Planning a Summit is hard, let’s go shopping

Hello fellow Mozillians (and curious onlookers)!

In a couple of days you will, en-masse, get your first peek at the high level agenda of the 3 day MegaMozillaFest you’ll be cannon-balling into this coming October. As someone who feels very fortunate to have been part of the planning processes (more multiple threads than you can shake a stick at) I thought I’d take some time during my layover en-route to Toronto and fill you in on what got us here in the hopes that:

  • I can shine light on how much hard work and sincerity went into the organization so that participants can get a lot out of this experience
  • You can see how many different voices and teams come together to plan an event at this scale
  • You’ll become as excited as I am (or close) for the journey we’re about to go on together this fall

It started, for me, back in June when 70 ‘delegates’ were brought together at the Mozilla Paris office to begin the conversations that were intended to bubble up the big issues and tensions that our community needs to address at Summit.

Wait.  It started before that.

For delegates going to the Paris Planning Assembly, we were asked to go out and interview people in our ‘functional areas’ and query them about the story of how they got engaged with Mozilla, what they perceived our challenges and opportunities to be, and where they see Mozilla going in the next 10-15 years.  I reached out to our Homozilla list, WoMoz, and also to the Firefox Team – a nice, diverse group of people to try and drag up some feedback to bring.

Sidebar:  We often get asked to seek feedback from others in preparation and most recently I did this for a TRIBE workshop. From doing those interviews in person I now plan to commit to doing all sorts of info-gatherings in person/vidyo rather than over email.  It’s too easy to send out an email blast and then just pick up what comes back to you. I get so much more from talking with a person face-to-face (video chat counts) and as you’ll see later in the post about Summit planning, it’s important to go a little further trying to encourage feedback than just a one-way missive over email that can be easily ignored or missed.

 

I got less feedback from people than I would want or expect.  It’s a part of our culture to be cycling rapidly on our work and that results in a general air of being overwhelmed and too busy to do anything out of the usual routine so I largely attribute the low response rate to that. For my part I could have framed the questions differently, reached out to individual people instead of group lists, held a vidyo ‘office hours’ to talk with people in person, and followed up more (ie: nagging, a RelMan’s #1 skill).

Minimal feedback aside, I went to Paris feeling very much like I could bring a certain voice to the discussions as someone who wears many hats in our organization and who’s been involved with the project since 2006.  Also, as a former unpaid contributor, intern, then full time hire I can imagine some of the realities of what it’s like in the shoes of many  Mozillians.

I’ve already written a bit about what happened at the Paris Summit Planning and how it impacted me so I’ll sum up by sharing that when we left Paris the “what’s next?” action was that we each put our names to one of 5 groups where we could be called upon later for ideas/session planning/accountability for that area: People, Process, Product, Strategy, Purpose

Those groups then got turned into three track themes and were assigned two track leads who would work with Steering Committee members on refining the sessions for each as well as with the other delegates from Paris who had signed up to be accountable for those topics.  The entire breakdown of this process is handily in a wiki page, but here’s the high level of who’s involved so you know who I’ve been working with for the past month or so:

  • Purpose & Strategy – Track Leads: myself and Michelle Thorne, Steering Committee: Mitchell Baker and Mark Surman
  • Products & Technology – Track Leads: Dave Herman and David Ascher, Steering Committee: Jay Sullivan and Brendan Eich
  • People & Process – Track Leads: Michael Coates and Zbigniew Braniecki (Gandalf), Steering Committee: Debbie Cohen and Jim Cook

The above listed people, along with Dino Anderson and Dia Bondi (and then a whole host of people behind the scenes like Kate, Mardi, and outside contractors) shepherded us through the last month while we did 3 iterations on an agenda in order to get the results you’ll all see this Tuesday.  We held a TON of meetings with each other, in our small Track groups, and with our body of delegates from Paris. In our group, Purpose and Strategy, we kept circling back to the Nature of Mozilla (NoM) and how to best transmit that message so it can be held as the core of every Mozillian’s understanding of who we are, why we are, and what we do.  We’d have to ask ourselves: Do our sessions have NoM aspects to them?  If not, this isn’t the time.  The very core of what makes us Mozillian is the key to this experience because it’s at the heart of how we will move into the future with our new projects as well as continuing to properly steer our existing ships in the waters of the open web.

During this process of multiple hour-long or more meetings each week with some serious thinkers & planners at Mozilla, several things happened for me:

  • I worried sometimes that we had become too narrow, that as such a small group we weren’t getting enough input, yet at the same time I saw new, and very engaged people at the table taking on leadership roles and bringing up strong points. I had to trust that this part of the planning process (similar to with the Paris planning) was for the best and that we’d get the right pieces cobbled together – always with the larger group who will attend & participate in the final product foremost in our minds.
  • It was reinforced for me many times over how it is for me to participate in meetings that are over 30 minutes long. I’m really going to need to work on that for my own professional development and opportunities in the future.  I’m most definitely open to suggestions on how I can ‘game’ my own self to be better at meetings. In TRIBE we learned about the forms of listening and I’ve been aware of/practiced active listening for 2 decades but there’s something about meetings – the group factor, the agendas, getting off topic.  Perhaps some training in facilitation might help understand this area better.
  • At the beginning of our meetings Dino asked all the Track Leads to speak a little about how we work best and I stated that I always prefer *doing* and am at my best with a list of clear steps to take. While I still enjoy talking/dreaming big, at the end of a rousing brainstorming I need that list of “now what?” and it had better be clear what is expected from me next. This planning process was definitely done in a way that met & exceeded my needs in that area. I applaud all the people who are at the top of the accountability chain for the Summit on their skillful communications and guidance throughout the last few months.
  • I felt incredibly fortunate to be a part of the creation of this next milestone in our shared Mozilla experience.  We were *creating* a journey for (almost) all Mozillians to share.  Having these touchstones within a project is so important. Being at the table to dream up and then turn into actuality the plan for complete engagement, alignment, and inspiration of what will get us all to the next billion web users is a heady task and I truly believe we’re very much on the right track to providing a creative and engaging space in October that will change all of your lives in good ways.

At the end of our last agenda review, I was filled with excitement about our schedule:  Science & Culture Fairs, lots of Open Sessions, something called ‘Speedgeeking’ which I suspect will be like lightning talks, and then the overall story we’re going to learn about but also build into over 3 days. I’m sad that I’m missing almost 2/3 of Summit due to a prior commitment to the Grace Hopper Conference Open Source Day but I’ll join many of you on Saturday evening in Toronto and go deep Sunday so I can get the most out of it.

I hope this explanation of the process helps you understand how many people put in a lot of time to create what you’ll be participating in.  Please join us with an open heart to the goals of this gathering – whichever location you end up in – know that we brought in as many of your voices as we could, that we want more than anything for you to get as excited about Mozilla’s future as we’ve been while dreaming about how we’re all going to build it together, aligned and re-energized.  See you in October!

 

One comment

  1. Eitan

    There have probably been formal channels for this, but I missed it. I would love to have a space for talking about Mozilla’s mission from a perspective of social and economic justice. Purpose & strategy might be it, but I don’t know!

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