Posts Tagged with “governance”

Modules for Policy Ownership

January 7th, 2009

For those who are interested in Mozilla govenance, I’ve proposed an Activities Module for ownership of key Mozilla policies. The proposal is in the mozilla.governance newsgroup, which can also be accessed via Google Groups.

Mozilla Corporation Board of Directors

June 4th, 2008

The Mozilla Corporation is welcoming a new board member. I’ll introduce her in a moment. First I’ll describe the role of a board member, and what we looked for.


The board of directors is generally responsible for the conduct and the management of affairs of a company. More specifically, they have fiduciary and ethical responsibility and accountability for what a company does. There are many opinions about specifically what these means as a couple of Wikipedia entries make clear. The main point for this discussion is that a Board is really not like the operational groups. To use more traditional terms, the Board is not like the “management team.” The Board asserts authority in the areas of governance and accountability; it provides assistance, guidance and support in strategic decisions and tactical activities. There’s no one better equipped to understand our world than the people building it every day. We look to the Board to support and improve those efforts, rather than try to micro-manage those efforts.

As in all roles related to Mozilla, we’re looking for individuals who are fundamentally excited about the Mozilla mission and what makes us different, and are highly attuned to MoCo’s role as part of a much larger community. For a board member we’re also looking for someone who can execute the fiduciary and accountability responsibilities required of a board, and is likely to work well with the existing members of the board and the people with whom the board works most closely. We’re also looking for people who understand the consumer and developer Internet world where MoCo lives, and can help MoCo perform better against our mission within this world. Operational experience in running an organization the size or scope of MoCo is very helpful. Experience in working with other organizations and companies in the consumer Internet is also a plus.

All Mozilla directors — those of MoCo, those of the Mozilla Foundation, and those of Mozilla Messaging — are volunteers. There is no compensation for being a board member. This is true of many non-profits but a difference from board membership in many private and public companies.


When the Mozilla Corporation was created we had three board members. Chris Blizzard left the Mozilla Foundation board and joined the Mozilla Corporation. At the time Chris worked at Red Hat. I remained on the Foundation board and also joined the MoCo board. I was (and still am) the only person to be part of both boards. Reid Hoffman joined the MoCo board to bring his insight into the consumer Internet space to moving the Mozilla mission forward. That gave us a board of three, two of whom were “outside” directors. “Outside” here means not part of the management team and employed by MoCo. When John Lilly became COO (“Chief Operating Officer”) in late 2006 he joined the Board as well, and we had a board of four.

Last fall Chris Blizzard changed jobs, moved to the Mozilla Corporation as an employee and resigned from the Board. (We’ve been extremely lucky to have Chris’ contributions in many roles over the years.) We began a search for at least one and perhaps two additional outside directors. We talked to people who have solid experience with what a board does and how good boards interact with the people making things happen on a day to day basis. This is normally called the “management team” or the “executive team.” At Mozilla we don’t use those terms as much, but the concept is the same: a good Board is not trying to manage the operations of the organization, it is providing support and guidance and governance to the group that is. In our case, that’s the Steering Committee.

Legally, Mozilla Corporation board members are responsible to the Mozilla Foundation as the sole shareholder. The Mozilla Foundation Board of Directors is the group responsible for electing board members. We talked to a bunch of people; always looking for people with a good sense for the Internet and a fundamental understanding that MoCo is a mission-driven organization dedicated to building the Mozilla vision. This is key — MoCo must provide consumer offerings that excel — that’s the way we move our mission forward. And yet we do it for a public benefit mission; not for the reasons companies usually create software.

Eventually a few people appeared whom had great expertise and we thought might fit well. John and I asked them to talk with a bunch of Mozilla folks. From there the person with the best fit spent time with the Mozilla Foundation directors. We did some due diligence, talking with people who’ve worked with her before. When everything lined up, the Mozilla Foundation board of directors formally took action to elect a new board member to the MoCo board of directors.

Governance and Module Ownership

May 30th, 2008

At the end of March I made a proposal about updating the way we manage the health of our module ownership system. I’m happy so say that the proposal has now been implemented. Specifically this means:

1. We now have official modules — currently known as Activities Modules — for non-coding activities.
2. We now have a Governance module (owner: Mitchell Baker).
3. We now have a sub-module of Governance for Module Ownership (owner: Brendan Eich).
4. We now have an official Planet Mozilla module (owner: Asa Dotzler).
5. The long-standing web page listing module owners for code modules has been undated to also point people to the Activities modules.
6. The Activities modules are described and listed on
7. The policy governing module ownership has been updated to reflect the creation of the Module Ownership module.

