Aligning Volunteer Passion with User Pain

4549865709_0c58f4c739_bHead on over to the Community for Open Source Microfinance blog for a post on how we’re trying to help channel the passion and talents of our volunteers to solve the needs and pains of our users. We recently published the process for requesting new features and voting on suggestions to make their way into the product roadmap.  The product roadmap is what guides our volunteer contributors and we want it be user-driven so they can provide new features that directly meet your business requirements. Our Community Feature Requests Dashboard captures all feature requests that have come in and provides a visual glimpse of how the product management team prioritizes your feedback.

Read more on the COSM blog

Building a Better Community Experience

main-board-everything1Thoughts on how the Mifos community can follow David Eaves’ advice on enabling a better community experience based on his analysis of Mozilla metrics and dashboards analyzin contributors and their interactions.

David Eaves, a public policy entrepreneur, open government activist and negotiation expert who advises businesses on open source strategies and community management, put together a fascinating post on his blog. He takes a look at a set of dashboards and metrics Mozilla is using to measure the efficiency of its contributor community. He has pulled together some great insight that our (and any open source community) could follow to maintain better relationships with contributors and enable greater interaction and collaboration across a community.  We’re very excited to see such a large project like Mozilla doing this and should try to do it more formally with our contributor data in MifosForge.

For us, an area that we would really like to dig deep down into is metrics of our implementer community. We’re building pretty solid data on who our independent users are and who are specialists implementing Mifos along with rough metrics to measure that progress.  To help grow the user base of our software and identify how we can increase adoption, we need to understand the overall implementer experience. We’ve begun to analyze the lifecycle of a deployment, pinpointing the pain points along the way. Once we know more about where our users are, why they use our software, and what stage of deployment is most challenging, we can begin to improve the overall experience – i.e. make our software easier to deploy, improve our documentation, etc.

Here are a few noted highlights from David’s post.

Reducing Barriers to Cooperation

David on “Why the contributor experience is a key driver for success of open source projects”

“This task is made all the more complicated since Mozilla’s ability to fulfill its mission and compete against larger, better funded competitors depends on its capacity to tap into a large pool of social capital – a corps of paid and unpaid coders whose creativity can foster new features and ideas. Competing at this level requires Mozilla to provide processes and tools that can effectively harness and coordinate that energy at minimal cost to both contributors and the organization.

As I discussed in my Mozilla Summit talk on Community Management, processes that limit the size or potential of our community limit Mozilla.Conversely, making it easier for people to cooperate, collaborate, experiment and play enhances the community’s capacity. Consequently, open source projects should – in my opinion – constantly be looking to reduce or eliminate transactions costs and barriers to cooperation. A good example of this is how Github showed that forking can be a positive social contribution. Yes it made managing the code base easier, but what it really did was empower people. It took something everyone thought would kill open source projects – forking – and made it a powerful tool of experimentation and play.”

We have struggled with this given the learning curve for Mifos is so high and the codebase can be so murky once you get deep into it.  Seeking to overcome that, we try to put out as clear of documentation as possible, use tools that are open and transparent, and use the best-in-class open source libraries as we modularize our platform.  That being said, it requires a strong culture and a deep commitment to reducing these barriers that we as many open source projects must improve upon.

Building a Better Experience

David on “Using Data to Build a Better Contributor Experience”

“Unfortunately, it is often hard to quantitatively assess how effectively an open source community manages itself. Our goal is to change that. The hope is that these dashboards – and the data that underlies them – will provide contributors with an enhanced situational awareness of the community so they could improve not just the code base, but the community and its processes. If we can help instigate a faster pace of innovation of change in the processes of Mozilla, then I think this will both make it easier to improve the contributor experience and increase the pace of innovation and change in the software. That’s the hope.

…An open source communities volunteer contributors should be a treasured resource. One nice thing about this dashboard is that you can not only see just volunteers, but you can get a quick sense of those who haven’t submitted a patch in a while.

