Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

23 Jan 2021, 6:36 a.m.

Advice From My Book Helps The Autoconf Project Assess Itself

A few weeks ago, I released a sampler from my upcoming book on rejuvenating open source projects: Getting Unstuck: Advice for Open Source Projects. It's like a lengthy trailer in text form.

Getting Unstuck sampler cover, with graphic of a flowing river

You can get this 38-page ebook for free when you subscribe to Changeset Consulting's email newsletter (1-10 updates per year).

And readers are already using what they learned in this book to help their open source projects level up. Zack Weinberg, who worked with me to start rejuvenating Autoconf, read the sampler and learned a lightweight framework for assessing a project. He immediately used it to assess the GNU Autotools:

Should development of the Autotools continue? If they are to continue, we need to find people who have the time and the inclination (and perhaps also the funding) to maintain them steadily, rather than in six-month release sprints every eight years. We also need a proper roadmap for where further development should take these projects. As a starting point for the conversation about whether the projects should continue, and what the roadmap should be, I was inspired by Sumana's book in progress on open source project management (sample chapters are available from her website) to write up a "strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats" analysis of Autotools.

This inventory can help us figure out how to build on new opportunities, using the Autotools' substantial strengths, and where to invest to guard against threats and shore up current weaknesses.

Zack sent his writeup to the Autoconf mailing list where it's spurred a productive discussion about project architecture and inter-project coordination -- see his followup message about particular tasks that, if funded, could address concerns that he raised. These concrete proposals will make it easier to seek specific grants or directed donations from funders -- companies, foundations, etc.

The sampler is a free 38-page ebook (PDF, ePub, and MOBI available) that includes:

  • Introduction (including my controversial? "Basic assumptions about open source and the tech industries")
  • Conducting a SWOT analysis (assessing a project's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, with example analysis of the pip project)
  • How to start thinking about budgets and money (including two exercises)
  • Teaching and including unskilled volunteers (with twelve specific tactics)
  • An outline of the full forthcoming book

Get the sampler for free when you subscribe to Changeset's email newsletter (1-10 updates per year).

And, in about a day and a half, I'll speak for the first time at Linux.Conf.Au, on "How To Get A Project Unstuck -- And Fixing The Skill Gaps That Got Us Here". I'll tell some stories of projects I helped get unstuck, and share more material from the forthcoming book. Ticket sales are now open for LCA (which is, of course, a virtual convention). Buy a ticket if you'd like to see my talk live and participate in questions-and-answers!

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