Does all 'Collaboration' Have to be Face-to-Face?

September 11, 2008 CollabNet VersionOne

Eugenia Loli-Queru just wrote an interesting blog post on why Linux will never be as good as OS X from a desktop user experience perspective. I’m not 100% sure I agree with her (even though I’m a Mac user), but I certainly see her point. However, she lost me when she made the somewhat overarching claim that Open Source projects cannot be effective unless everyone is ‘on the same campus’. I consider Eugenia a friend, and I know she was specifically referring to the desktop experience in this case, but her point about face-to-face collaboration being necessary for success needs some closer examination.

I think we have plenty of examples to the contrary, such as the Linux kernel itself, SVN, Firefox, GIMP, etc. In a perfect world, you would be able to have everyone sitting right down the hall from each other, but in today’s global economy, that isn’t always feasible for Open Source, or businesses for that matter. I think a larger factor in success of collaboration is the ‘culture’ that is involved. In successful Open Source projects, as Jack Repenning noted earlier today, there is true community based on meritocracy. I’d like to think that the results speak for themselves in successful projects that have remote collaborators. I will grant Eugenia this: in the Open Source world (or the business world for that matter), projects that don’t foster this sense of collaboration/community/common goals often end up devolving into chaos.

Despite what some might think, my choice to come to CollabNet was less about the tools themselves (which I believe in 100% as a former customer) and more about what I hope that we as a company can do when talking to clients about collaboration and how to do a better job of it. I believe strongly in what Jack has said about ‘innersourcing‘, because I saw that work in the pockets that my former team at Motorola pushed it in.

Selling a toolset like ours to improve interactions and project management is only 50% of the equation. If we cannot help our clients build collaborative communities (local and remote) that use our toolset, I think we are missing a significant part of what differentiates us and makes us successful. That is the reason I wanted to take on the challenge of ‘Community Management’ for our clients – there is a lot of value (and excitement) in applying the lessons of successful Open Source projects to corporate projects.

I’d love to hear opinions from folks reading this – in your experience, does collaboration always require face-to-face interactions? What tools or processes have you or your teams used to bridge the geographic ‘project gap’?

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