A real mission statement can keep a project together

Summary:We run openbook management, so all my contractors know exactly how much we’re making. So if we do X we can show the impact on Katrina survivors.

Brian Chan Every open source project, just like any business, needs a mission statement.

A mission statement acts like gluten in a bread dough. It holds things together. It gives the whole thing texture. It's vital.

I have expressed concern here about whether open source projects in the enterprise space can hold together. I've seen how projects like Mambo and JBoss have had trouble keeping teams together, resulting in code forks that can leave uncomfortable choices for users.

Well Liferay, an open source enterprise portal based in Los Angeles which operates under the MIT License, has a way to keep its group together. Its mission statement is a real Mission Statement, as in a Christian Mission.

CEO Brian Chan (above, with wife Caris) explained. "The goal of Liferay is to make money and give money to charities. We run openbook management, so all my contractors know exactly how much we’re making. So if we do X we can show the impact on Katrina survivors, for instance. That’s something you don’t see elsewhere. Donation is the core of our existance. We consult so we can donate."

With a core group of developers committed to that Mission Statement, one would have to literally be Holier Than Thou to poach them away. (Forgive me, I couldn't resist the pun.) This helps Liferay compete effectively in the enterprise software space, something which is difficult to say the least. (Chan isn't all good works. He says Liferay now has "critical mass" in its space.)

Liferay doesn't just give money away. It also devotes some of its consulting to good works. "We just rebuilt the software for Goodwill Industries based on our CMS. They have 100,000 members."

There has always been a messianic aspect to open source. Money is not the only motivator in the open source world.

But there's another point Chan made to me which even non-Christian, non-charitable, greedy old "me-first" developers might take to heart and benefit from.

Transparency. Let me repeat part of the quote above. "All my contractors know exactly how much we're making." Open source code leads to open source business processes, and an open source management style.

It works for Liferay. Maybe it can work for you, too.

Topics: Open Source


Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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