Within this post, I mention the B-word (business) a few times. Don’t let this put you off, please 😉
One thing I’ve noticed when meeting up with other free software users and developers is that a strikingly high proportion of them are involved in business in some way: either owner/managers of their own small business, or having a key role in one. Not most of them by any means, but a much higher proportion than any other group of people I meet (which perhaps says more about the company I keep – I don’t know!). People who are involved with business will know that occasionally you do less day-to-day stuff and think more strategically – at least, I’m told that’s what you’re supposed to do – and the one I’m involved in is no exception. Part of this strategic thinking is revisiting the vision of the business(es).
So, I’m preparing for this meeting this evening, and I’m finding some of my tasks for this meeting pretty tough. “Blue sky thinking” is pretty hard, if you want to do it right: you can think up all sorts of ideas, but not matter how grand sounding they are, they can easily sound hollow and meaningless. As an example, Microsoft’s vision statement is (or was, I can’t find it on their site) “A computer in every home”. Not, “To sell lots of copies of Windows” or “Provide powerful software to let users to more” – neither of those statements is as meaningful, emotional, or as motivational. And no matter what your opinion of Microsoft, they’re coming pretty close to achieving their vision, at least for the western world.
There’s plenty of other examples. You don’t have to be a business, either – I’m told Tiger Woods has a vision statement. Again, not “A very good golfer”, or “Win many tournaments”, or even “Be the number one golfer in the world”. His is (allegedly) “Be the best golfer ever”. If that’s not a vision, I don’t know what is.
Getting back vaguely on topic. I’m finding these tasks tough, as I mentioned before. So, I’m thinking, maybe it would be easier to think about developing some for Bongo? It’s easier in a way, because it’s much more specific, so I got to thinking, and this is what I’ve come up with.
Vision statement: Be the recognised benchmark for personal collaborative software.
This is slightly wishy-washy, and could use improvement. What I mean by this is basically this: in the same way Word sets the benchmark for wordprocessing, and Apache does for web serving, Bongo should set the standard for collaboration, and be recognised by name for that. By “personal collaborative software” I’m kind of grasping around a little bit, because I don’t want to say (and don’t mean) “groupware”. I mean personal tools which enable you to organise yourself and co-ordinate with others: power over your inbox, over your calendar, and your contacts. The word “personal” in there is important I think: we’re centred around people.
Mission statement: The Project creates standards-based software for managing personal communications and organisational information, accessible online and from the desktop, aimed at small office / home office type users. Bongo is adaptable and versatile, while maintaining simplicity and usability, so people can use as many or as few of its features as they are interested in. The user experience is integrated, and doesn’t offer simply the “lowest common denominator” or “most interoperable” functionality at the cost of user productivity. Bongo will continue to be completely free software.
This is more wordy, but is more about “this is how we will achieve our vision”. Arguably, the scope of userbase I’ve offered above isn’t enough to achieve the vision, but we can always revisit this again in the future 🙂
Culture and values: Bongo is the friendliest project on earth, and offers a uniquely accessible community of development. We aim for technical excellence and practicality while having fun developing the software.
We’ve actually said something a bit like this before: in the contributor agreement, I specifically wrote in from the beginning that friendliness was crucial. I’m not sure I needed to write it; I’ve never needed to remind people of it, and we have a community which has never suffered a flamewar, which is really great.
Now, none of the above is set in stone in any way – this is purely a personal exercise for me at the moment 😉 But, I don’t see why we can’t adopt something like the above – I think it will tell people a lot more about what our project is trying to do. So, feel free to discuss this in the forums or on the mailing list, and if you know of any free software/open source projects who’ve already adopted a vision or mission statement, please let me know – I did search around and couldn’t see anything.