Being a project manager in your community is an important part of any community lead role. Your job as a community manager is to help feed and water the community, and when I’m asked about how to describe my job, it’s usually "everything that isn’t code is part of my problem." My role is to help guide and catalyze the community to grow beyond where it is now, and for that, you’re going to need some project management skills.
As a project manager, some of your skills include managing information to a wider team, communicating throughout all aspects of the project, managing budgets and generally being the person who knows where the project is at any time. As a community manager, you’ll need a lot of the same skill sets.
I moved from being a project manager to a community lead, and there are aspects of each that are very different! Project managers have a lot of different pieces to manage in their day to day work, and they’re really good at working in conflict-rich environments. There’s always a negotiation going on, between time and budget and features. Community leads have a much broader view of a project, and usually a significant amount of stakeholder management, so there might not be as much day to day conflict—but there’s a lot of relationship management that goes on. The two are well suited to each other, and your project management skills aren’t as tied to the fact that communities are largely volunteers: you’d be the same person regardless of the goal.
This isn’t always all about Gantt charts. A Gantt chart is a project manager’s tool to help manage schedules for a project. It’s really just a way to be able to visually organize dependencies and project timelines in one space. You may not always have that in your project, but it’s a nice toolset to have: thinking about ways to able to communicate information about your project and community in a way that’s easily accessible. In order to figure out where your project is going, you’ll need to be able to write things down with which other people can work.
Think of your role of the catalyst as someone who takes a lot of information that’s somewhat disparate and hard to understand and turns it into a narrative for your community to understand more about itself. Communities aren’t always in the same place for a tool like a gantt chart, but they have project roadmaps and goals. They’re not always using the same tools, but as a community lead, you can help create alignment by calling out what those goals are and what progress looks like on those goals.
This can take a few different forms! One thing that I like to do for the community is write a monthly newsletter about various things coming up in Gluster, but also highlighting important mailing list threads that people might have missed. It’s a way to be able to pull information out of a sea of email and while it’s Yet Another Email, it’s another communication tool that is part of the project.
Another thing that I’ve started doing is using GitHub as a project management tool: we have a community repo for the Community Working Group, and while all of these things may have been on my own to do list for the project, it’s even better if I can expose the priorities for the community this way. Anyone can come in and add a issue, I can add issues to the work in progress and completed columns, and I create a project board for every three months. This breaks work down into rough milestones, allows us to maintain a reasonable project backlog and take input from the community. It’s led me towards finding things that the community wants that wasn’t necessarily top of mind for me. For example, I found out when I created the board that our community wanted to have an easy way to be able to request swag for meetups—because people came in and filed tickets for that. It’s a great way to find out where community growth is happening that you didn’t know about.
One of the other duties for project managers is managing budgets. As a community lead, you may also have a budget—but it’s a little different. You’re not going to have billable hours going towards a project, but you do have the chance to be able to see what things budget could be useful for. Your project may need a way to connect more with community—what events could you be sending people towards? What are your expectations for those events? Maybe your web presence could use more love, but your project isn’t necessarily the most design-forward, so being able to pay for consulting on a new open source website might move your community forward as well.
What aspects of being a project manager do you see in your community work?