State of OpenCraft - 2023

This is a follow-up to the last “State of OpenCraft” post, which is already 2 years old, as that was at the beginning of 2020. Quite a few things have happened in the meantime, so it’s about time for an update!

Retrospective

The challenges

Little we knew getting into 2020 how many challenges and changes were ahead. There would be Covid to deal with, and the isolation it brought. The following rush of work to help accelerating the switch to online education in many places. The overload of work that stressed our processes and us as a team. The transition from edX to 2U & tCRIL. The many projects we have taken on, both within the Open edX community and for ourselves. The disrespectful clients we had to manage. The downturn that lowered the demand. And I’m only scratching the surface of everything that happened in those two years!

But getting a bunch of changes and challenges thrown in is basically just life - and what counts is what we do with it. And on that topic, I’m pretty proud of what we have done and participated to, during those two years.

The good news!

In no particular order, just a few nice things about now that I could think of - again, only scratching the surface:

Investment mode

The “investment mode” started and described in the post 2 years ago paid off, as we now have:

  • Caught up on a lot of the DevOps debt
  • Rewritten Ocim into Grove
  • Automated & cleaned-up or simplified many processes
  • Designed & wrote Listaflow, which used both by us and the Open edX community
  • Increased our contributions to the project - 1700 hours of core contributor work, several projects: Tutor helm charts & Grove, Theming, Paragon, etc.
  • Produced a beta version of the Open Source Masterclass

We had to leave some projects aside due to availability or budgets, such as some of the automation we originally planned for billing, recruitment and onboarding; also the async meeting tool. But overall we did quite well in checking off the list of investments planned, even if it sometimes took us a bit more time than we anticipated.

Seeing each other

We have adapted to Covid, have been able to meet at the Open edX conference last year, and are now planning our next coworking week

Investing in the team

A large area of focus of the investments made these last two years were on the team. The high workload in 2020 stress-tested the org, and we used the opportunity to significantly improve the way we work.

For example, we have lowered the individual overhead of non-dev work of the team by delegating more of that work to new dedicated roles (thanks @tikr @gabriel @Fox for the great work there!). Or by creating a dedicated project cell, to allow to better focus on larger projects.

Meetings

Fully async planning now works! We got rid of all our mandatory internal meetings with it - something most organizations can only dream about

Open edX

Following the sale of edX to 2U, Open edX is now its own project, with its dedicated organization & budget, rather than just a secondary project - and we are actively contributing to help make it successful.

In addition to our client work being contributed upstream, we now contribute as 11 core contributors, 2 maintainers and 1 TOC board member, working daily on improving and maintaining the project.

Open source

We have also improved our open source practices:

  • We are more transparent, with a large part of our forum threads now being public (including this one!)
  • Better documentation (thanks @braden!)
  • We have moved projects & tickets to public spaces: Grove, Open Source Masterclass, Listaflow, Sprints, etc.

UX & Product

We now have a much stronger UX & product culture, thanks to the work and influence of @Ali & @cassie

Recruitment

We have worked on improving our recruitment practices a lot, through the introduction of dedicated roles for recruitment, new sources of candidates, better processes & communication for candidates, trial projects.

Decentralization

The goal was to continue in the direction of giving latitude to take decisions to those who do the actual work - and part of the equation was to remove myself from the critical path in a number of areas. This has worked well, I’m now much less central to much of the decision making & processes – roles have been assigned to others who do it well. Kudos to everyone for taking good decisions! That’s what allows us to function this way, which is much better for everyone than the traditional hierarchy imho.

Also, the time this has freed on my side has allowed me to focus on areas where I am more useful, such as tricky legal/tax matters, identifying longer term challenges, working closely with the Open edX community and at the TOC, furthering relationships with other orgs like tCRIL, MIT, etc.

Improved sales & legal team

In addition to the dedicated roles mentioned above, we have also leveled up the sales & legal teams, with the addition of @Fox @DouglasDraper on the sales side, @sabine on the legal side, and by allowing @gabriel to specialize more, when before he pretty much had to handle everything!

The challenges & goals ahead

The most important goal is to continue to do great work for our clients, which then contributes to improve the Open edX project – and to do this in a way that is respectful of everyone.

But there are also still a lot of improvements and changes that we need to do. Here are the main goals I see for 2023:

Primary goals

Restoring sustainability

The raised expenses of the “investment mode” did require to sacrifice a bit of sustainability to be able to prepare the future, but combined to the economical downturn and the general increase of unbilled time, this has put us in the red. We have already discussed this quite a bit over the past months, and the action plan is starting to bear fruit (thanks @tikr!), along with new projects coming up to replace older ones. But that will be something to keep an attentive eye on, we are not out of the tunnel – we’ll need to ramp up new client work, while keeping optimizing sustainability. We’ll also need to see how the upcoming tax audit pans out.

Open edX & open source good practices

We’ll need to keep accompanying the community in developing good open source practices, along with continuing to contribute as much as we can to the project ourselves. We still have a lot of organizational debt in the Open edX project, for example in terms of transparency, interaction of developers with the community, getting more providers/universities to contribute, etc. Among other topics, this includes working with other providers more, like on Helm/Kubernetes & Grove.

Secondary goals

Improving recruitment

Recruitment still a weak point – we have been trying to recruit new candidates for many months, with mixed results so far. It has been ok since the work volume has diminished overall, but with the upcoming projects coming up that could quickly become one of our main blockers to achieve the primary goals above.

Opening Listaflow to the public

Now that we have a really nice software in Listaflow, besides ensuring that we keep improving it so it can benefit from our experience and usage, we also need to open it to the public, and start monetizing it. Also, we are not quite there yet with community outreach – it’s a great starting point to be using it within the Open edX community, but it is probably completely unknown from the rest of the open source or productivity communities.

Comment if you see anything missing in there, or inaccurate! Or if you would like to discuss any of the points above.

[ Ticket to log time reading & replying to this thread ] (also feel free to schedule a dedicated ticket in an upcoming sprint to review it)

20 Likes

Thank you for this post @antoviaque , and for reminding us how much we’ve achieved! It’s been a hard road, but one I’m so glad to be on with all of you. :rocket:

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First and foremost, thanks a lot @antoviaque for such elaborate write-up and helping us see how far we have come, since we can only connect the dots looking backward.

We do need more projects, not just to generate more billable hours, but also we have been observing the pattern where sometimes there is an issue to fill dev. hours with dev. work. I hope we get the new projects soon.

Totally agreed and we should probably see how we can make things better. :slight_smile:

Thanks again for writing this. :slight_smile:

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Agreed on these points. I’m planning to prioritize setup for monetizing the platform in the coming weeks and we’ll look into outreach as well :)

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@antoviaque Thanks for the thorough summary of where we’re at and where we’re headed :clap: .

Sometimes it’s difficult to see the wood for the trees, so it’s helpful to get a picture of things from a higher level.

@Fox Let’s see if we can come up with a more formal game plan for this in our meeting next week.

Thanks @antoviaque :blush:. We really couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to work with! I’m looking forward to the opportunity to work with more of you, and hoping to meet some of you in April.

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The last couple years have been a crazy ride! Thanks for the great summary @antoviaque, and for highlighting what the team was able to achieve together. It puts into perspective how far we’ve come despite the numerous challenges along the way.

I’m really happy to be working with all of you :heart:

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