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Posts Tagged with “management”

Thunderbird Proces of Change, Part 2

October 8th, 2007

As I noted in my last post, in late 2006 we started thinking very hard about creating a new organizational home for Thunderbird. A number of us came to the conclusion this was the best plan, including the Foundation Board and the key Thunderbird developers.

In early to mid 2007 the Foundation board designated two members (in addition to the work I was doing) to meet with the key Thunderbird developers to work on developing a plan together. In a series of meetings it was determined that a new Thunderbird organization would need an organizational leader — the developers couldn’t both develop and lead an organization. And as I have mentioned, there was a very strong interest in seeing Thunderbird vision expand and that clearly required additional people. A set of questions were raised but few answers were developed.

These meetings were not public for a couple of reasons. There are some key personal and personnel issues. I wanted to make sure that everyone already involved had a good opportunity to express their thoughts quietly, in a safe setting first. Second, we didn’t yet know what we were likely to do. I didn’t want people to worry we were adrift. I know people worried about this when we did start the public discussion. So either I was wrong to not start the public discussion much earlier, OR I was right to do a lot of ground work first and have an outline of how we would proceed before opening the discussion. Or I was *both* right and wrong, and there is no perfect solution.

We then spent some time thinking about who might be a good organizational leader for Thunderbird. The Thunderbird developers and I also spent time trying to think through how to create a new organization. By June or so it was clear that it was time to begin a public discussion about our goals for Thunderbird and desire to create a new home for it. I started working on this. Around the same time the Thunderbird developers came up with the suggestion that they create an independent company and we move Thunderbird development to it. The company would be interested in promoting the Mozilla mission, but would be outside of the Mozilla umbrella of organizations; a private company owned and run by the developers. We spent some time thinking through the pros and cons of this possibility, how the developers and a new company like this would interact with the source code and with the Thunderbird product. This became the third option included in my post opening the Thunderbird discussion. This option had the advantage of exciting the developers.

When we considered the idea of Thunderbird moving to a private independent company, a number of significant disadvantages emerged. First, this would mean that Mozilla as an organization was leaving the mail/ communications space and hoping that space would be filled by another organization. We weren’t ready to do that. Second, it felt like this would be moving Thunderbird to a more private space. We’re eager to see Thunderbird become an even more public project, with more contributors with greater authority. This concern is not remotely a reflection on the motivations of Scott and David. They have been devoted Mozilla participants for many years. This is a *structural* concern. It reflects the desire that Thunderbird — the product as well as the code — remain dedicated to the public benefit through the Foundation.

As is the Mozilla way, the public discussion of Thunderbird allowed us to move forward. Through this process we realized that David Ascher, long a part of the Mozilla project, was an excellent candidate for a Thunderbird / mail organization. I talk to David periodically about many Mozilla topics, and I think perhaps I realized he might be interested in leading the new organization even before he did :-) After this, the first step was to have David come to Mountain View (he lives in Vancouver) and meet the Thunderbird developers, followed by a bunch of other folks. I became convinced that David could lead the organization, and had the personality and technical chops to work with the Thunderbird developers. In particular to navigate between their phenomenal commitment to continuing to serve existing Thunderbird users and the Foundation’s goal of broadening the product vision.

I outlined my view of the future to David and Scott, the Thunderbird developers — David Ascher joins Mozilla to lead the new organizaton, David Bienvenu and Scott McGregor join the new organization, they continue to work on Thunderbird as they have been and participate in the efforts to broaden Thunderbird. David and Scott reiterated their interest in forming a private company but agreed that David seemed a good person to run an organization and a reasonable person to work with. We (meaning the Thunderbird developers and I) then spent time talking through how this arrangement could work.

These discusions involve nitty-gritty details like the status of the build system, ensuring that different versions of a product based on the Thunderbird code could be built. They also involve discussions of how modules owners like Scott and David would work within the new structure. Module ownership isn’t related to employment; it’s related to activity and the ability to lead and draw others to one’s work. So we expect the current developers to remain module owners for as long as they are active, interested, and leading a healthy community. We expect someone from Mozilla (eventually at MailCo) to make the final decision about when that code is ready to have the official Thunderbird name and be released as a product. There’s nothing new in this, but it’s always good to reiterate a shared understanding in a time of change.

In September I announced Mozilla’s plans for a new Thunderbird / mail organization. David Ascher is already at work getting to know the community, find out who is interested and able to help, and working through the details of setting up an effective organization. Scott and David are working on their plans as well. One of the fundamental aspects of Mozilla is that participation is not dependent on employment. Mozilla has phenomenal contributors who have never been employed to work on Mozilla. We have people who change jobs and remain equally involved with Mozilla. We have people who change jobs and later change their involvement with Mozilla, based on their preferences and their ability to lead others. Both Scott and David have stated their plans to continue their involvement with Thunderbird. It’s an unusual setting, and extremely powerful.

In the coming months a large set of Mozilla folks with be working on getting the new Thunderbird / mail organization organized and running, as well as serving Thunderbird users. We are also very eager to see Thunderbird become a broader product vision and to see a community with greater distributed authority. More people with the expertise and ability to authority to work deeply in the code will lead to a better product faster, and will spur the development of new experiments to improve mail. If you are driven to see Internet communications improve and can assist, please get in touch with David.

Thunderbird Process of Change Part 1

October 8th, 2007

In the coming months there will be a lot of discussion about how mail and Thunderbird will evolve. There will also be more detailed discussions about the new organizational home as we move from plans to concreteness. This seems a good time to describe how we got to where we are today.