Using this view we can see who are volunteers who are starting to participate less – note the red circle marked “everything okay?” A good community manager might send these people an email asking if everything is okay. Maybe they are moving on, or maybe they just had a baby (and so are busy with a totally different type of patch – diapers), but maybe they had a bad experience and are frustrated, or a bunch of code is stuck in review. These are things we would want to know, and know quickly, as losing these contributors would be bad. In addition, we can also see who are the emerging power contributors – they might be people we want to mentor, or connect with mentors in order to solidify their positive association with our community and speed up their development. In my view, this should be core responsibilities of community managers and this dashboard makes it much easier to execute on these opportunities.”

main-board-everything1

With a business domain that is so complex and a product that is so niche, we fully know that finding quality contributors is a challenge.  Retaining them and keeping them actively involved is a priority. We can use data to help us know who is actively contributing, who is dropping off and what areas of the product they’re contributing to. By understanding the overall contributor experience, we can build the processes and culture to increase community stickiness and incent volunteers to participate more.  Our mission of 3 Billion Maries is strong and we try to actively recognize our Star Contributors but we have much more we could do – how do you think we can increase volunteer contribution? More in-depth projects? Greater ownership of the project? Deeper connection to the entrepreneurs we’re empowering? Simpler projects? More engaged mentorship? Professional Networking and Development? There are many levers we can adjust to build a better experience, which matter to you most?

Understanding community is vital to helping it thrive and be successful.  For Mifos we need to focus on both our contributors and even more so our implementers – this community is the group that can help take our technology the last mile to the regions where microfinance institutions need it most.

Enabling Social Change through Software Development

The Mifos community would like to extend our congratulations to Ken Banks, the 2011 Pizzigati Prize recipient, for his leadership and innovation in Mobiles for Development through FrontlineSMS. We would also like to recognize Adam Monsen, Mifos software engineer and open source evangelist who we nominated for the award for his fervent passion for open source software and his selfless commitment to empowering users and developers in our community to contribute.  

monsen

The Tides Foundation announced this morning that it had awarded the 2011 Pizzigati Prize for outstanding contribution in public interest software development to Ken Banks, founder of FrontlineSMS. A tip of the hat to Ken for being a true pioneer in the Mobiles for Development space.  Ken’s commitment to openness and user-based design is a brilliant example of what it takes to build a vibrant community. The strong team he’s built, the active community he’s cultivated, and the widespread adoption along with specialized adaptation of FrontlineSMS serve as a blueprint for other open source projects.

Although he wasn’t victorious, we would like to give a pat on the back to Adam Monsen who truly embodies the characteristics of Antonio Pizzigati in helping others realize their dreams through software development.  Adam always has the interest of others at heart and is a true advocate of open source software for non profits, proof that developers can enable social change through software.  Adam breathes life and energy into our communty that makes it hum – whether it’s donning his track suit for a documentation sprint or responding thoroughly to mailing lists posts as our informal Lord of the Listserv, and as we learned today – baking a great loaf of bread ;).

Here are a few snippets from Adam Monsen’s nomination form:

What is the role of software developers in social change?

What if Farmville, an online game with tens of millions of active users, were used to drive social change rather than simply entertain?

The role of software developers in the social change movement is to bring it to scale. Developers have specialized skills and knowledge: they can build tools that unite, organize, and facilitate positive social change at a scale impossible without software.

Consider poverty, and Mifos. Say you are a microfinance bank serving ten thousand poor clients. Your business is growing, and your clients are doing well. You can prove that your bank is helping the poor to rise out of poverty. You want to grow! To get to one million clients, you need software that can efficiently track loans and savings accounts for these clients: calculating interest, reporting on progress, and integrating with other aspects of your business such as accounting so your service at one million clients is better than your service at ten thousand. 

4495738815_4ebc4f5be0_z

How has the nominee demonstrated leadership in public interest computing?

Adam Monsen is a dedicated advocate of open source software for the public good. His energy as a lifelong OS evangelist and contributor is visible in his effort to ensure openness and transparency in Mifos development. Looking back on the growth in participation in the community, it wouldn’t have been possible without Adam. He is the grease that makes the community run smoothly. Adam is always involved – activism, documentation, ease of collaboration, improving our software, even helping to resolve legal issues. He is the most active voice on the mailing list; first to welcome a new volunteer and always quick to respond on #mifos IRC.  Every time I search for information, it’s easily found because he has put in place a tool so that all documentation, discussion, and decisions are open, indexed, and available. Adam helps to grow the community too – he initiated participation with Google Summer of Code, led talks at OSCON and on FLOSS weekly, and collaborates with HFOSS projects like OpenMRS. The Mifos software wouldn’t be where it is today without Adam – as the team re-architects Mifos, he makes it’s a priority to incorporates best-in-class open source components to ensure it is robust and actively maintained. 

