I had the pleasure last week of seeing Dan Young and Emma Jane Hogbin Westby’s talk on Humane Teams at Home and Around the World at the Pivotal London Lunch meetup, and came away with a lot to think about: how different cities do meetups, the choices that we make about how we work with teams, and what information informs those choices.
It’s always a delightful experience to see how different cities do different meetups. Even though it was the middle of the week and pouring down rain, over 60 people came to see the talk! The structure of the meetup is around topics interesting to tech, not necessarily the most technical deep dive. It’s almost like a bite-sized DevOps Day feeling, in a really lovely space in the Pivotal office.
When I was kid, there was a pretty cool documentary show called In Search Of…, which examined various paranormal (Bigfoot, The Bermuda Triangle) and natural (killer bees, hurricanes) phenomena and mysteries. This may seem dull for a pre-teen kid, but it was narrated by Leonard Nimoy, so I was pretty much all in.
One of the things this show (and others like it) does is avoid any real conclusions. Episodes paint a picture of many possibilities, present some counter arguments, then wrap up with a vague innocuous statement like "Is there really a Bigfoot? Only time may tell."
(Yeah, not really big on the mystery solving.)
As entertaining as this show is, it’s not really the vague approach community team members want when trying to solve their greatest mystery: "Who is using our software?"
I recently sent a report to project management containing some numbers that purport to describe the status of the RDO project.
I got a long and thoughtful response from one of the managers—we’ll call him Mark—and it seems worthwhile sharing some of his insights. To summarize, what he said was, don’t bother collecting stats if they don’t tell a story.
Most people who went to school learned to count, a skill basic enough to be mastered by everyone. Yet, we often forget to use the necessary amount of critical thinking with counting, which leads to some problems–especially in free software.
Working for a company that started as a Linux distribution provider, it will surprise no one by saying that my team is often asked to acquire some statistics about the downloads of packages in order to estimate community engagement and the number of users of the project.
Though my job is not a community liaison, I work with enough of them to understand they need a way to measure the growth of their respective communities and the impact of their work. The professionalization of the community metrics field has even spawned its own mini-conference. Similarly, my colleagues working on the commercial side of the company have long since embraced the use of metrics and KPI offered by numerous CRM software platforms that provide reports to the upper management and enabling them to have a synthetic view and much-needed feedback on their initiatives.
But when people ask me for such statistics, I often explain why this is not the best idea. While download statistics are good for trends in community growth, they are not the sole sign of community health. This is due to three points I will now explain in detail.