Thanks to everyone involved, and special thanks to Mike Connor for jumping up and down until I got this underway.

Steering Committee

February 28th, 2008

Every now and then someone asks a question about the “Steering Committee” so I thought I’d give some background on what it is and how it came to be.

The Steering Committee began early in the days of the Mozilla Foundation, sometime in 2004, I’m guessing. In these early days we were already trying to do a number of things- develop Firefox, develop Thunderbird, ship our then-current product known as “Mozilla Application Suite” or “Mozilla 1.x”, figure out a funding mechanism to sustain ourselves, establish relationships with other organizations, develop new communities (in particular, the visual identity team and the marketing communities), work with other industry organizations, to name a few. (In those days we had between 10 and 15 employees, plus a set of volunteers that was smaller than today but no less active or committed. The project was much smaller than now, but still trying to do many things.)

We needed a way to make sure that these different activities were working towards the same general goals, that “the right hand knew what the left hand was doing” and that we had some sense of priorities for our resources. We also needed a way to think about “are we doing the right thing?” Is one set of activities getting too few resources? Too many? Causing difficulties in other areas of effort? Are we missing big opportunities? And we needed to do all this while still getting enormous- sometimes almost crushing- amounts of work done.

It quickly became clear that most people could not keep track of all of these topics, effectively deliver their particular individual contributions and remain sane.

We created the Steering Committee to deal with this. The Steering Committee is a set of people who both represent and provide leadership in the various types of activities we are working on. Over the years the individuals and number of people have changed, but it has always included Brendan Eich for overall technical leadership, a representative from the engineering and outreach / marketing parts of our efforts, and me, for overall organizational leadership. Today the term “Steering Committee” is used inside the Mozilla Corporation (“MoCo”). Mozilla Messaging may or may not use this term or mechanism, and the Mozilla Foundation doesn’t currently use this term.

The goals of the Steering Committee are:

  • to track the overall progress of MoCo efforts;
  • to identify organization-wide activities and goals that move the Mozilla mission forward; and
  • to lead MoCo and the Mozilla project effectively towards meeting these goals.

Thus the Steering Committee is responsible for a mixture of (1) empowering others to contribute most effectively; and (2) providing leadership in weaving the various strands of Mozilla together to bring the most possible benefit from our individual activities.

I once had quite a heated discussion with someone who disliked the name “Steering Committee” intensely and felt that it should be called a “Management Committee” or “Executive Committee” as is common in many other organizations. In particular, the objection was that “Steering Committee” was too vague and seemed to ignore the leadership role. But the word “Steering” reflects a basic truth about Mozilla: we work differently than other organizations do. Yes, we need people to focus on the overall picture and to tie different functions together. Yes, we need people to think about the strategic goals and how to reach them. We need people who are world- class in competence and rare in creativity to do this. We need leaders in our mission, our goals for the Internet, our organization. We need them just as much we need leaders in code, in technical vision, in adoption, in local sensitivities, in analysis.

But all leaders operate in the Mozilla context, including organizational and strategic leaders. These people must lead. They must motivate other people to join in the vision, to help create the means and the tools and the activities that allow us to succeed. Just like our module owners with code, these people must lead others who are not employees, and for whom the traditional management tools (salaries, promotion, etc) are irrelevant. This is not traditional management, it is something quite different. From the outside, from other companies, it may look a lot like traditional management. But within the Mozilla project the qualities that lead to success — respect, accomplishments, peer review, helping others to succeed, getting out of the way when someone with a good idea comes along, supporting new things based on mission and goals rather than personal style — must be reflected at all levels.

In this sense “steering” is leadership. But it is leadership in the sense of helping people accomplish things themselves, of identifying which path is most likely to get us where we want to go and steering in that direction. It’s leadership though, and it’s hard. And there are some things about Mozilla which are unusual and make it hard in unusual ways. I’ll say more about this in a subsequent post.

As I noted above, the Steering Committee is a set of people who both represent and provide leadership in the various types of activities we are working on, and who can work with others on topics that cross different types of activities. That’s a bit amorphous and doesn’t answer questions like “why type of activities” or “what level of leadership.” We try to have one person we can look to and hold responsible for each giant set of activities that we need to accomplish. In terms of titles, these people usually have a “chief” or a “vice-president” in their titles. Titles and management at Mozilla are a bit different than at other organizations, and so this isn’t a perfect way to map the Steering Committee to other organizations. But it’s generally close and probably the best “quick and dirty” way of thinking about the Steering Committee.