Ken is in good company with previous winners of the Pizzigati Prize which include our peers, Yaw Anokwa of OpenDataKit and Darius Jazayeri of OpenMRS. We look forward to hopefully joining them in 2012.

Mifos User Meeting – a Big Success!

imagesLast week we held our first ever online Mifos user meeting and it was a big success with 44 people from 12 countries in attendance. Despite some hiccups with the logistics of GoToWebinar, the turnout and participation was fantastic.  The mix of people attending was just what we were looking for – existing Mifos users as well as new potential Mifos users, Specialists supporting MFIs implementing Mifos, and contributors strengthening the Mifos platform. We got to hear some detailed feedback from new users like I.Can Capital Microfinance in the Philppines and valuable insight on product architecture from long-time Mifos veterans like Terry Wong, who is still following our project even after volunteering 5 years ago.

It was the perfect time to share what’s been going on, take a closer look at the new features in our most recent releases, and unveil a huge step forward, the Mifos Business Intelligence Suite.  The questions and feedback were invaluable.  We are definitely going to have user webinars like this again and do it more often, covering more topics that you want to learn about. While planning is underway for a global developer summit in India this summer, we’re also looking to potentially host a global Mifos user conference in a year.  We’d love to know if you’d like to attend in the comments.

Check out the presentation below and our 4 main takeaways from the meeting after the jump!

4 Take-aways

Looking back the user meeting, there were four big take-aways:

Show what we’re building.

Our product team is doing a lot of great work and shipping a ton of new functionality. You, our community,ppi
need to understand and see how that technology works. We showed some screenshots and did a live demo during the user meeting but we need to be more visual and demonstrative about what’s new in the product. It’s easy to read over a list of features and not fully grasp the power of what’s inside and what you can do with Mifos. With Questions Groups, we’ve really opened up the potential to collect rich data and information about your clients; we now have integrated social performance measurement through PPI, and our M-PESA integration is coming just in time as Safaricom looks to roll this out across Africa. Business Intelligence is a major focus for the product going forward; our Mifos Business Intelligence Suite 1.0 is only just the tip of the iceberg. The demo we gave prompted a lot of questions and we’ll soon share more about the new standard reports, the data warehouse, and the exciting capabilities of Pentaho like dashboards and ad-hoc reporting that are on the horizon.

Listen to what you need.

listenDuring the user meeting, we were overwhelmed with questions and feedback across all subject areas. From mobile data entry to accounting integration to offline capabilities to Know Your Customer requirements for India, you had great feedback about where you want the product to go. We really need to listen to what our users need and be agile in building out the product to respond promptly to evolving market conditions. The refactoring of the code into a more modular framework is positioning us to release new features faster. A more layered architecture and framework for plug-ins also means that you, external contributors, can build new functionality more quickly as well. It’s only through a combination of listening, capturing feedback, and a platform that enables our team to develop quickly and external developers to work effectively, that we can evolve our product to keep pace with the microfinance sector. We’re working to build out better mechanisms to capture feedback but for now, read this page on requesting new features and stay tuned to our roadmap for updates.

Get technical.

During the user meeting, we also had a lot of questions about using the product, configuring the product, andhelp
customizing the product. We encourage you to voice these questions on our developer and user mailing lists. There you can get a quick response from our team or any one of our worldiwde users or contributors in the Mifos community. We also have great documentation. Technical and systems admininstration documentation is on our wiki on MifosForge. User documentation and how to configure the product is on mifos.org. Processes and tools for deploying mifos can be found  in our deployment toolkit along with live case studies in our deployment project pages.  If you can’t what you’re looking for, let us know how we can make it more accessible or what you want to see. With that said, you can only get so much help online or through email and nothing beats talking through a problem with a real human being. We’ll try to have more of these user webinars covering different topics based on your feedback – some will be more technical, others more strategic and business-focused.

Share what you’re doing.

Picture Downloas 2.6.10 136From the sheer number of people who were on the call to the growing number of deployments, there’s alot of activity going on in the Mifos community. Unfortunately, most of you probably don’t know about it. During the user meeting, Nayan from Conflux Technologies in India gave an impromptu demonstration of the Offline Collection Sheet Entry module he was building.  It was moving to see how impressed and gracious Duffy, representing Lumana in Ghana, was after learning about this new discovery and connection in the community. For the community to grow, it needs to be aware of this activity; we need to build these connections, which will increase the sense of community and in turn enable more collaboration. If you haven’t, check out some of the social features on mifos.org like our regional user groups and user profiles that we’re using to build community. For the latest news, follow @mifos on twitter, subscribe to this newslog and sign up for our newsletter. We’re also ramping up our presence on other sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. Here’s just a small snapshot of some recent community activity:

Listen photo courtesy of ky_olsen via Flickr | Question photo courtesy of matt.hutchinson via Flickr.

