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This post is from the CollabNet VersionOne blog and has not been updated since the original publish date.

Last Updated Nov 17, 2009 — Enterprise Agile Planning expert

Coffee, Tea, or Community?

Enterprise Agile Planning

I recently had occasion to
go to CollabNet headquarters in Brisbane, CA.  My flight from Chicago to San Francisco was on a totally full Boeing 777.  As the plane was loading in Chicago, 
I witnessed from my choice vantage point in seat 22E (yes, that’s the middle
seat in coach of a 2-5-2 configuration) a dynamic that I couldn’t help find
analogous to a smoothly running community site in action. 

The cattle call that is the
boarding process of the economy section of a wide bodied airplane is always
good for some entertainment value if you get there early enough and are willing
to look for it.  My favorite part comes
as the overhead space starts to get tight and people decide that the laws of
physics are for chumps and decide that their 3 cubic feet piece of luggage will
indeed fit into the 1 cubic foot of space available to them.  I certainly wasn’t disappointed on this
flight.  The entertainment factor for me
comes when the owner of the luggage just starts wailing away on it trying to
make it fit as if it’s going to magically turn into some sort of blow in foam
instead of the hard sided luggage that they brought with them.  Of course the entertainment value diminishes
quickly when my bag is already in the compartment being asked to accept the
extra piece, but I’ll leave that for another time.

This situation usually
results in one of many solutions, all of which I witnessed on this recent

  1. The owner will finally realize they he can’t
    defy the laws of physics and take the bag elsewhere on the plane
  2. Perhaps a more experienced (or just plan
    brighter) passenger will offer some help, such as rotating the piece 90
    degrees, that will actually make it fit
  3. A refactoring of the current distribution of
    bags in the immediate area occurs to free up the required space for the
    later arriving bag resulting in room for everything to fit harmoniously
  4. The owner will just leave the bag there in the
    hopes that the flight attendant will make the problem go away, which will
    definitely happen with the flight attendant:
    • Employing one of the strategies mentioned above
    • Putting the bag in some location only known to
      the crew as a possibility for storing passenger luggage
    • Removing the bag form the passenger area
      altogether and checking it much to the chagrin of the bag’s owner who
      probably should have done that in the first place

So what’s all this fun have
to do with community sites?  Well, like
most flights, community sites give a diverse population a vehicle for reaching
a common goal.  The common goal on my
flight was to get to San Francisco.  As the repeated announcements stated,
however, we couldn’t get there until all the overhead storage compartments were
closed.  This brought into action the
collaboration of the folks on board to make the goal possible with 3 distinct
roles emerging:

  1. The Active
    :  While all the passengers had a stake in
    what was going on with the overhead space (it needed to be sorted before
    we could go anywhere), not everyone was actively involved in getting
    things sorted out.  Perhaps some of
    the passengers who were involved didn’t have anything to store in the
    overheads, but were nonetheless active in helping others who did either
    through offering their experience or just a brand new observation on the
    situation.  Thriving community sites
    see this all the time.
  2. The
    :  This is the role I was playing as I had
    nothing to put into the overheads and, from my center seat, wasn’t really
    close enough to the action to offer any physical assistance and didn’t
    observe anything that I felt needed my commentary.  Nonetheless, I somehow know what the
    options are for a bag that won’t fit. 
    This knowledge has come to me more from observations I’ve made on
    other flights than from personal experience.  In other words, my observer role on
    other flights has benefited me even though I wasn’t necessarily an active
    contributor on those flights.  At
    any given moment, community sites certainly have plenty of members just
    soaking in the action and becoming more knowledgeable as they do so.
  3. The
    Community Manager
    :  This is the
    role the flight attendants were filling. In the early going when the
    storage space was plentiful, people were able to fend for themselves quite
    easily within the confines of the limited space available.  That’s not to say that they didn’t plan
    for the future by storing their luggage in the most optimal way they
    could, but even if they didn’t things fit pretty easily.  As the plane filled, the situations and
    reactions described above took hold. 
    Most of the problems were mitigated by other passengers helping out
    before the flight attendant was needed. 
    This isn’t to say that the flight attendants weren’t monitoring the
    loading process as it was happening and offering assistance where needed,
    but on rare occasions were they needed to be arbiters of the situation.  When they were, they had the authority
    and knowledge to act in that role. 
    On community sites, this role is handled by the Community
    Manager.  Note that the flight
    attendants didn’t dictate what luggage was brought on board, but knew what
    to do with it when the other passengers couldn’t make it fit.  Likewise, Community Managers need to
    guide the evolution of their sites with proper oversight of the site’s

While this analogy doesn’t
rank with splitting the atom for the first time, I do find examples of
community and community management in the “natural world” to be
interesting.  If “community” can just
happen on its own, should we be able to create highly optimized communities
with a little intervention?


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