The Lifecycles of Open Source Projects

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There are hundreds of thousands of open source projects out there – many are innovative ideas, poised to make a positive impact on the world. There is a much smaller number that move from an idea with one or two maintainers to broad adoption with an active community and investments from other organizations. How does this happen? What moves the needle? Helping projects grow and mature is exactly the mission of the Linux Foundation. We are a place where open source innovators thrive. 

In this article, I want to help you look at each of the project life cycle stages, determine where your project is, and, at a high-level, show how you can move your project successfully through each stage. 

What does success look like?

Open Source projects succeed when the right parties are involved throughout every stage of a project’s life cycle. Project teams work together from the early proposal and planning stages to the projects’ peak maturity stages and eventual wind-down.

This article is targeted to help Open Source Communities and Program Managers identify the life cycle stages of a project and promote the participation of the right committees at the right time to drive the project smoothly and transition it as it develops.

It also analyzes an example of what a project’s participation and challenges look like for an early-stage project compared to a mature project to bring insight into what to expect at those stages.

Open Source project life cycle

Depending on your Open Source project, these stages might vary in name, but most projects center on the same principles and focus on the following stages:

The Proposal Stage Where a specific need is identified and planning preparations for resources and work is analyzed and presented to the technical steering committee (TSC) and Chair committees.

The Incubation Stage It starts when a proposal is approved, and the resources are assigned. This is one of the most critical stages in the project. Early development is underway, and it is essential to set the foundation of how the project will operate to avoid difficulties in the future.

The Mature Stage It happens when a project has made several successful releases and is on track with its vision. Challenges may still exist; however, given the planning during the early stages, they are manageable.

The Core Stage It is defined when a project has reached a broad audience due to its value. This is where teams need to focus on maintaining and keeping the pace steady.

Project Archived This stage can sometimes be challenging to identify, given the speed gained in the previous stages. It could be a good thing that a project has reached its goal and hence needs to be archived, or it can, unfortunately, happen due to unforeseen circumstances like a lack of resources to collaborate. For projects that have difficulty identifying this stage, I recommend the following article: Winding Down an Open Source Project.

Committee Participation

Let’s discuss how a project in its early Incubation stage compares to a project in a Mature set and how having the appropriate committee’s attention can facilitate the work.

Project during Incubation

Still in a fragile state, requirement changes can still occur.

Board and TSC to approve
Committers and Maintainers

High activity of contributions since this project can still be considered under the bring-up phase

Committers and Maintainers collaborate on content

Can still be at risk of achieving if resource availability and contributions decline

Board and TSC can take a decision

Project during Maturity

At this point, the project should be heading towards the next releases. If requirements change, it might be a sign of poor planning.

Committers and Maintainers collaborate on content

Core review happens after evaluating the state of the releases and the demand that they have created.

TSC to approve

Can still be at risk of achieving if resource availability and contributions decline!

Board and TSC can take a decision

It is essential to have a clear definition of where your project stands and a clear roadmap to where it is heading so the key teams can perform their best during the project’s life cycle.

How does LFX play a part in the project’s life cycle?

LFX was developed by the Linux Foundation to streamline and support Open Source projects at any stage of a project’s life cycle. For example:

Individual Dashboard: This is where it all begins. Create your open source profile and affiliations to manage your project contributions to be credited for your contributions as the project progresses—a necessity for all developers at the Proposal and Incubation stages. 
Insights: Offers critical metrics on collaboration, issue tracking, and CI/CD status, which are vital tools to keep the pace of contributions and make more informed decisions early on. Great tool for the Incubation, Mature, and Core phases.
Security: Projects need license and vulnerability protection, and the Security tool helps projects scan their code and report any issues with options to get these fixed—a must-have during Incubation, Mature, and Core phases.
Organization Dashboard:  Provides complete visibility and activity for open source projects and all Linux Foundation services. A valuable tool for our Members/Organizations in the Proposal, Incubation, Mature, and Core phases.
Easy CLA: A tool to consider early on to have company and individual contributions protected and unblocked so collaborators and committers can participate as soon as possible. Great to have at the Proposal stage.   
Mentorship: At any stage, the Mentorship tool brings mentors experts based on the project and mentees interested to learn more about it to participate and start contributing. This tool is excellent to have available at any life cycle stage.

With the right participation from individuals and committees, the project will have the right resources to grow and develop through each life cycle stage.   I hope this article comes in handy for your open source community, and you find it easier to accurately identify your project’s life cycle stage – and have the right LFX tools to boost your project performance. All LFX tools play an essential part in the open source project’s development; this article hopefully helps your team choose where to start your LFX journey.

Check out the LFX tools and for additional information about project life cycles, please feel free to contact me, Jessica Gonzalez, at jwagantall@linuxfoundation.org and join your colleagues in the open source community at the LFX Community Forum. 

The author, Jessica Gonzalez, is Release Engineer & LFX Community Architect at the Linux Foundation.

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