How a company should stop participating in an open source project

A person standing in a doorway with a light coming through it

You can find plenty of articles about how your company can start participating in an open source project. Articles about how to stop are much more rare. But stopping is important. Just as you wouldn’t expect a person to continue contributing to a project that is no longer worthwhile, it’s unreasonable to expect a company to keep participating forever. Companies contribute to open source projects for many reasons, but once those reasons no longer hold, it doesn’t make sense for them to continue. The key is to have a graceful withdrawal strategy.

The case for planning

Stopping participation can take a variety of forms. It can range form the company not maintaining a particular package or library through pulling all support — labor, infrastructure, and money. No matter what form the stopping takes, there’s a right way to do it.

What happens if you do it wrong? Most of the downside comes to reputational harm. You look bad in the community, which can lead to mistrust, bad press, and a loss in sales. Plus, you may upset current and potential future employees. Of course, you’ll get some of that no matter how you pull back, but you can mitigate the harm with a good plan.

A good plan

Communicate early. As soon as you know you’ll be withdrawing some or all of your participation, let the community know. Even if you don’t have all of the details yet, giving people some advance notice helps them feel less surprised.

Provide a runway. This goes with communicate early. Don’t drop support on the day you announce your withdrawal (or even worse, beforehand). Give the community a few weeks or months (depending on the scope of the withdrawal). You might say “well it’s not in our business interests to continue participation now, why should we keep doing it for a few more months?” Because it’s a jerk move to yank the rug out from under a community like that. Think of it like a notice period to break a contract or a lease. You’ve made an implicit commitment to the community, so you need to provide sufficient time for it to get its affairs in order.

Hand off responsibilities. Work with the community to find volunteers to take over labor or alternative sources for funding or infrastructure. Giving them a long runway will help with this. This is especially important if you’re still continuing part of your participation in the community. If you let part of the project drop on the floor, the community won’t trust your support for the rest.

Consider the context. Has other news happened with your company or industry lately? If you’ve recently been acquired, conducted layoffs, had your stock plunge, etc, then consider waiting a bit. Some people will always invent deeper meanings behind unrelated events, but it doesn’t help to feed them ideas.

The best laid plans…

No matter how good your plan is, something will go wrong. Not everyone will take your messaging the way you intended. Your boss may override you and say “we’re stopping now!” But making a good plan gives you a head start for success.

This post’s featured photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash

Ben formerly led open source messaging at Docker and was the Fedora Program Manager. He is the author of Program Management for Open Source Projects. Ben is an Open Organization Ambassador and frequent conference speaker. His personal website is Funnel Fiasco.


1 Response

  1. Thanks for sharing. My past company doesn’t communicate it greatly when withdrew their fund for certain open source project at that time, cause it to be abandoned sadly.

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