What publics must open source managers serve?

Based on what I've seen in this area so far, there is far more balancing, and far more hands-on psychology, involved in the open source world than in any commercial space.

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When you own a business, any business, there are a variety of publics you must please, and each has its priority.

There are customers, of course, and stockholders. There are also government regulators, the press, employees and the general public.

You treat each public differently. Many journalists think public relations means buying them drinks. But PR is far more complex than that, which is why I've never felt capable of doing it.

My question for this weekend is, what publics must open source management serve, and in what order?

After talking with several open source company managers in the last few weeks, I have distilled a few Clues to that.

  1. Customers are not just customers. They can also be suppliers and collaborators. This makes them a higher priority than in the commercial world, and changes the approach.
  2. Employees have to be classified. Developers in an open source environment can be like musicians to a recording company. In the commercial space these people are far more easily replaced. If you can't keep the stars within your open source world, however, you don't have a band.
  3. Government means something quite different in the open source enterprise. Standards bodies are a form of government. They may be more important than real governments.
  4. The press is far more diverse. Some people who come in as press are, in fact, developers who are blogging on the side. They need entirely different treatment than the reporter for the local daily.

I think it takes a different mindset, and different training, to be a successful open source manager than to be a successful business manager. Based on what I've seen in this area so far, there is far more balancing, and far more hands-on psychology, involved in the open source world than in any commercial space.

What this means to me is that most of what management schools are teaching their students today is wrong. The conclusion surprises me as much as it does you. But management has always been more of an art than a science, and success in open source, from what I've seen, requires far more of the artist than most businesses.