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Sponsoring a Successful Project

by Juan Carlos Soto
Director, Advanced Development, SW-CTO,
(and former community manager), Sun Microsystems.

A "successful" project in the world of means a vibrant, active virtual meeting place where productive conversations and/or development efforts take place. In short, a successful project engages interested, active people committed to the project's goals and who continually find benefit from being a member. With the help of leads from other community projects, we have created the following "Hints" that outline some common variables seen in other successful efforts:

1. Be clear of the project's goals.

Put them prominently on the project's main page. This will help people understand if the project matches their interests, and can offset a duplicate project being created.

2. Don't be shy about asking for help

As the project lead, be specific about what you need from others, in the form of a "wish list", or as part of a weblog, or as a monthly mailing-list update and posting. Contributors may have limited time and benefit from knowing how to make quick, specific contributions.

3. Make it easy to navigate to the most important resources

This may sound obvious, but it is easy to overlook. Regularly ask yourself what would a new member need and how could they find it quickly.

4. Give credit where credit is due / share the load

Be quick to recognize important contributions by members. This serves to encourage others to participate and sometimes recognition is the main thing OS developers desire.

5. Encourage other members of the project to help run it. Delegate!
6. Respond to requests in a "timely" manner

Generally make sure requests get answered quickly. However, sometimes you may want to give other project members a chance to respond to inquiries. Sometimes the "24-hour" rule works well -- that is, if you are a project owner, wait 24 to 48 hours before responding to questions to encourage members to support each other.

7. Be open and transparent

Manage the project in public using the mailing lists. Avoid private mailing lists and back-channel discussions of topics that affect other members.

8. Have an inclusionary bias, but maintain standards

When in doubt, approve the new member, contribution, or sub project. However, it is OK to say, "thanks, but no thanks" when the contribution(s) are contrary to the project goals. Keep in mind that important project contributions often don't involve any code.

9. Do great things and spread the word

Open Source communities are a remarkable resource. They bring together bright minds that can do great things when organized toward a common vision. Readily publicize project accomplishments and victories to reinforce the momentum you're working so hard to establish.