LugRadio has a very interesting discussion in their current podcast about the role of a community manager, in creating a vibrant community around an open source project. They came to the conclusion that each project needs a leader that people trust to take the project in the right direction, someone to be a diplomat to resolve issues among people in the community and keep everyone rowing in the same direction, and a strong technical lead to solve the hard problems.
This sounds quite similar to the challenges a small business faces. "The E-Myth Revisited," by Michael Gerber, is essential reading for anyone wanting to start a small business, and some of the same ideas apply to building a successful open source project.
Basically, Gerber says you need to have 3 personalities in your business:
- The entrepreneur, the person with the vision to drive the business/project forward, always a step ahead working on what's next
- The manager, somebody to make sure all the work gets done on schedule, delivered on time, and that everybody is working in the same direction with the same priorities
- The technician, who actually does the work
And small businesses, like open source projects, are almost always started by technicians, people who just know they can do a better job than anybody else, so they set out to do it themselves. The reason why so many businesses fail is because the founders spend all their time building something without setting enough overall direction or managing their cash flow. Sound familiar?
The key to creating both a successful business and an open source project is balancing out these 3 personalities and making sure all are represented to an appropriate degree.