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Leveraging Open Source as a Strategy

OSMM Level 5 is about Strategy. At this level, you seek to make decisions that shape the technology landscape in your favor to create new opportunities.

You have already measured your OSPO's operational success during the earlier OSMM maturity levels. You have addressed compliance concerns, saved money, made engineers more productive, and enabled hiring tech talent familiar with your open source tech stack. Levels 1-4 took your organization from ad-hoc usage of open source through stages of operational maturity. Your organization has established behaviors that foster engineering successes. At level 5 you now ask "How can the organization leverage Open Source as a Strategy?"

The Components of Strategy

The strategist Simon Wardley says: "All models are wrong, but some are useful." His useful model, Wardley Mapping, considers five factors that help you explain strategic actions. These include Landscape and Climate which refer to the environment you operate in, as well as the forces in the environment that you cannot control. They also include Doctrine and Leadership referring to the capabilities you have at hand and how you leverage those capabilities. Those are in service to your Purpose describing why you are engaged in the strategic activity. In simpler terms, your purpose is your goal and your doctrine describes what you do and how you do it. These are the initial decisions of your strategy, and there's more.

Using chess as an analogy, the landscape refers to the chessboard, climate refers to your opponent and the environment you are playing in, doctrine refers to the movements each piece can make, and so on. To achieve your goals (purpose), you need to assess your current board position (landscape), the pieces you do not control (climate), the capabilities of your pieces (doctrine), and how you move about (leadership). Whereas strategic discussions focus on what to do and how to do it; this model considers additional factors such as landscape and climate. These are essential to determine if the right move is indeed the right move now. Strategy discussions sometimes neglect to address these factors since people assume they can't control landscape and climate. Those are fixed constraints. But what if they were not?

Mastering the Game

In OSMM levels 1-4, you invested in being an effective consumer of open source projects. This led you to assess those projects' relative quality and suitability in service of your goals. It also caused you to create the mechanisms allowing you to contribute fixes and improvements to those projects. That gave you skills to operate a collaborative open source co-development activity in the community. The journey provided your organization with the capabilities to operate more effectively across its landscape. For you, open source is more than an acquisition activity, working with publicly available open source code is a resource you can manage effectively. You feel like you have trained your pawns to move like rooks or queens.

Open Source participation also enabled you to position yourself in the marketplace and even change parts of the marketplace landscape. You can contribute features to projects you use and get those changes adopted by the community of users at large. This reduces your technical debt. You also change the product capabilities in the marketplace to meet your needs, and you can create new projects that commoditize a market position, enable partners to engage in an ecosystem, and invite potential customers into your new product areas. Landscapes are often seen as a fixed constraint, but what if you can change the landscape? It feels like you can add rows to your chessboard or put more than one piece in a space.

## Technology Strategy Informed by Open Source Options

Your leadership is responsible for setting your organization's overall technology strategy. This involves important decisions about how you leverage vendor-provided software and internally developed software, and should bring clarity to your use of cloud-deployed technology, mobile applications, generative AI, data analytics, software security, and many other factors that every CIO and technology architect address daily.

There is an open source conversation in each of those topics: your OSPO plays an important role in advising your technology strategy from an open source perspective. You may find open source factors that help determine which vendor to select, or when to invest in building technology vendors do not provide. Your effect on improving your organization's technology strategy via an open source perspective is going to be more effective the more mature your OSPO practice is.

For the OSPO, Level 5 is an opportunity to extend your reach and participate in executive decisions. In the earlier levels, OSPOs address three directions:

  1. The head of the OSPO creates and operates a team, developing processes and deliverables. In hierarchical organizations, this is a downward focus.
  2. The OSPO operates in service of internal engineering groups, as well as legal, information security, developer tooling, internal comms, and others. This is the lateral focus on internal partners, peers, and customers of the OSPO services.
  3. As you engage with the external community, join foundations, launch projects, and participate in collaborative refinement of open source, the OSPO also engages outwardly with peers and open source communities.

In Level 5, the OSPO will be invited to a fourth direction: it will engage upward to inform and engage executives in strategic opportunities. This is your opportunity to contribute to technology strategy.

Leveraging your OSPO to Improve Technology Strategy

Every organization's strategy is necessarily unique. But there are common themes related to open source that include:

  1. Leveraging external activity. Many technology issues you face are not unique to your organization. It's likely other organizations face similar challenges. Open source enables you to work collaboratively with others by carefully segmenting those parts of the issue that are not proprietary. This enables you to bring value from outside into the organization.
  2. Negotiating open source politics. Open source projects can get political and you'll need to navigate this. The OSPO gives your organization an informed position from which to understand and address the complicated human factors that play into open source community work.
  3. Evaluating options. As your organization embraces openness, you'll find people suggesting activities by saying "But it's open source." You know that's not enough. You'll need to evaluate open source activities by looking at many factors, including technical merit, project health, and implications to compliance requirements.
  4. Ongoing guidance. The best strategies are flexible and alive. You might deliver a slide deck or document, but you'll make the most impact when you provide regular open source guidance to engineers, managers, risk management partners, and others in the organization that will have questions and concerns. about open source.
  5. Managing the roadmap. Progress takes time, and the landscape will change. A Roadmap is an effective tool to describe your current and near-term focus, as well as what you see on the horizon. This helps you advise on important timing decisions related to adopting or avoiding certain open source projects.

Strategy is an Evolutionary Process

Creating an effective Open Source Program Office is one step on a long journey. Level 5 implies a level of maturity where you have capabilities that enable you to make decisions that were previously unavailable. Much like reading a book on chess strategy does not make you a chess master, this guide only suggests how to orient your thinking and leverage situational awareness. Your journey will give you and your organization the capabilities that can help you change the game in your favor.

Initially, your OPSO will seek visibility into the code base that makes your core products and services operate. These skills help you tackle the volume of code, the burden of code management processes, the costs of vendor lock-in, and the expense of incurring technical debt. Eventually, you'll operate with the confidence of experience borne from the lessons of a few mistakes here and there.

There's one more thing: Success in open source implies you have contributed back to the community that has helped you achieve your successes. Open source is built upon the virtuous cycle of contributions and improvements. You have found that the more you give back, the more you get. If you are here, it's because you have joined others in this process of learning and sharing. For that, thank you!

Further Reading