IBM Rational Gets Good Governance with Open-Source Practices

How can project managers get better control of ongoing software development projects--in other words, improve ''IT governance'' in their organizations? According to Dr. Lee Nackman, VP of product development and customer support at IBM's Rational division, by adopting some of the principles of open-source development.

Nackman gave a keynote on Tuesday at the SD West show entitled, ''IT Governance: What it Means, Why You Should Care, and How It Can Help You.'' He told his audience that IBM has improved its own IT governance by weaving some open-source principles into its decision-making structure.

''It's not good governance to be counting keystrokes like the boss in Dilbert,'' Nackman, said, referring to my favorite pointy-haired executive in the newspaper comic strip. ''Good governance,'' he said, emphasizes developer empowerment, which is a cornerstone of the open-source model.

Open-source development isn't as loosey-goosey as you might think. Nackman pointed out that the leading OSS orgs actually employ grounded, merit-based governance processes. The difference is, instead of working off a set of requirements handed down by a pointy-haired boss, open-source developers work on features identified out by a peer-based, collaborative process.

Nackman also pointed to a successful, highly collaborative program at his own company, called IBM Community Source, which employs an open source-like governance model in the development of behind-the-firewall software projects.

The big idea here is that managers can get better control of the projects for which they are responsible by letting go of the idea that they must impose rigid, measurable processes on developers. You set up an architecture, but you let the developers innovate within it. I'm reminded of the famous General Patton admonition: ''Never tell people how to do things; tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.''

Nackman's notions should come as no surprise; IBM has had more than a few toes in the open-source pond for some time. Nackman himself was one of the IBMers who pushed to make the Eclipse framework (which Big Blue built) open source. And he became a founding member of the Board of Stewards for eclipse.org.

Speaking of which, Nackman also told attendees that IBM will be previewing some new Eclipse-based governance technology at next week's EclipsCon 2006 Conference (which will take place right here in Santa Clara). ''It's really about a distributed platform that will support geographically distributed teams that are working together,'' he said.

Sounds interesting. I'll be there... I mean, here.

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About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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