Software Advent Calendar 2023 / 24 / State of InnerSource 2023
"Good programmers know what to write. Great ones know what to rewrite and reuse." — Eric S. Raymond
Welcome to my Christmas advent calendar with software engineering related posts. Every day, until December 25, I will try to share an interesting resource with some personal thoughts. Today’s resource is the “State of InnerSource 2023”.
What is InnerSource?
Inner source is the use of open source software development best practices and the establishment of an open source-like culture within organizations for the development of its non-open-source and/or proprietary software.
The term was coined by Tim O'Reilly circa 2000. It is a growing trend in the engineering world. Teams adopting InnerSource aim to work and collaborate more effectively. Although they develop proprietary software, they open up the work internally between teams so that everyone — from developers to product managers — can contribute to the source code.
One of the elements that makes open source projects successful is the way they grow and develop. People are usually joining an open source project because they believe in the solution - or the mission - of the project. Members of open source communities often live on different geographic locations and have their own style of work, using specific tools to code or communicate. However, once the open source software community is formed, its members have to gradually evolve norms on working together. This type of development became known as collaborative development, a powerful way of making disparate teams work together effectively even when they were not part of the same organization.
InnerSource is adopted today by a variety of corporations in terms of business sector and size. Some of them are: Hewlett Packard, Red Hat, Philips, IBM, Robert Bosch, Google, Microsoft, SAP, PayPal but also non-technological companies and organizations like Walmart, BBC, Deloitte, Disney, Etsy, Mercedes-Benz, NASA, Harvard Business Review among others.
State of InnerSource 2023
InnerSource Commons, the world's largest community of InnerSource practitioners, ran a survey to its community members with questions related to InnerSource evolution during 2023. The respondents were 112 professionals, working as developers, PMs, advocates and executives. The majority of the responders professional experience (82%) was more than 10 years. They represent more than 10 business sectors, 48% of which are in the technology business. The sizes of the organizations vary, and 39% of them employee more than 50K employees. The respondents come from more than 18 geographic locations, with higher representation from Germany and the U.S. Finally, 76% of the responders were male.
How can InnerSource help a team?
Knowledge sharing, better networking within the organization and increased motivation / excitement at work, are the top three benefits a team gets using InnerSource, according to the report.
Knowledge sharing and the elimination of tech gaps within a software company are of paramount importance to software companies, especially the ones that are functioning fully remotely. Adopting InnerSource can tackle those challenges by creating a culture of knowledge sharing and promote the effective networking between the member’s of the company.
How was InnerSource introduced to your company?
39% of respondents said that the InnerSource in their organization started with a bottom-up initiative by one person or a few people. Only 15% said that it started as a top-down initiative with some from management initiating the adoption. A further 39% said it was a mix of both.
(via State of InnerSource 2023)
From the report’s numbers, it seems that InnerSource can organically grow within a company or organization. My personal assumption would be that software engineers, or tech people in general, are familiar with the collaborative development style, due to practicing open source software development in the “early days” of their careers (i.e. participating on open source software projects as students during their college studies). Therefore, they can easily relate with the InnerSource practices.
Trajectory of InnerSource
From the top 3 responses on the following diagram, we see that the participants share that their organizations: had a successful InnerSource pilot project and struggle to scale it up (24%), supporting the scale up of InnerSource projects (15%), are already in a scale up stage (25%).
Now let’s compare these results with the State of InnerSource 2021 report.
Two years ago, roughly 60% of the responders stated that they either had implemented an InnerSource program or they were considering to start one. It seems that, in the last 2 years, the InnerSource community matured and moved from the early adoption stage to actively implementing and scaling up InnerSource programs.
What’s the motivation of an organization to run InnerSource programs? What has been the progress?
When it comes to motivation, the report highlights 3 top reasons: Knowledge sharing, removing silos and creating reusable software. Going back to the first part of the report, “How can InnerSource help a team?”, we can clearly see an alignment between the benefits we saw there and the motivation we discuss here.
How do organizations measure InnerSource progress?
30% of the respondents are not using metrics to assess progress, since they are at the beginning of their InnerSource journey. From the rest, we see the following 3 areas for quantitative measurement:
These areas are further decomposed in specific metrics as follows:
What are the tools used to measure progress?
Although 15 different tools / platforms were referenced such as customized tools or graphs, GitHub stats, GitLab stats and Grimoire Labs, the majority of the respondents didn’t explicitly name tools or platforms.
A very interesting, in my opinion, finding in this part of the research, is:
Just over a quarter of survey respondents noted demonstrable progress in project velocity. However, only 4% of the teams answering this question used metrics to measure increases in velocity. Once again, progress in this area has been reported on an anecdotal basis.
Despite the fact that this statement comes in an anecdotal basis, it is interesting that, although organizations seem to “feel” that project velocity is the right metric to measure progress, they often use a “qualitative sense” of the team / company velocity and not going after quantitative measurements coming from tools.
I will probably come back to velocity, as an agile metric, in a future post. For now, I will leave it as a side note. Should you have some intel / insights on this specific matter, feel free to share your thoughts leaving a comment to this post.
This article is not an exhaustive review of the “State of InnerSource 2023” report. You can access the original report here and study it further. I would be delighted to read your insights and observations, if you feel like sharing.
If the concept of InnerSource caught your eye, and you want to read more on the subject, I strongly suggest reading the book “Getting Started With InnerSource” by Andy Oram, availble for free from here. If you enjoy watching / listening rather than reading, I suggest that you visit the YouTube channel of InnerSource Commons, where you will find a plenitude of videos related to InnerSource.
I hope you enjoyed this first article of the Software Advent Calendar 2023 series! See you tomorrow 🖖.