet project blogging about MC Bikes. As a professional in-house web developer, at the company Green Feet, Lars develops and maintains their external website as well as their intranet. Both are built with Joomla.

Imagine that it is a year from now and everything in the revised proposal has been fine tuned and implemented. Lars finally decides to meet other Joomla developers in his area and attends a local JUG meeting in Stockholm. Lars meets other passionate Joomla users he hasn’t met before face to face. On the JUG meeting this evening is the topic “How to start volunteering in Joomla”. Lars listens and likes what he hears. He decides that he has the time and energy to spend 5 hours a week and signs up at the Volunteer Portal. Within a couple of days Marc, a “get started mentor,” is contacting Lars to learn more what Lars would like to do when he is volunteering. Lars explains more about his background to Marc and identifies the areas of the Project in which he has an interest. Lars decides that he would like to work on the Administrative Template to make it accessible and more user friendly. That seems to be an area he would enjoy improving.

Marc get Lars in touch with the team that is working with it and Lars get’s the introduction that he needs from Tera, the team leader, and soon starts volunteering for the team. Lars reads up on the documentation which has clear goals about what needs to be achieved to have success in the team, the timeline. He reviews the mockups and reads the user cases and test cases that are the documentation to guide the efforts of the team. The team meets regularly to discuss and decide on improvements. And then Tera facilitates communication with other teams that are working in related areas and may be impacted by this team’s work.

Tera’s role as the team leader is to enable the communication and workflow in the team and if there are any signs of some non-supportive team members or inadequate or inappropriate communication within the team, Tera talks with the member and team to sort it out. If Tera don’t get this worked out she can always get support and coaching from the other team leaders in the department or Mike, the Department Coordinator, could also step in. Sometimes an outsider will be a better mediator. If the behavior is still not changing for the better, Tera can contact the Ombudsman to help mediate. If nothing works there are well defined processes that can take place if the team member needs to be removed from the team or shifted to a role that is a better fit. That is only used as the final resort. If all other actions are not working out.

Lars finds it very rewarding for him personally to contribute to Joomla. He finds friends that share his passion for great UX. He practices his skills as a webdeveloper on things he can implement in his work and in his personal website, and he feels like volunteering is giving him energy, improving his knowledge and skills, and he finds out that he has a lot of fun spending his volunteer time with the community members. Instead of continuing as a volunteer member of the team, he decides that he would like to nominate himself to become a voting team member at the next election.

Tera meets with her fellow team leaders once every two weeks. The meeting is facilitated by Mike, the Department Coordinator. Mike is actively participating in the meeting where all team leaders are briefed on what’s going on in the different teams and if there is anything that needs to be coordinated or decided on that affects several teams. The teams finds out that they have an opportunity to submit a session to an upcoming new conference but they haven’t got the budget allocated for the travel. So they ask Mike, the Department Coordinator, to bring forward a proposal to the board to ask for funding for it. Mike is also asked to bring up an issue that the team leaders consider to be a project wide issue for the Board of Directors to discuss. The meeting minutes are posted on the public website.

Mike has been the Department Coordinator for almost 1 years now and has decided that he would not stand for re-election to the position at the next election. It’s time for someone else to fill this position. The members of his department will need to elect someone else that is nominated for the position instead.

At the next board meeting (the board meets once a month) the board works through the agenda. The agenda is usually a fixed agenda with input from all the departments through a well thought-out process. Everyone is pleased that the meeting was well prepared with background information attached to the agenda and that the motions were well defined. In addition, a lot of discussion had already taken place so the meeting ended on time. At this board meeting, the next years goals of the project was voted on together with the budget. The goals and budget had already been discussed at the previous board meeting when the teams different goals and budget requests had been brought to the board to be negotiated. This was done to prepare for this meeting’s vote. The board then sent the information to the marketing department so they can communicate the goals and budget translated to a couple of languages to be publicly posted so everyone knows what is decided and what we all should work towards. The minutes are posted on the public website.

The end of the story

It’s not a complete picture but my intention is that you got a glimpse of how I can see it happening. A primary point I wish to make is that Joomla today is not like this. There are some areas with in the project that is doing a better job than others to create this feeling. But in general it is very difficult to bring in new people and get them involved, or for newcomers to learn how to get things done. Our processes are inconsistent from team to team which makes it even more complicated. This is the Joomla world I would like to see — more efficient, more organized, more transparent, and easier to keep up with and work within when you only have a few hours to commit.

Thank you all for the feedback so far

I would like to express a heartfelt thank you to everyone that has expressed how you feel and what you read from the proposal documents. I now have a much clearer view on how we see things differently by just seeing it with different glasses on. I would never do anything that will hurt The Joomla! Project. I love Joomla. I see a huge potential for growth. If we just pull together I am convinced that we will make magic.

Board of Directors

Some members of the Joomla Community have pointed out that the power of the board is focused in too small a group. That this small group will run the project. It is very different from what I see in my dream. It’s a new mindset on how the board will function. The board members will not be actively involved in teams as team members as many of the leadership team members are today. As I see it, the board members will focus on coordination and leading the project.

I have been on many boards. And I have never gotten into discussions or decisions about micromanagement as a board member. Normally, a general board gets briefed on bigger issues, discusses strategies that are well prepared and presented by the organisation’s management. I have spent maybe 1–2 days a month on a board position. The time is spent to read up on documentation, have discussions before the meeting and then attend the meeting. If the organisation is well set up with people that love to contribute their time I can’t see why it can’t be done in Joomla.

The big difference will be that the Open Source Matter’s board will be accountable to the members of the organisation. And the members are well defined and have voting rights to choose who will be part of the board. If the members don’t think the board members are doing a good job they can decide who will be the best man/woman for the job. That is not possible in a corporate environment. And this is a huge step forward compared to today where the Open Source Matter’s board is electing its own members.

It might be that I’m Swedish and in my country we don’t have much top-down management. We usually have a very flat decentralized organization with the power in the different teams of the organisation and the board is the legal entity of the organisation that makes it possible to run the organisation.

I see the Board of Directors as the enabler to the Joomla Community. The way I see it is that the new structured board will not reinvestigate all the decisions that are already made by a team that only needs the board to vote on something they been working on to get legal validity or wait for contracts that need to be signed by the president because every contract must be reviewed.

We are a strong community with heart

In my dream we will be an organisation with volunteers that are all together in this, doing what we love for a reason that we are passionate about. A new structure is one step towards that vision. We already are a strong community and we create the cutting edge Joomla CMS. Together with several more initiatives from the Joomla project like a revised vision & mission and a strong communicated brand we will not just aim for the stars and settle for getting there. We will wave to the stars as we pass them by on our way to a new galaxy where we will redefine how web solutions should be used and created in the future.

Do you want to take on that mission? I would love to be part of taking that challenge on together with you.

So this is what I am asking each of you to do.

When it is your time to give feedback on how the proposal can be improved, please help improve it. It needs input from every angle. I would like us to, by the end of this process, have a proposal on an organisation structure and methodology that will position Joomla to be a more vibrant and innovative project. I personally want and need your input.

I would also like to encourage you to convince others that the time has come for a change, that we need to turn our greatest weakness into our greatest strength, and to do so, we need some creative thought and also some support being expressed in the community. Don’t just be critical, be balanced and find something you like about the proposal and celebrate it as well.

Together we can do this!

Sarah Watz, President Open Source Matters Inc.