Dear Dr Coleman

Congratulations on your appointment. May I offer some suggestions for
things you might like to pay attention to now tas you embark on your new
job. I suggest that engagement with the volunteer community, especially at
a strategic and early stage in your decision making will be vital, as will
driving that engagement down to the medium-term goals and activities. Of
course by engagement I mean an intelligent and intelligible two-way
discussion in which all sides participate in a spirit of freedom,
frankness, fairness and constructive dialogue. You may wish to develop a
more coherent and consistent set of portals or other specific and
well-resourced vehicles for that engagement for the medium term, aligned
with the WMF planning and delivery processes, sufficiently well-resourced
to make a different to the coherence and effectivness of your operations. I
further venture to suggest that you may wish to foster a more rigorous
culture of planning and effective delivery to plans than has been universal
in the past, coupled with transparancy and accountability in the full view
of the community who are their ultimate customers.

There are some specific strategic objectives where that engagement has been
absent and where that absence has been hampering effectiveness. It would be
a good idea to get a clear concise and measurable set of obectives around
the areas of Visual Editor, Wikitext, Parsoid, Flow, Workflow and
Discovery. I believe it is also essential that having done so, you publish
them to and involve the Community in an effective way in testing the
direction and delivery of your plans in those areas. Currently there is not
the community buy-in that you need to make these plans effective.  You will
probably want to specifically understand, clarify and stabilise the
proposal around editor and parser unification, which have been mentioned in
public, without detals being made available – there is a considerable
impact on the workflow of the existing base of volunteer content

I will allow myslf the freedom to give you my views on the current
performance of your staff and the progress on some of these projects, which
of course you will complement or contradict as you pursue your
investigations. Those views are not positive, and will probably not be
welcome to you or to your staff. They are nonetheless a genuine view of
those projects as seen by a member of the community keen to be a critical
and constructive observer -- and they are summarised by the four words
under-resourced, under-managed and under-performing*. The VE/Parsoid/Flow
complex suffers from scope mismatch. As a vehicle for delivering a WYSIWYG
editor and discussion board it is over-complex, while VE and Flow are
under-ambitious. Can these really be regarded as cutting edge in 2016? If
correctly scoped they could and should have been delivered and finalised
long ago, if not brought in from pre-existing open source projects.  The
execution of the VE project has been lacklustre. Such a straightforward
product should have been finished long since, and it was clearly
inadequately resourced and managed. Indeed, it has been explained to me in
patronising terms at least twice that this is the way Agile looks. No, this
is the way a badly managed project looks. The current culture appears not
to pritorise such issues as timeliness and grip. Finally, Workflow has
already failed. In the absence of resources to undertake the required
research into the huge complexity of work flows within the projects,
whatever is designed will be designed in ignorance, and hence simply can
not succeed. Ever. It is already a waste of time.

In terms of the wider project, the view of an editing and rendering engine
as handling only unidirectional linear text fails to capture even the
richness of current projects let alone future knowledge modalities, such as
complex text (hieroglyphics, chemistry, mathematics, music),
higher-dimensional data (genomic, proteomic, 3D printing), data in time
(audio, video), interactive, computational, ... all of which could and
should have been scoped out by your innovation work.  Please consider how
you can develop a vibrant and ambitious innovation initiative, actively led
and managed, and in partnership with world-class organisations involved in
knowledge management, representation and curation.

Having mentioned Agile, let me say that the way it is currently regarded in
the WMF seems to me to be fundamentally misconceived.  The attitude towards
Agile development, as put to me by staff, appears to me to be an excuse for
designing without clear goals or user involvement, and delivery of shoddy
bug-ridden code into production systems for the hapless users to debug.  As
I say, this is not Agile.

So, what can be done? The answer is simple, but requires a change in
culture as much as one of process, and change you will need to drive. You
must stop your staff thinking of the community as a burden which you have
to support (a position explicitly taken by the previous ED in 2015) or at
best a lumpenproletariat to work at your direction (a position explicitly
taken by the Board Chair in 2014).  Your staff need to engage with users as
equals, not de haut en bas. The community is here to work with you if you
will let it. As CTO you need an open frank constructive and imaginative
dialogue on planning and future direction, termination of currently failed
or failing projects, resourcing of those which are jointly agreed on, and
drive and grip by leaders who are can provide a strong rigorous and
supportive framework that delivers what the community needs.

With best wishes

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