As I've been watching this rapid release thing continue to unfold, I've been thinking about what it is that truly went wrong in the messaging. The fact that at this point, Mozilla executives are having to continue to try to sell this to people means that something went wrong in how they executed the change. As I thought about it more and more, I realized what a big part of the problem was - stakeholders.
If you read any books about successfully making change in your organization, they bring up the important of getting the stakeholders on board with the change early on in the process. As I look through the history of Firefox, I see over and over again where Mozilla made major changes and failed to communicate with the stakeholders before making changes. Here are just a few examples:
Stakeholders: Theme developers
When Firefox introduced the concept of Personas, they failed to account for incompatibility with themes. This continues to be a problem to this day. As a result, they completely alienated most theme developers.
Change: Rapid Release
Stakeholders: Enterprises, Add-on Developers, Localizers, Bug Triagers
When Mozilla introduced rapid release, they failed to account for additional work for localizers, bug triagers and add-on developers. They failed to account for enterprises that have dependencies on longer life cycles.
Change: Third Party Add-on Notification
Stakeholders: Add-on Developers
When Mozilla announced third party add-on notification, they failed to account for the shear amount of third party add-ons that are out there. According to Mozilla, a full 75% of installed add-ons are NOT from AMO. When this change goes in, it's going to seriously impact the add-in community.
Change: Removal of Firefox Community Editions
Stakeholders: People Repackaging Firefox
When Mozilla removed Firefox Community Editions, they did it silently. Simply turning the page into a 404. They didn't even realize what they'd done until someone told them.
Change: Removal of Status Bar
Stakeholders: Add-on Developer, Users
When Mozilla removed the status bar, they failed to account for the fact that it would break so many add-ons. Luckily sanity came in and they got something to fix it before Firefox 4 shipped. But users continue to complain about the loss of the status bar.
Change: Removal of Version Numbers
I realize this change was reverted, but this is another classic example of just throwing something out there without really gauging what the impact would be to the community.
Recently there was a blog post on planet that talked about remembering that Mozilla was not a company supporting a community, but a community supporting a company (or something like that). That might be true with the Mozilla organization in general, but when it comes to Firefox, they behave more like a company that makes decisions without really regarding how they will affect the rest of the community. Or maybe they do think about it but just do a very poor job communicating it.
The argument is generally "we discussed that in the newsgroups," but I don't buy it.
We live in a modern age where people communicate in blogs rather than newsgroups, and this is an area where Mozilla falls way behind. The main Mozilla blog doesn't even allow comments, and when the add-ons blog is used to communicate changes, they are always posted after hours west coast time. So there are no responses from Mozilla to questions until usually a full 12 hours after the posting. Announcements like this should happen early in the day on the west coast so there can be an active discussion. They also do a very poor job moderating, with comments taking as long as 24 hours to show up.
In the end, despite all the information that comes out of Mozilla, they do a very poor job actually communicating. Communicating is not just about producing words or announcing things, it's about having an interactive dialog. And lately (especially as an add-on developer), it feels like most of the time it's just Mozilla saying "this is the way it's going to be."
That's not how you get people to buy-in to your ideas.