I'm sitting on a plane from San Francisco to St. Louis after an absolutely amazing weekend. For the last three days, I have been at the Googleplex with many of the most active Plone contributors and users. The event was unique, to my knowledge: we met as an open source community to work on our strategy as for our project. We covered marketing, vision, and especially approachability -- most people involved with Plone realize that there are some barriers to entry that can be lowered. Strangely for an open source project, there were no laptops, no code writing. Although not every valuable voice was there, many of the movers and shakers of Plone were. In this post and the one that follows, I'd like to talk a bit about what we were doing, what I think we accomplished, and what I expect to see going forward. Here, I'd like to make my personal reflections on the event, in part because, hey, it's my blog, and in part to disclose my bias going forward.
Everything I've been taught to expect about human nature suggested that something akin to the Plone Strategic Planning Summit could not be successful. Why would 50 people fly to from around the world to spend a weekend in what looked to be a 24 hour meeting spread over three days? Furthermore, if you looked at the blogging rush prior to the conference, it looked like there were plenty of fundamentals that we didn't agree on (Framework vs Product anyone?). Furthermore, without a CEO or BDFL, how can a community achieve long-term, coherent, consistent vision?
However, I also had great faith in the Plone community, having increased my involvement in the community over the last eight months from absolute beginner to someone who is ready and excited to start contributing back. I was also honored in the faith that the Plone community (and foundation) had shown in me by inviting me to the PSPS and in granting me a scholarship to help defray my cost of travel. My experiences so far had told me that Plone is a talented and kind community and my desire to contribute told me that any skepticism was just a stupid barrier.
My faith was well placed. Jon Stahl, Alexander Limi, One/Northwest and the Plone Foundation and core developers managed an event that, to me, was hugely successful. The agenda was extremely well suited to a bunch of jet lagged developers and integrators. Everything was highly interactive and everyone interacted with everyone else. By breaking the large group of us into smaller subgroups, randomly, we were able to attack big problems in little parts. Everyone at the summit came in with ideas, so instead of group think we ended up with sounding boards and fresh eyes. And we started with absolutely huge problems to address -- coherent, forward looking strategic vision is difficult for well-run companies. Yet, we kept breaking the problem down into smaller and smaller chunks, framing it until it became clear, and eventually this morning, turning into actionable plans with owners. All the while, Jon's preternatural sense of our energy level and agile planning kept us moving and engaged at tasks that were well-suited for our abilities. And, of course, the incredible dedication of the participants was crucial -- everyone managed to respectfully (and more, sportively) listen to everyone else. People came to the summit with lots of ideas and open minds, and were willing to largely shut out the outside for three days to focus on the task at hand.
If you are not involved in a project like Plone, I cannot recommend starting highly enough. The energy, intellect, and dedication that can find is absolutely amazing. In the next post I will outline some of the things I thought came out of this weekend for the project. But, for me personally, it has been transformative. I feel like I learned things about community organizing, project planning, writing, and (although no programming was done) software development that would have taken years to pick up from other places. Also, the feeling of camaraderie is wonderful. I can only look forward to our next meeting, and in the interim, I look forward to working toward realizing the vision we described this weekend.