5 tips to start your open source project

Running an open source project is hard. That's especially true for ones involving hardware and mechanical components. While that may sound intimidating, it's also easier than ever to start your open source project and keep everyone involved up to date.

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Don't let the management of the work get in the way of you achieving your goal. Get out there and use the resources made available to you in communities like GrabCAD to build a product that solves a problem. Big or small, we can help you get your team started and help you share, view, and manage your files throughout each iteration cycle.

1. Start organized with a process in place.

First things first. Before you upload anything or get started, you should create a structure for your project that makes sense for what you're building. Should it be organized by part or by assembly? We strongly encourage having the bones of your project in place before inviting anyone to join the team. It makes it easier for everyone to pay attention to the main motivation and get right to work. There are a few things to consider when putting together your file structure:

  • Keep file and folder names as simple as possible. Our system handles automatic version control for files of the same name. So there's no need to set things up based on version. However, it is important to explain that file names and folder names shouldn't be changed or duplicated. It could cause confusion and unintended extra effort.
  • Let people know why you set things up the way you did. While it is a good plan to start with a system, it is even better to make it easier for others in the project to make things better. If people know the reasons why you created something, then they will be better prepared to suggest helpful changes as the project gets started and progresses.
  • Don't forget to inspire. What made you want to do this? Why should people care about the problem? How should they be imagining the solution? Put together a "Read me" folder for the project where new members can get to know the mission and get inspired to jump into the mix.

2. Recruit collaborators with a strong story.

Do you know who should be part of the early founding of the team? Like any company, it is good to have a strong sense of leadership in a project. You will need to identify a core group of people to start the work and motivate new members to action. Work on getting those people excited about what you're doing before you open up the project to the masses.

This founding group of members will shape your project's story and will be an additional force to gain support. Create a public page in the GrabCAD community to recruit your founding team. Already have one? Don't worry, this will also be used to gain widespread support and involvement.

Be sure to include:

  • Marketable name for the project.
  • In-depth description of your mission.
  • What stage you are in and where you plan to go in the next one.
  • Introduce your team members as they join.
  • Pictures, videos, sketches, etc.
  • Instructions on how to get involved.

Anything that frames the work you'll be doing and asking others to do should be included. Any details that make your vision more interesting or compelling should be there. If you're planning or raising funding at any point via Indiegogo, Kickstarter or Dragon Innovation's new platform, you should really focus on this step! Most successful projects have support before they go to get funding.

3. Create a back office workspace.

A Workbench project will be private to you and your chosen collaborators but it should complement your front-facing project page. It is where the bulk of the work gets done while the public page acts as a place for high-level updates and for followers who love what you're doing but cannot contribute time can see your progress. This is where people share CAD files, view updates and give each other notes via markup, and manage versions and workflows.

You can read further on how to successfully invite collaborators and present your work. In an open source project, the main thing to focus on is engagement.

  • Who are your collaborators?
  • Are they contributing?
  • Are they aware of what needs to be done?
  • Do they have a problem blocking them?
  • Who is the best person to help with a certain task?

You can easily call someone's attention to a task with an "@" mention. You can use our pin system to create tasks. The "Updates page" is a great place to set rules, assign roles, and provide links to tools for your team.

4. Automate as many updates as you can

Once you have a minimum viable product to show the world, you should get it out there. Upload your first version to your public page. Let everyone know who contributed what to the project. It is a great way to reward your team for their accomplishments.

This is your chance to:

  • Publicize your progress with real 3D files.
  • Give public credit to all the hard workers who helped.
  • Describe challenges you faced and how you overcame them.
  • List skills you need for the next round of work.
  • Share what you learned for anyone who is following.

This may seem like a lot of information, but you can accomplish this with a video or a quick blurb in the description. If you're tracking phases like we discussed earlier, simply replace the text that described Phase I. The overall goal is to close the loop with your audience after each iteration. They don't need the noise that happens in the background, they just need to see the big things that matter.

Through your public page you can push updates to all of your social channels: Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google. An outside service like Buffer can help you take the URL to your project and send it simultaneously to your followers with a trackable link along with your update.

5. Recruit, update, repeat.

Now it's time to keep working!

You should have the structure you need to recruit and the back office tools you need to run your open source team. Any thing we missed? Let us know about your challenges in the comments and we'll continue to update this post with tips and tricks to get started. Stay tuned for future posts on getting funded and getting your project made and delivered.


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