Leila E Translations – the Final Push!

halfdomeCode freeze for Leila E has come and gone but we’re still not finished with our translations. We need to have all our translations completed.  Help us ship Mifos with versions for French, Spanish, Chinese, and Portuguese.

Our Translation Sprint two weeks ago provided a great spurt and needed boost to our efforts.  Thanks to all the members of the Translatewiki.net and Mifos communities for participating. We had over 1000 messages translated that weekend and more than 3500 messages translated in total since. We’ve also yielded some good traction on new languages like Bengali, Burmese, Tegulu, Tagalog, Interlingua, German, Breton, Norwegian, Macedonian, and Dutch.
Read more

GSOC Mentor Summit 2010

For the second year, Adam Monsen and I attended the Google Summer of Code 2010 Mentor Summit. This year’s summit was held on October 23 and 24, at Google Headquarters.

We knew more what to expect this year, and maybe that’s why I felt I even got more out of this year’s meetings. Last year, I kind of stood back and attended a few of the sessions I was interested in. This year, in addition to attending some cool sessions, I hosted two sessions:  “GSOC in Africa” (http://openetherpad.org/gsoc-in-africa), and “Audio and Video for Distributed Teams” (http://openetherpad.org/AudioVideoDistributedTeams) .

Read more

Summer of Code 2010 – A Journey Well-Traveled

In this post, we want to take the opportunity to thank our 2010 Google Summer of Code interns for dedicating their summers to helping end poverty.

2010_300x267px When summer comes around, the Mifos team looks forward to an energetic group of Google Summer of Code interns who are ready to dive into our project and help us push towards our vision of 3 Billion Maries.

This summer was no different as we had five interns hard at work, helping us transition the Mifos platform to its next generation architecture. From the back-end to the front-end, the contributions of our interns will bring forth a more robust product to our customers and a platform that is much quicker, lightweight, and easier for our contributors to build on.

Read more

Adam Feuer Interviewed by PayPal X Developer Network

Mifos Director of Engineering, Adam Feuer discusses our goal to end poverty, and software’s place in achieving that goal.

20100809_article.mifos_.interview.photo_.Adam-FeuerRecently, Adam Feuer, had the chance to sit down with Matthew Russell of the PayPal X Developer Network for a casual conversation discussing Mifos and how developers around the world can work towards ending poverty by contributing to our software.

Visit the PayPal X site for an edited transcript of the interview or listen to the full conversation in this .mp3 file.

Adam covers a wide range of topics including:

Read more

Uncovering the DNA of a Great Team

Mifos & ThoughtWorks teams discover the keys to successful global collaboration.

bootcamp_art_2Recently the Tech for Microfinance team has been going through the McCarthy Bootcamp, a teamwork laboratory, to help bring our team into alignment and closer to greatness. BootCamp is transforming us into a high-performance team, fully aligned around a shared vision so we can ship a great Mifos product faster to our customers.

Thus far, our team has completed two BootCamps; one with our US-based staff and then a second follow-on BootCamp with our software engineers and professional services staff from around the world. This past May we held our 3rd BootCamp with the newest member of the team Joe McNulty, and four participants from our newest strategic technology partner, ThoughtWorks. Bringing together the ThoughtWorks team from Bangalore with our Seattle staff we aimed to form a strong team that would eliminate the time zone and geographical distances. The following is a highlight of their achievements throughout their 3 day BootCamp:

Read more

Meet the 2010 Google Summer of Code Mifos Interns

This year we’re excited to announce a class of 7 rock star Google Summer of Code interns who will be part of the Mifos team this summer. In now our second year participating in Google Summer of Code, we look to build off the successes of Udai Gupta and Johan Hilding, last year’s interns, by taking on a larger team that will help us to bring participation to a new level.

Our 7 students from around the world bring a diverse set of skills, interests, and perspectives that will help to extend the Mifos platform. Once again we had an incredibly impressive pool of applicants making it difficult to narrow them down to this group. We’d like to thank all for applying and the dedication you’ve shown in wanting to help end poverty through writing code.

Read more