Today the Steering Committee is:

John Lilly, CEO
Chris Beard, VP Mozilla Labs
Mike Schroepfer, VP Engineering
Paul Kim, VP Marketing
Brendan Eich, CTO
Harvey Anderson, General Counsel
Mitchell Baker, Chairperson

You can see that these are truly giant chunks of activities- engineering, marketing, overall technical direction, labs, legal. None of this is set in stone, we need flexibility everywhere at Mozilla.

Hybrid Organizations

January 14th, 2008

Mozilla is an unusual organization, perhaps even unique. But we are part of a new type of organization — organizations that are mission — driven but use market mechanisms to achieve their goals. By “mission driven” I mean an organization that exists to provide social and civic value. In Mozilla’s case we have a public benefit mission — building an Internet that is open and participatory, where people have meaningful choices about their Internet experience. By “market mechanism” I mean that we use tools that non-profit organizations traditionally haven’t. We use financial tools — we sustain ourselves by generating revenue from our activities, rather than relying completely on grants and donations. We also use the “market” to drive change. In the Internet industry today we are promoting open source, innovation and participation by building products people want to use. Because so many people use our products, we are able to influence technical and policy decisions.

Both John and I have been using the phrase “hybrid organization” to describe this group of organizations. It’s a useful word, but not necessarily precise. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

One important point is that Mozilla is not alone in being a hybrid organization. We are very rare in the technology space. And even rarer in having our size and scope in the technology world. But we are part of a large world of organizations that are combining a social purpose with new tools for financial sustainability. That means some smart people have already been thinking about how to describe these new organizations and we can learn from them.

So, what does a “hybrid organization” mean? There seems to be some academic history of using “hybrid” to mean different types of organizations working together. That’s not what we mean. Wikipedia has a definition of “hybrid organization” that is closer, describing them as operating

in both the public sector and the private sector, simultaneously fulfilling public duties and developing commercial market activities. As a result the hybrid organization becomes a mixture of both a part of government and a commercial enterprise.

The first sentence fits the world I’m trying to describe. But the reference to a hybrid organization being partly “government” is not what I think of with Mozilla. With a little poking around on the Web I found not only a nice description of hybrid organizations but also a very well thought out framework for distinguishing between different gradations of hybrid organizations. (Have I said recently how much I love the Web?).

Here I’m going to call out a few points. This is partly because I’m finding the framework useful for thinking about the broad range of organizational structures people are trying. And it’s partly because the materials help set Mozilla within a larger set of organizations working to create social value in new ways. The author describes a spectrum of hybrid organizations, ranging from “corporations practicing social responsibility” to non-profits that generate income. One type of hybrid with this spectrum is the “Social Enterprise” which is

“any business venture created for a social purpose — mitigating/reducing a social problem or a market failure — and to generate social value while operating with the financial discipline, innovation and determination of a private sector business.” Source

This definitely describes the Mozilla Corporation. (I’m leaving aside for the moment whether one applies this designation to the Mozilla Foundation itself; or treats the Mozilla Foundation as more of a pure non-profit parent of a Social Enterprise.

The world of Social Enterprises is further divided into social enterprises where the “social programs and business activities are one and the same” (the “embedded social enterprise”) and where they are related but not necessarily the same (the “related social enterprise”). In our case, our social programs — creating, distributing and helping people enjoy open source software products — and our business activities are the same.

This slide captures all of this in one place. It describes Mozilla extremely well. We are a mission-driven organization, a portion of which (Mozilla Corporation and soon MailCo) perform some traditionally commercial activities as an integral part of accomplishing the mission. (I would like to copy the entire slide, but haven’t yet contacted the author to see how much I can reproduce here.)

“Embedded mission-centric social enterprise.” That’s a lot of words and I’ll probably keep using “hybrid” in most settings. But each of these words has a specific meaning, often capturing a concept I’ve been trying to organize somehow. Each helps place Mozilla among other organizations. How are we like /unlike microfinance? How are we like / unlike How are we like / unlike the Fair Trade organizations? And, it helps distinguish us from the makers of other browsers and products, *whether or not those products are built using open source software.* The open source nature of Firefox and Thunderbird is fundamental; other products in the market may match those (though none do today). The public-benefit, mission-driven nature of Mozilla is also fundamental, and this regard we are very close to unique.

Skip past the sidebar