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Ploneability 06 Report

by paul last modified 2006-06-05 13:05

A report on the Plone conference Oxfam hosted in May 2006 in Oxford England. The one-day program focused on Plone for NGOs.

Ploneability Trip Report, May 2006

On May 31, Oxfam Great Britain hosted Ploneability 06. This one-day conference targeted NGOs that were evaluating Plone as a CMS. I was invited to give the opening keynote and moderate a panel at the end.

First up, tremendous kudos to the Oxfam team for pulling off one of the best events I have attended in the last few years. Andrew Hatton was the lead organizer and did a fabulous job (Andrew is also chair of the Plone Foundation IP Committee.) Oxfam's new building provided a gorgeous and friendly environment for the parallel track of sessions.

Also, as full disclosure, Zea Partners worked on the Plone deployment described by Oxfam during the event, and I was project manager for that deployment. As such, I had both a deep sense of happiness as well as gratitude towards Oxfam, both for the project and the invitation to discuss the results.

The conference attracted approximately 65 attendees. Notably, very few were developers. Instead, most were decision-makers inside their organizations. Andrew told me beforehand that, due to space constraints, they had to turn away 20 people, and if he had advertised more than 2 months in advance, he could have twice the interest.

The conference started with opening remarks by Jane Cotton, the HR director and sponsor of the CMS project. She helped set the stage for the event by giving a high-level statement about Plone, the CMS deployment, and open source.

Andrew Hatton then proceeded to give the most enjoyable talk of the day. Andrew and I worked together quite closely during 2004 on the project. He is an amazingly kind and talented person, and a delightful speaker as well. Andrew took the audience on a tour of where Oxfam's web story began, the iterations it went through, and where they are now.

I then had a 45-min slot for discussing "The Plone Community: What It Is and How It Works". (You can view the slides but they probably won't be much use.) My talk focused on the mechanics of the Plone community, not the features of the software. The NGO decision-makers need such information to evaluate open source products, and hopefully, join forces with a community that shares its values. Fortunately I had some key people from Plone-land in the audience to help explain: Andrew, Martin Aspeli, and Duncan Booth.

After a break we broke into parallel tracks. I stayed in the same room for a talk by Romilly Gregory on the Plone selection process at Oxfam. Again, full disclosure: Romilly led the Plone "DCMS" (document and content management system) project at Oxfam during my involvement. She is a remarkable I noted during my talk, she is the only person on the planet that I think I could happily work for as my boss.

Romilly gave the talk of the day. She explained the motivation that led to the DCMS project and the way they approached the RFP and tender process. She then gave an insider's view of how the selection process worked, including a series of graphs showing the actual results of their grading criteria on various vendors and software packages. Romilly explained how open source was added to the list a bit late in the process and how it challenged the traditional ways to do a vendor selection. Romilly also described the features of "Enterprise Plone", the package that resulted from the Oxfam project. (Note: The Oxfam project can take some or all of the credit for CMFEditions, Kupu, LinguaPlone, CompositePack, and more.)

This was a remarkable session. Very rarely do you get the honest scoop on the crucial details. The audience, I think, realized that they were getting wildly, wildly valuable information, and engaged in a serious discussion. The back-and-forth was a joy to see: the NGO decision-makers were deeply interested, asking spot-on questions, adding follow-ups to each others' questions, and getting straight answers from Oxfam. The session closed with a tremendous buzz and energy.

Romilly's session was capped off by Penny Malm who discussed how running a CMS project is different from a normal project (conclusion: not that different) and how running an open source project is different from a commercial project (she had good points here, worth viewing her slides when they come online.) I worked as much with Penny (and Andy Gilby, see end) on a day-to-day basis than anybody else for a year. She comes from a high-end CMS consulting background, which makes her the most talented project manager I know, but she also has that Oxfam gene of gentleness, joy, and purpose.

After the lunch we continued on the parallel tracks. I stayed in for a presentation by Blue Fountain, the UK-based consulting company that now works with Oxfam for ongoing work. (Disclosure: Blue Fountain is a Zea Partner.) Both Ian and John gave a crisp description of the work they have done and are doing, as well as a peek inside on issues involving open source.

For the final presentation of the day, Henrietta Ray from Oxfam gave a neat presentation on how Plone development works. She recently participated in a Plone development "sprint" on an archipelago in Norway. Prior to that she hadn't gotten directly involved with the community, and this sprint was her introduction to social and process aspects. She helped interpret for the others in the audience how that worked, the lessons she learned, and the value she gained from that. Martin Aspeli co-presented with her.

As the final part of the day, we had a panel discussion with Romilly, Andrew, Duncan, and Peter Hollands. Peter was a management consultant with Cisco, and before that had a distinguished career, including managing Solaris in Europe. He worked with the Cisco Foundation during Oxfam's multi-stepped adoption of Plone and is working with other NGOs on platform strategies at the executive level. Peter has been my friend and mentor during my time in Europe and, quite possibly, could be one of the people that matters most in getting Plone broadly adopted in the NGO sector.

The panel proved to be a perfect wrapup of the day. We had more questions than time, and nearly half of the audience jumped into the banter. At one point, the audience went on a long string of talking amongst itself, with a point being raised by one person and commented on by 8 others before the panelists weighed in.

At one stage, Sisi from Friends of the Earth addressed the audience and panelists with the question of, "So what specifically can we do?" Martin had a very timely suggestion: let's convert this discussion to a Plone NGO mailing list. Another person immediately seconded the idea, saying he wanted to cement the discussion into inter-NGO action, starting ASAP. It was decided that the group wanted the Plone NGO community to be a sub-part of the Plone community, using the Plone community's norms and tools. As such, Martin quickly got a Plone NGO mailing list together. (More on the event from Martin in his writeup on Ploneability.)

After the conference we adjourned to the pub for followup. [wink] I spent time catching up with Rici Lake and Andy Gilby from Oxfam. Andy and I did the project coordination on DCMS. I sometimes think of Andy as the most essential person on the project. When the situation starting getting squeezed on a milestone, Andy gave the low-key "keep our chins up" words, as well as spending a ton of hours in the issue tracker, closing and triaging work.

Rici might be the smartest person I know. He has quite an IT pedigree, but also a natural brilliance. I wish I had more time to work with him, particularly on getting his security domains work into broader acceptance.  More broadly, I wish I had more time to just chat with him...each time I'm in a room with him, he spends hours giving me the low-down on parts of the world, and how the world really works, that I didn't know about.

After the conference, several people added their photos to the ploneability tag on Flickr. Martin and I both reported back to Jon Stahl who is investigating the idea of a Plone Conference later this year. Jon is focusing on the NGO meme as well.

In conclusion, thanks to Oxfam for a memorable day, a nostalgic trip through a deployment, and planting the seeds for getting the Plone and NGO communities together.