Focus on what won't change
Last weekend I read Rework, the new book by 37Signals and as I tweeted: "nice although nothing new if you've been following stuff like Agile, Getting Real, Guy Kawasaki, Lean Startup, etc". That doesn't mean it's not worth reading even if you indeed have been following all those things and more for it's a very enjoyable read, it's easy to find yourself going back and re-reading bits and pieces but most importantly it helps you reflect and what you've been doing lately.
There are many things that resonate with me and among those one in particular that nicely summarises what I've been doing for at least the last 4 months in Sourcesense UK: "Focus on what won't change"
If you visit our old and a little stale website (currently working on a complete refresh) you are likely to end up with something along the lines of: "ok, these guys do Open Source stuff and Agile stuff across Europe, have a number of Open Source partners all over the place and employ as many OSS committers as possible" which is cool but doesn't really tell you much about why you should engage with us rather than someone else that "does Open Source stuff and Agile stuff", does it?
So we started an exercise of introspection plus some pie-in-the-sky thinking to answer questions like: what don't we want to change? what do we want to build on top of? what are we really good at? what are the gaps from here to there? how can we fill those gaps? and so forth.
We came up with the following:
and although this was intended for internal use and therefore assumes all kinds of background knowledge you likely don't have, I'll do my best to describe it and, more importantly, draw a line where "things won't change".
Sourcesense is built on top of 2 pillars if you will, and these are never going to change because that's what we are good at, what we enjoy doing and what we can pour ourselves as people into so that we can "Decommoditize our product" - another Rework essay. Those pillars are:
- Software Craftsmanship
- Open Source
While the former is hard to achieve but easy enough to understand (good starting points here and here), the latter is less obvious than you may think therefore I'm going to expand on it later in this post.
Going quickly over the rest before getting to the meat: the 2 pillars are then sort of wrapped by what I'm calling ALM for lack of a better term: it's simply the collection of tools, processes/approaches/methods and ideas we like to use day in, day out. On top of this block there are the domains we specialise in: Enterprise Content Management, Enterprise Search and Business Intelligence but I won't be writing about these in this post as they are not part of what won't ever change. Everything is topped off by good consulting skills since one thing is being great developers and another is being great consultants: we want to be both to the advantage of our customers.
The Open Source block
I'm not just referring to "the code is available and is free" here, but more importantly to the belief that there is much more to Open Source than just software. Or to be more blunt: we believe Open Source is only a byproduct of participation. Would be stupid of me to spend hours trying to distill this when I can reuse something Gianugo Rabellino wrote sometime ago in an internal discussion thread:
"What we strive to do is helping companies making sense of Open Source, companies that maybe initially are driven by price pressure but more and more oriented today towards a better understanding of the dynamics of doing things together. Our job is having them come for the price, and stay for the community. Or drive them directly to the community, that works as well - as long as they understand the new way of dealing with technology and how that should open conversations rather than confrontations.
That's an ambitious goal, and something well out of our reach unless we fully understand the Open Source world. This is why we live and breathe by committers, people who know how to read a license, people who are not scared to participate in a group, people who know how to reach for help and contribute solutions. Our Open Source consultants need to have a firm grasp of what Open Source can provide, and try to pilot the big corporation ships into the open port by telling them when to watch out and what is the best place to steer. In a nutshell, the Open Source side of Sourcesense is our understanding of the group dynamics behind software today. We know how to choose software beyond the technology bit, and we understand when we are talking about open source, and when open source is just smoke and mirrors.
To that extent, and using the openness gauge to measure solutions out there, we try and find the best compromise between good technologies, open vendors listening to their customers and the community and yes, market reach and momentum because at the end of the day we need to pay the bills and we like easy wins from time to time. We then end up with a suite of products which, to different degrees, are Open as open can mean."
That's what won't change in Sourcesense because that's what we are and we believe in.