Research Questions on Product Management of Open Source in Commercial Products

I’m seeking advice on how to frame the research question for a research project (Ph.D. thesis) on software product management and open source. The simple heuristic “non-differentiating -> open source it, competitively differentating -> keep it closed” doesn’t cut it because of secondary effects like development efficiency resulting from open sourcing, market opportunities resulting from platform compatiblity, etc.

The best I could come up with so far are three different but related questions. These are:

  1. For a non-differentiating function, which open source component to choose?
  2. For a chosen open source component, how to manage this dependency?
  3. For a competitively differentiating function, when to open source?

Questions 1 and 2 are well-defined. Question 3 remains unwieldy. The heuristic mentioned above would answer “never”, but this is not true, as explained. Overall competitive situation and compatibility considerations may still lead to open sourcing unique intellectual property.

I’m seeking comments as to how practitioners (or other researchers) would look at this question. Any comments are appreciated.

Why don’t companies open source more of their in-house code?

John Mark Walker, in a thread started by Matt Asay, nudged me to provide my opinion on the subject matter. Here we go as a Twitter thread. (I’m trying out Twitter collections and threading for the first time; advice on how to do it better is appreciated.)

Upcoming Industry Talk on Agile Architekturentwicklung beim Aufbau einer Cloud-Plattform by Marcus Mennemeier of Actano GmbH

We will host an industry talk on “Agile Architekturentwicklung beim Aufbau einer Cloud-Plattform” in AMOS, our agile methods course. The talk is free and open to the public.

  • by: Marcus Mennemeier, Actano GmbH
  • about: Agile Architekturentwicklung beim Aufbau einer Cloud-Plattform
  • on: January 11th, 2018, 10:15 Uhr
  • at: TU Berlin, Marchstraße 23, 10587 Berlin, room MAR 4.065
  • as part of: AMOS speaker series

Speaker: Marcus Mennemeier verfügt über 20 Jahre Erfahrung in IT-Projekten für die Automobil-, IT- und Medienbranche. Dabei hat er sich als Unternehmer und Geschäftsführer vor allem mit der Koordination und Konzeption komplexer. Softwareprojekte beschäftigt. Er ist eine strategische Quelle für Ideen und Impulse im Bereich der Plattform- und Softwareentwicklung mit dem Fokus auf kollaboratives Projektmanagement.

Upcoming Industry Talk on Agile in Research by Carina Haupt of Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR)

We will host an industry talk on “Agile in research” in AMOS, our agile methods course. The talk is free and open to the public.

  • by: Carina Haupt, Deutsches Zentrum für Luft-und Raumfahrt (DLR)
  • about: Agile in research
  • on: February 8th, 2018, 10:15 Uhr
  • at: TU Berlin, Marchstraße 23, 10587 Berlin, room MAR 4.065
  • as part of: AMOS speaker series

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Upcoming Industry Talk on Inside an Agile Transformation of 1000+ Employees by Samir Keck of Zalando

We will host an industry talk on “Inside an agile transformation of +1.000 employees” in AMOS, our agile methods course. The talk is free and open to the public.

  • by: Samir Keck, Zalando
  • about: Inside an agile transformation of 1000+ employees
  • on: February 1st, 2018, 10:15 Uhr
  • at: TU Berlin, Marchstraße 23, 10587 Berlin, room MAR 4.065
  • as part of: AMOS speaker series

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Why companies don’t always freeride on open source projects

I presented on open source foundations earlier this week to economist friends at TU Munich. I naturally got the question about freeriding: Why does anyone contribute to open source projects, if they could do something else with their time? The cinch: This time we are talking about companies, not invididual people, so the arguments about altruism and signaling don’t apply. So, why do companies contribute and don’t just freeride? I don’t think this question has been answered well yet in economics, and I’m not sure established theory has a ready answer.

To make it short: I believe the most direct reason why companies contribute to open source projects is to lower their cost of consumption of that very project. Specifically, contributing to a project builds competence in that project, and employing committers builds additional foresight and influence. General compentence makes the company use the software more effectively, avoiding costly bugs and rework. Foresight and influence helps the company avoid misalignment of their products with the evolving open source software they depend on. Such misalignment can also lead to costly rework and missed market opportunities.

I’m not aware of any RoI model that helps an engineering manager determine how much to contribute to achieve how much lower consumption costs and risks. Because of the step function from contributor to committer status for the involved employees, the investment return is not a linear function, that much we can say. The rest remains imperfect science for now.

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