2020-08-03 Distributed Project Leadership

The governing structure for OpenStack project teams has long been for a Project Team Lead (PTL) to be elected to serve as a singular focus for its team. While the PTL role varies significantly from team to team, the PTL has many responsibilities for managing the development and release process for the project deliverables as well as representing the project team both internally and externally.

This resolution outlines a process for OpenStack project teams to opt in to a “distributed leadership” model where there is no PTL. The responsibilities normally held by the PTL are distributed to various liaisons, which may be held by one or multiple contributors.

The responsibilities mentioned are related to day-to-day operations of the PTL. In this model, the rest of the PTL duties, like driving the team goals or resolve technical disputes, is trusted to the whole team. If necessary, project teams can still contact the TC to resolve deadlocks in disputes.

How the PTL with liaisons works

This resolution will not change how the PTL with liaisons work: the PTL is still encouraged to delegate responsibilities to individuals. The PTL remains the single point of contact and responsibility for all the duties.

Please also have a look at the PTL page on the project team guide.

How Distributed Leadership Works

The day to day responsibilities of the PTL have been broken down into the following roles. Not all roles are required for the minimal viable health of a project team. All these roles can be distributed amongst one or more individuals.

Required roles

The project teams are expected to have at least the following required liaison roles:

  • Release liaison: The release liaison is responsible for requesting releases for deliverables produced by the project team. In addition, release liaisons generally review requests for Feature Freeze Exception (FFE).

  • tact-sig liaison: Historically named the “infra Liaison”. It is responsible for the health of the CI jobs run in the OpenStack Zuul CI. In the event that there is an issue with those jobs, this liaison will be a point of contact for the TaCT SIG. Also, a +1 from at least one tact-sig liaison will be required for changes in the project_config repository.

  • Security liaison: the security liaison is the contact person to help assessing the impact of any security reported issues in the project team deliverables, coordinate the development of patches, review proposed patches, and propose any eventual backport(s).

Liaison selection

The process by which each project team chooses these liaisons is left to the discretion of the project teams, as long as it is public, open, and respectful of the current TC guidelines. The TC advocates the use of consensus decisions, with polls or elections when consensus can not be reached.

Liaison assignment duration

While the PTL is assigned to a single cycle, the duration of the assignment for a team’s liaison is unlimited in time. To avoid outdated information, a TC member dedicated to follow a project team with distributed leadership will query, at regular intervals (once per cycle), if the liaisons for the team are still valid. It is expected to have the liaisons answer on the mailing list thread to extend/validate their liaison status.

Points of Concern

There are a few places where the project teams that choose the distributed leadership model will need to innovate and solve problems:

  • Discoverability: It will make harder to know whom to contact for a project team.

  • Distributed Consensus: With an increased number of people accountable for aspects of the project team, the potential for miscommunications increases.

  • Unclear responsibilities: As a project team moves to the distributed leadership model, it will lose the single point of contact (SPoC). This SPoC was useful for coordination on community topics, like the follow up/implementation of community goals or an official answer on project teams’s questions on the mailing lists, to name a few. As mentioned in the distributed consensus above, an increased number of people accountable for the project team leads to consensus challenges, and also to unclear responsibilities for the liaisons. This could lead to a blurry situation where no one is actually doing the work for the community, as they might have expected “someone else” to do it. The TC expects and trusts the project teams to continue working on their community duties, and encourage projects teams to actively communicate on the mailing lists on community efforts, to remove any eventual misunderstandings and misconceptions.

  • Inclusion: Since some of the liaisons will not be explicitly written in code - like the events liaisons - the project team members will need to actively contact the OpenStack events team. This is different than our usual opt out, and is less inclusive than before.

  • Minimum Viable: This document is intended to assert the minimum set of roles the TC would require to consider the project team to be active and functioning. It is not an exhaustive list of possible roles. For example, a project team might assign someone at the end of each cycle to write the cycle highlights. These responsibilities could also be collectively handled by the project team, as needed or rotated at intervals. Teams have the freedom to choose what works best for them.

Process for Opting In to Distributed Leadership

Project teams that would like to opt in to a distributed leadership role should make sure this change has a relative degree of consensus within the project team. To make the request, a change should be pushed to projects.yaml in the openstack/governance repository to add the line “leadership_type: distributed” to the team’s definition. The minimum required liaisons will also need to be filled-in, in the appropriate fields in the “liaisons” section of the team.

This change to move to a distributed leadership model can only be accepted by the TC when it will receive at least a +1 from the current PTL, and the future liaisons.

Technical notes:

  • A follow-up patch on this resolution will change the “liaisons” field to adapt its current structure, to add the new mandatory roles, next to the already present list of TC members liaising for the team.

  • The releases liaison will continue to be listed in the releases repository, to not impact the current delivery of the releases.

Once a project team has moved to the distributed leadership model, they can revert to the PTL model by creating a change to projects.yaml to remove the “leadership_type: distributed” line in the team’s configuration. This change should have at least a +1 from all the people currently serving as liaisons, including the release liaison for the project team, which might not be in the governance repo. It must also get a +1 from the future PTL, listed in the same change.

A project team may change their opt-in status only once a release cycle, to ensure that the elections officials have clarity on which project teams need PTL elections. All requests should be received by week R-5 of the release calendar.

The distributed leadership model is only requested explicitly. If a project team has no candidate for PTL, the TC will still evaluate the future of the team and its deliverables, with now an extra option (on top of stopping the project or appointing a PTL): convert the project to a distributed leadership with the help of the project team members.