A Good Company Looks Like A Good Open Source Project

by Ostatic Staff - Mar. 11, 2010

Business Insider is running a slideshow feature on "How to run a company that engineers actually want to work for." It should come as little surprise that the engineer-friendly company looks a lot like successful open source projects, except with a paycheck and benefits. Maybe companies of every stripe should be spending more time looking at FLOSS projects to see what motivates people to contribute.

Some of the tips that BI suggests include making employees comfortable, giving employees a mix of projects, letting workers do useful things, and focusing on short-term planning and reasonable deadlines, etc. Sound familiar? This looks like any number of successful and thriving open source projects. While Business Insider focuses on engineers, the lessons apply to any skilled and creative discipline. It's as true for marketeers, Web designers, and journalists as it is for software engineers.

If you'd like to look at the longer-form version of what companies should be doing to better engage their employees, take a gander at the forming Open Source Way online book that's being put together by some of the folks at Red Hat. The abstract reads:

This guide is for helping people to understand how to and how not to engage with community over projects such as software, content, marketing, art, infrastructure, standards, and so forth. It contains knowledge distilled from years of Red Hat experience.

While written with open source communities in mind, most of the suggestions can be abstracted to apply to other disciplines and organizations. My particular favorite is "embrace failure," something that many organizations have yet to learn. Encouraging failure (while taking note) helps ensure that employees will take risks and extend themselves further than employees working in a risk-adverse culture. (This is also a major theme in Seth Godin's Linchpin.)

This isn't to suggest that open source projects, even the good ones, have all the answers -- or that the FLOSS model should be taken to the extreme or too literally. But when you see a FLOSS project with enthusistic participation from individuals and other organizations (like Drizzle), you could find plenty of inspiration for improving any organization's effectiveness.