To Agree, disagree, and everything in-between. In this episode, Josepha talks about forming opinions and decision-making in the WordPress project.
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Editor: Dustin Hartzler
Logo: Beatriz Fialho
Production: Chloé Bringmann
Song: Fearless First by Kevin MacLeod
Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:10
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the WordPress Briefing, the podcast where you can catch quick explanations of some of the ideas behind the WordPress open source project and the community around it, as well as get a small list of big things coming up in the next two weeks. I’m your host, Joseph Haden Chomphosy. Here we go!
Josepha Haden Chomphosy 00:40
For anyone who has ever organized something, whether it’s a social event, a school project, or an annual family gathering, you know that there are many different opinions. The more opinions you have, the more likely people don’t see eye to eye. And before you know it, you’ve got some disagreements. Some things make disagreements worse, like imbalance of information, lack of showing your work, and sometimes just “too many cooks in the kitchen,” to use a regional phrase. Frankly, sometimes it seems like the second you have more than one cook in your kitchen, you’re going to get some disagreements. But I think that’s a healthy thing. WordPress is huge. And there are huge numbers of people contributing to WordPress or any other open source project you want to name. So there’s a lot of stuff available to disagree about. If we never saw anyone pointing out an area that wasn’t quite right, there would probably be something wrong. If you, like me, think that a healthy tension of collaborative disagreement can be useful when approached thoughtfully, then this quick start guide is for you.
Step one, prepare to host a discussion. This is, by the way, just the hardest step out there. You have to take a little time to figure out what problem you’re solving with the solution you’re suggesting, any goals that it relates to, and then figure out what the bare minimum best outcome would be and what the wildest dreams magic wand waving outcome would be. And you have to be honest with yourself.
Step two, host the discussion. The venue will be different for different discussions, but you see a lot of these on team blogs or within the actual tickets where work is being done. Wherever you’re hosting it, state the problem, state your idea for the solution and ask for what you missed. If you’re hosting a discussion in person, like in a town hall format, this can be hard. And generally, hosting discussions in an in-person or voice call or zoom call kind of way is hard. So if you have an opportunity to start doing this in text first and level your way up to in person, that’s my recommendation.
Step three is to summarize the discussion and post a decision if possible. So organizing a big discussion into main points is a really good practice for the people you’re summarizing it for and yourself. It helps you to confirm your understanding, and it also gives you the chance to pair other solutions with the problem and goals you outlined in step one. If a different solution solves the same problem but with less time or effort, it’s worth taking a second look with less time or effort. There’s something that I say to WordPress contributors frequently, and that is there are a lot of yeses. There are a lot of right ways to do things and only a few clear wrong ways to do things. So be open-minded about whether or not someone else’s right way to do things could still achieve the goals you’re trying to accomplish with your solution. A note on step three where I said, “and post the decision if possible.” Sometimes you’re the person to make that decision, but sometimes you are not the person who can give something the green light, and so you’re preparing a recommendation. Whether you’re making a decision or a recommendation, sometimes you may experience a little decision-making paralysis. I know I do. So here are a few of the tools that I use.
If you’re avoiding the decision, use the 10/10/10 rule; it can help you figure out if you’re stuck on a short-term problem. If there are too many good choices, use the Eisenhower Matrix that can help you to prioritize objectively. If there are too many bad choices, use the Maximin strategy. It can help you to identify how to minimize any potential negative impacts.
Okay, so you’ve considered your position. You’ve discussed everything. You summarized the big points. Maybe you also worked your way through to a recommendation or a decision. What about everyone who disagreed with the decision? Or have you made a recommendation, and it wasn’t accepted? How do you deal with that? That’s where “disagree and commit” shows up. This phrase was made popular by the folks over at Amazon, I think. But it first showed up, I believe at Sun Microsystems as this phrase, “agreeing, commit, disagree and commit or get out of the way.”
