The Penguinist Discourse: A Critical Application of Open Source Software Project Management to Organization Development
Federman, Mark, Organization Development Journal
The apparent altruism observed among contributors to Free/Libre/Open Source Software (FLOSS) initiatives is often envied by managers seeking to inspire and motivate employees. While conventional managerialist authors often encourage the emulation of FLOSS management style, this paper seeks a social-psychological understanding on FLOSS contributors' motivation, and the control dynamics of the projects' organization. Radical changes on some of the basic assumptions of conventional practices may be required to translate FLOSS approaches to corporate management.
The philosophy of the Free/Libre/Open Source Software (FLOSS) movement, and more specifically, the Linux development model, are heralded as powerful and effective approaches for organizing software development. Lately, aspects of the FLOSS approach have been abstracted and proposed as a new paradigm for managing organizations. This is especially true of so-called virtual organizations, a term loosely used to describe those entities whose members are geographically dispersed, where communication is primarily (or exclusively) accomplished through Internet-enabled technology, and which are largely concerned with the production of knowledge-related goods and services as a key business initiative. As the "fast capitalist" discourse (Gee, Hull, & Lankshear, 1996) suggests, successful companies in the globalized economy are increasingly taking on these characteristics. It is therefore likely that many aspects of the FLOSS management approach will be appropriated as "best practices" by managerialist organization development proponents, and nominally applied to contemporary business management.
A Critical View of Fast Capitalism
It can be said that so-called fast capitalism is the result of global, instantaneous communications that has accelerated the pace of business over the past two decades, and enabled business operations that are not constrained by the limitations of physical geography or time zone boundaries. As I have explained elsewhere (Federman & de Kerckhove, 2003), such extreme acceleration creates a reversal in the original characteristics of the accelerated entity, and modern business seems to be no exception. Gee et al. (1996) observe that "old capitalism's" underlying principles were founded on mass production of goods, and later, services, by a relatively uniform workforce. The increasing affluence of this workforce not only provided the necessary labor, but simultaneously, the requisite market. As affluence and the resultant consumer spending increased, so too did the saturation of the market. Vast improvements in global communications, and increased efficiencies in transportation both expanded markets and enabled distributed labor forces. Additionally, they enabled a reversal in capitalism's underlying principle.
"New capitalism" is characterized by mass customization:
.. .the design, production, and marketing of "high quality" goods and services for now saturated markets... selling newer and ever more perfect(ed) customized (individualized) goods and services to niche markets - that is, to groups of people who come to define and change their identities by the sorts of goods and services they consume. (Gee et al., 1996, p. 26)
The ultimate fast capitalist competitor, then, is one who can respond almost immediately to the rapid customization demands of customers. Such responsiveness places a premium on innovation, design, advance marketing intelligence - in other words, knowledge as the raw material and basic commodity of contemporary times. But to transform knowledge-as-manufacturing-inputs into identity-creating adjuncts (that happen to take the form of products and services), necessitates a corresponding transformation of the labor force.
Nominally, at least, heterogeneous, hierarchical work forces are replaced by collaboratively organized teams, comprised of individually motivated entrepreneurial workers who must consider their careers as they consider their jobs - projects to be managed. …