Thunderbird has been a part of the Mozilla Foundation since the Foundation was created in 2003. Initially the developers did all the work, including build, release and QA. After a while I arranged for the organization to provide the full range of resources to Thunderbird as well, meaning build, release, QA and marketing. We did not make separate groups to support Thunderbird (other than the actual application developers, where we had one Firefox developer and two Thunderbird developers).

That setting remained unchanged but started to grow uncomfortable as the web started exploding in 2005 and 2006. Not only did Firefox marketshare and mindshare explode, but the web (and the browser) as a delivery platform for new applications also came of age. Firefox was at the center of a new wave of activity and a giant ecosystem. Through this Mozilla acquired a stronger voice for openness, innovation and participation on the web.

Thunderbird remained an important product with a significant and dedicated userbase. But Thunderbird diverged from our browser based efforts in a number of ways. One is the scope and vision of the product. Thunderbird is an email client. IT has some RSS and newsgroup capability, but it is primarily an email client. Increasingly other forms of web communications are developing. And Thunderbird the email client is not the complete answer to email needs. A complete solution might have other functionality (for example, calendar is a highly desired feature). A complete solution might include some server aspects, it might include a strategy for webmail, etc.

Second, email is a decreasing percentage of Internet communications. It’s still critically important to those of us who live in it of course. But even those who live in email often also use instant messaging, SMS, and other new ways of staying updated. Thunderbird is an excellent basis for thinking about these topics and improving Internet and web-based communications as a whole. But this wasn’t happening. And third, we weren’t seeing Thunderbird develop the kind of community or influence in the industry that Firefox has.

Two things became clear. We had the team for developing to develop a stand-alone desktop email application. But we didn’t have the complete set of people to address both that and the larger issues. Without some new impetus, Thunderbird would continue in a status quo pattern. The second thing that became clear was that we weren’t likely to build a mail / communications team we need inside the Mozilla Corporation.

Why not? Sometimes diversification can be a good strategy. Some companies do quite well with wildly different product lines, different operating groups responsible for them, all connected in one organization. But doing this well requires a certain type of management, and that is not the type we have at Mozilla. If an organization has different product lines and different development organizations, there must be a set of people in the organization who are thinking about all of them. At a minimum, that set includes whoever is making (or in our case guiding) strategy decisions, whoever is making decisions about how much money to spend where, whoever makes decisions about hiring and job responsibilities.

We could have a layer of decision-making that balances these two. But that involves more management, both in people and in process. Mozilla is about empowering as many people as possible to do, to make decisions and take action. We have managers and management in the Mozilla Foundation and Corporation, but generally we have as little as possible to get the job done.

So in late 2006 we started thinking very hard about creating a new organizational home for Thunderbird. A number of us came to the conclusion this was the best plan, including the Foundation Board and the key Thunderbird developers.

In my next post I’ll describe how we went from this realization to our current plan.

ED Search Interviews

September 24th, 2007

Last Wednesday (September 19) Dan Mosedale did a brief segment about the Mozilla Foundation’s search for an executive director on that day’s Air Mozilla episode. In that interview (available via a multitude of sources, check out the options are Air Mozilla) Dan described how the Search Committee is looking for input to form our questions and frame our initial discussions with candidates. The current working sets of questions / discussion topics for both first and second round interviews can be found linked from the Executive Director summary page, as can the notes describing the interview process from our kick-off meeting with our recruiter. The second round of interview is where we’ll really start to dig into how a candidate might interact with Mozilla.

The search committee will do a better job if we know your hopes and goals for the Mozilla Foundation. Please take a few minutes to read through our topics so far and let us know your hopes and goals, and suggest types of discussions you would find valuable to have with candidates.

Thunderbird Update – Brief

August 5th, 2007

Thanks to everyone who took the time to respond to my mail/Thunderbird posts. (Well, to almost everyone anyway.) We’re assimilating those comments now. After speaking at some length with the lead Thunderbird developers (Scott and David) here’s what we’ve assimilated so far.

  1. Great interest in seeing Thunderbird move forward. Both in terms of a healthy existence, and in terms of development of new features.
  2. Option 1 of my initial post — a separate Thunderbird and /or mail Foundation didn’t generate much interest. This option requires a significant number of people deeply interested in the organization and administration of the effort; running a Foundation is work. This option is at the end of the list now.
  3. There’s a fair amount of desire for things to stay the same. That desire is not shared by Scott, David, the Foundation or the Corporation.
  4. There is some interest in Option 3, where the developers would form a independent company themselves to make the Thunderbird product based on the code in the Mozilla mail project.
  5. There’s also a lot of interest in seeing Thunderbird remain part of the Mozilla Foundation as a product. It will stay as a Foundation project whether we take Option 2 or Option 3. In either case the code stays in the Mozilla world under Mozilla policies. The open question is what group takes that code, makes the Thunderbird product from it, releases and supports that product.

Next Steps:

Scott, David and I are working on describing in more detail what Options 2 and 3 would look like; what would be needed, but the unresolved issues are, etc. We hope to get some more information posted shortly.

Thunderbird — Google question

July 26th, 2007

The first theme in the comments to the Thunderbird and mail post I want to address is the idea that this decision is somehow related to Google, Google products or Google revenue. I want to be as clear as possible about the complete lack of Google involvement.

I have no idea if Google thinks the Thunderbird announcement is a good idea, bad idea, irrelevant or if they even know of it.

To be more specific:

  • Google and Google products had nothing to do with this decision.
  • We did not ask Google about Thunderbird product planning, Thunderbird revenue, gmail product planning or gmail revenue.
  • We did not ask Google’s opinion.
  • Google’s plans for gmail — whatever they are, and they are unknown to me — are irrelevant to this decision.

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