Josepha Haden Chomphosy 05:34
Disagree and commit as a concept works pretty well when everyone agrees on the vision and the goals, but not necessarily how to get to those goals. We’ve had moments in recent history where folks we’re not able to agree, we’re not able to commit, and so then left the project. I hate when that happens. I want people to thrive in this community for the entire length of their careers. But I also understand that situation shows up in the top five learnings of open source when you no longer have interest in the project and handed it off to a competent successor. So there it is – disagreements in open source in WordPress.
As with so many of the things I discuss on this podcast, this is incredibly complex and nuanced in practice. Taking an argument, distilling facts from feelings, and adjusting frames of reference until the solution is well informed and risk-balanced. That is a skill set unto itself. But one that increases the health of any organization. I’ll share that list of references and general materials in the show notes, including a link explaining each of those decision-making tools that I shared. I’m also going to include the contributor training module on decision-making in the WordPress project. It’s got excellent information. It’s part of a series of modules that I asked team reps to take and sponsored contributors. I don’t require it from anyone, but I do hope that it is useful for you. Also, speaking of useful for you, if you are just here for leadership insights, I included some hot takes after the outro music for you. It’s like an Easter egg, but I just told you about it.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy 07:33
And that brings us to our small list of big things! First off, WordCamp Europe is happening this we; I hope that everybody has an opportunity to attend. If you still haven’t gotten your tickets, they are free, and I think there are still a few left. I will include a link in the show notes as well. There’s going to be a little demo with Matt Mullenweg and Matias Ventura on the WordPress 5.8 release that’s coming up. And then kind of a retrospective discussion between Matt and Brian Krogsgard. I encourage you to join; I think it’s going to be very interesting.
There’s also WordCamp, Japan coming up June 20 through 26th. I mentioned it last time – it has a big section of contributing and contribution time. So if you’re looking to get started, some projects are laid out, and I encourage you to take a look at that as well.
The new thing on this list, and I don’t know how new It is, in general, I hope it’s not too new to you, is that WordPress 5.8 release is reaching its beta one milestone on June 8th, so right in the middle of WordCamp Europe. I encourage every single theme developer, plugin developer that we have, agency owners that we have to really take a look at this release and dig into testing it. It’s a gigantic release. And I have so many questions about what will work and will not work once we get it into a broader testing area. We’ve been doing a lot of testing in the outreach program. But it’s always helpful to get people who are using WordPress daily in their jobs to really give a good solid test to the beta product to the beta package. And put it all through its paces for us.
So, that my friends, is your small list of big things. Thank you for tuning in today for the WordPress Briefing. I’m your host Josepha Haden Chomphosy, and I’ll see you again in a couple of weeks.
Josepha Haden Chomphosy 10:09
Hey there, you must be here because I told you about this totally not hidden easter egg about my hot takes on organizational health; I have three for you. And if you’ve ever worked with me, none of this will surprise you. But if you haven’t worked with me, hopefully, it kind of gives you some idea about how I approach all of this a bit differently. So, number one, critical feedback is the sign of a healthy organization. And I will never be dissuaded from that opinion. A complete lack of dissent doesn’t look like “alignment.” To me, that looks like fear. And it goes against the open source idea that many eyes make all bugs shallow.
Tip number two, a bit of tension is good, a bit of disagreement is good. The same thing that I say about women in tech, we’re not all the same. And if we were, then we wouldn’t need to collaborate anyway. But diversity, whether that’s the diversity of thought or of a person or of experience, just doesn’t happen without some misunderstandings. It’s how we choose to grow through those misunderstandings that make all the difference for the type of organization we are.
And hot take number three, changing your mind isn’t flip-flopping or hypocritical. I think that’s a sign of growth and willingness to hear others. I like to think of my embarrassment at past bad decisions – as the sore muscles of a learning brain. And I, again, probably won’t be dissuaded from that opinion. Although, you know, if I’m sticking true to changing your mind some flip-flopping or hypocritical, maybe I will, but you can always try to, to give me the counter-argument for that, and we’ll see how it goes. Thank you for joining me for my little public easter egg.