During the 2018 State of the Word address, Matt Mullenweg acknowledged lessons learned in the process of releasing WordPress 5.0. One of those was the need for various teams across the project to work together better. The friction during the 5.0 development cycle was beneficial in that it surfaced areas where the project can grow and sparked conversations that are already leading to improvements.
Last week Mullenweg announced that WordPress is expanding its leadership team to include Josepha Haden in a new Executive Director role and Joost de Valk as the Marketing and Communications Lead. These new roles better distribute project leadership to more individuals who have demonstrated the ability and judiciousness to guide large, diverse teams towards success. Haden will be overseeing WordPress’ contributor teams and de Valk is leading the marketing team and overseeing improvements to WordPress’ websites and other outlets.
The Executive Director role is particularly critical for the health of the project, as contributor and community feedback pours in across so many different mediums. Tracking all of this information and taking it into consideration amounts to a full-time job. In her first week in the new role, Haden is seeking feedback regarding the challenges contributors face when working on the project. She identified seven challenges which seem to resonate with many who have commented:
- Coordinating on collaborative work between teams
- Aligning our work better to project goals/values
- Understanding team roles, leadership structures, and decision making
- Clarifying the differences between open source and open commit
- Tracking conversations and progress across the project
- Raising project-wide concerns more easily
- Improving how we recognize and celebrate success
Responses from contributors have so far revolved around a similar theme – the desire for more clearly-defined projects and goals for teams, along with more communication from leadership.
“Define goals and deliverables for each project deliverable,” Daniel Bachhuber suggested. “Once these are defined, it’s much easier to estimate the level of effort and resources required. Distinguish between full-time sponsored, part-time sponsored, and completely volunteer labor. Each of these three do not work at the same pace. It’ll be much easier to estimate a team’s velocity if you know what type of labor you have to work with.”
Meagen Voss offered some valuable insight from a newer contributor’s perspective. She said the leadership of the project is very unclear and that people could benefit from that information being more prominently published. She also suggested that WordPress explore the idea of having ambassadors for each team to facilitate communication and collaboration across projects.
You get to know your team very well, but no so much other teams. I’ve met some great folks in Slack and am getting to know the two groups I’m involved in super well. But if I have an issue or a question that needs to be addressed to another group, then I would have to hang out in that team’s channel for a while to figure out who the right person is to get in touch with. Identifying “ambassadors” or points of contact for each group could be a quick and helpful way to address that.
The conversation is still open for contributors to jump in and share their own challenges and suggestions. Haden plans to follow up with the next steps after gathering more feedback. Action born out of these conversations has the potential to greatly improve contributors’ experiences working together, resulting in fewer people burning out on communication struggles or losing momentum from lack of clearly defined objectives.