Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Art of Community, by Jono Bacon

The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation, by Jono Bacon

During my recent job search, one of the positions for which I interviewed was an Agile Community Leader. I firmly believe that agile techniques give us the best path to developing quality software, so when this opportunity came along I was very interested. My professional career has been all about building software, so moving to a community leadership position provided something entirely different and I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I met with a friend that was already in the community business and among other things he recommended The Art of Community. Great advice; even though I ended up not getting the job, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

The author, Jono Bacon, is a longtime open source advocate and the current Ubuntu community manager. He put together this excellent discussion on not only how to go about building and maintaining a collaborative organization, but how to keep it fresh and fun at the same time. A lot of what Bacon believes hit close to home with me; what it takes to make a community work sounds quite similar to what makes agile work. Defined milestones in a community are similar to an agile release plan. Milestones are reached by defining smaller objectives each with success criteria and an implementation plan, analogous to stories, acceptance criteria, and tasks. And in both arenas regular reflection to enact changes in process and tools are considered critical. Seeing as how in agile building teams is just as important as building software I guess this shouldn’t be that surprising, but I am continually pleased to find new ways of applying trusted techniques in new ways and in different domains.

One sentence that stuck with me was about honesty: “If your product sucks, you don’t cover it up but instead try to fix it.” This sort of transparency is exactly how I think we should approach most things, but is sadly rare. And not only in software development and community building; imagine if politicians tried harder to solve the countries problems instead of simply getting reelected! Another bit I liked was a great idea for brainstorming: figure out how to make things suck instead of making them great. Not only is this a fun ice breaker, it really gets people talking. After collecting approaches, examine the inverse of the terrible ideas for some truly interesting approaches! I look forward to trying this out sometime soon. Useful, funny, and informative, I enjoyed every page of this book.

First Sentence:
As my watch ticked over to 6 p.m., I knew I was in trouble.

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