PM Essence


- Janardan Revuru, PMP, Hewlett Packard

This article talks about the problem with highly demanding workforce in IT Companies and what Project Manager can learn from cult of open source software projects.


"I'm doing a free operating system just a hobby, won't be big and professional like gnu..."
                                                                                                                                -Linus Torvalds

The above quote is by the programmer who gave us Linux Operating system. Today, Linux is the largest collaborative development project in the history of computing. It is just amazing how such a large community of developers collaborates, communicate and develop such complex software spread across the world. Can an IT company replicate this model?

Other popular and widely used open source products are the Apache web server, MySQL and PHP. This is all made possible by not one corporation or government, but people with high energy for better
community good. The fastest growing and popular companies in IT, such as Google and Facebook, depend on Open Source products.

Technology perspective gives the reasons why open source community strives on this motivation.

While the research shows that around half the programmers in Open Source community get paid, the focus of this article is about the other half, who is completely driven by intrinsic motivation.

The Psychological Perspective

In Psychology, motivation is classified into intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is an innate drive to do a task and extrinsic motivation is the external factors that outside you, drives certain behaviors. Though part of the community of programmers is paid, still they are driven by higher levels of intrinsic motivation.

The top three reasons people contribute to open source are:

  1. Gaining knowledge and experience
  2. Ideology behind the project
  3. For fun


The Technology Perspective

Software, whether open or closed, is about technology. The passion individuals have to make and break technology every day, drives programmers crazy. The young entrepreneurs like Larry Page of Google or Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, were at the beginning hard core programmers who spent days and nights programming to come up with their first version of software, that was unique and bound to have
impact across the world. Technology perspective gives the reasons why open source community strives on this motivation.

1. Personal need: Many programmers in open source community write a new program or modify an existing one to satisfy their personal need. Lesson to the project managers in companies is that, programmers are more creative in adding value to product, if they use it on regular basis.

2. Users are contributors: It has been stated and also proved that open source project with active community leads to better quality software.

Lesson to the project manager, is to establish infrastructure to make the communication between developers and users with least resistance.

3. Self-selecting: Programmers have vast choice of technologies and projects to work when they choose to contribute to open source projects.

Lesson to project manager is to give engineers a choice wherever possible. That increases the engagement and contributions.

The Economic Perspective 

After considerable research based on responses collected from across the world, we now have better understanding of the economic motives behind the behavior.

1. Future job prospects: Working on open source projects gives them exposure to technologies and products that could help them in future job. Project Managers should focus on platforms that bring the key performers accomplishments visible organization wide.

2. Get paid: It is a myth that free software and Open source communities run completely on donations and all programmers have altruistic motives. Companies like Canonical, Oracle and RedHat pay their employees who contribute to Ubuntu operating system, MySQL and RedHat respectively.

3. Nothing to lose: Internet has made the cost of sharing as negligible. To put a defect or enhancement fix to the project is just a few keystrokes away and is easy over Internet.

The Social Psychology perspective

Social Psychology perspective of open source/free software gives us an insight into the individual behavior being affected by the presence or imaginary presence of others.

1. Ego gratification:  Programmers and contributors of open source enjoy the peer recognition much better than appreciation coming from their managers or end user. Project Managers should focus on the true appreciation with a context and a reason why the appreciation is being given if made evident, it has much greater impact on programmer.

2. Sense of belonging: For most programmers, participating in an open source project and the sense of belonging is equivalent to participating in a marathon for social cause or engaging oneself in social

Creating a sense of belonging in the closed source companies is a challenging task. But accomplishing it ensures there are higher motivation to participate and also less risk of losing people to other projects or companies.

3. Altruism: The freedom movements in open source/free software primarily focused on keeping knowledge open and not have secrets in software that stop growth of it. But there are many participants who feel an obligation and duty to contribute.

In the commercial closed projects workforce is more motivated by yearly performance review and their outcomes, than the projects they work on or the contributions to peers.

Conclusion : There has been enough research and evidence to celebrate the success of open source models. It is high time the companies look at their work culture, rewards and recognition mechanisms, HR practices in a holistic way to get best of the workforce.