Platform Evolution/Updates/Feb 2019
The Platform Evolution Program is just over 6 months old. Prior to midterm and annual planning at the WMF, we wanted to provide an update on what the Program Team has been working on over this time and what our next steps will be.
Developing the original program
Evolve our technology platform and development processes to empower the Wikimedia Movement
The Platform Evolution (PE) Program is a multi-year program developed at the WMF in 2018. It is the result of a collaboration between members from the Audiences and Technology departments at WMF along with input from Wikimedia Deutschland. These staff eventually formed the Audiences Technology Working Group (ATWG), as a venue for the departments to discuss long standing problems and develop a shared understanding of the engineering challenges facing our organization and movement.
In addition to progress made on concrete engineering topics, we have also found value in the collaborative process itself: listening to each other’s issues, agreeing on common goals, and working together have all played a large part in the progress we have made. Alongside the concrete goals of the program, we are emphasizing this deep and thoughtful collaboration as a critical part of addressing our technical challenges.
Starting the first year
In July, the program officially kicked off and coincided with the formation of the Core Platform Team (CPT), which was created, in part, to steward the PE Program. For the first year, we planned two types of work:
- Near term, high priority technical changes including unification of our parsers, an improved API for developers, and other similar projects
- A 3-5 year technical plan for the platform to support our movement strategy and technical direction
The known concrete technical work is underway, with a significant amount of the effort being performed by the Parsing team within the Audiences Department. In the meantime, the Program Team has been working on longer term technical planning.
Interviewing stakeholders and preparing for the Wikimedia Technical Conference
Over the summer, the main goal of the PE Program was to validate and expand on the input gathered by the ATWG. To do this, the Program Team interviewed various stakeholders both inside and outside of the WMF and aggregated this information to get a broad understanding of the issues affecting platform stakeholders. Important discussion points around these issues were identified and used to develop the session content for the Wikimedia Technical Conference (TechConf).
Developing goals from discussion and feedback
With so much input, it was important to dig into the larger meaning behind the individual technical problems. Discussions with stakeholders led to uncovering of themes and commonalities between seemingly disparate issues. We expressed and captured these themes as our new high level goals for the PE Program. These goals will guide our decision making processes as well as provide context for our work over the next 3-5 years:
- Define our products, users and use cases. Before making any technical decisions, we need to agree on who we are building our products for and what use cases these products should support. We must make important decisions in both of these areas in order to define our products.
- Work better together, and establish clear roles and communication channels. Along with clarity of products, clarity of responsibilities and processes allow us to work effectively and direct resources responsibly. Complex communities and a complex technological ecosystem require coordination and cooperation to help us move forward together.
- Enable our engineers, staff, and volunteers to achieve our goals easier and faster. Our technology and processes should make everyone’s work more efficient. This means clear documentation and investing in infrastructure that makes deployment of new features and big fixes easier for engineers. This also includes improvements for error reporting and logging in order fix problems quicker.
- Architect our code for change and sustainability. Our platform has supported almost two decades’ worth of collaboration. Using best practices for software architecture and engineering we can extend it for new, as yet unknown challenges.
- Increase our technical capabilities to achieve our strategy. The Wikimedia Foundation and the larger movement require our support to reach next-level goals. Adding new features will help reach them.
These goals can be more succinctly stated as: Clear plans and goals, improved processes, easier to develop, easier to grow, new capabilities. You may also notice that they build on one another, each being supported by those below it:
- We achieve our strategy through empowering our communities with new capabilities.
- We are able to build new technologies because we increased the flexibility and scalability of our platform.
- We are able to make these technical changes because we removed roadblocks that impede our staff and volunteers.
- We are able to remove roadblocks through improving our communication, collaboration and processes.
- …and we able to establish good processes because we have clear objectives that we share as an organization and movement.
Aligning stakeholders and discussing technical topics at TechConf
In October 2018, 58 Wikimedia stakeholders and developers met in Portland, Oregon to discuss the evolution of our platform and identify the work that will serve as the building blocks of a technical roadmap. In 28 working sessions spread over four days, the participants examined the technology and processes that make Wikimedia projects run. We discussed important and long standing problems facing contributors, staff and developers, and explored possible solutions for implementation in the near and long term. Because of the diversity of the functions and skills of the attendees, as well as the time allotted, we were able to concretely make progress on several technical issues - but more importantly we were able to identify areas of agreement, open questions, and next steps which will move our projects forward.
Current step: Developing outcomes and validating them with stakeholders, leadership and community
Since TechConf, the Program Team has been reviewing hundreds of pages notes created both before and during the conference. We have used these notes to further refine our goals into our first draft of outcomes which can be found here. While not final, these outcomes represent the Program Team’s best understanding of our stakeholders' needs. Publishing these outcomes for stakeholders to review will allow us to have concrete discussions about the results we want to achieve as an organization and movement. These outcomes will be used to evaluate the impact of potential projects and help us prioritize those which are most impactful to our strategy. That means these outcomes could have significant impact on our future technical direction and so taking the time to validate and refine these outcomes before is a very important first step.
We are currently at the stage of validating these outcomes with stakeholders, Foundation leadership, and TechConf attendees. If you would like to provide feedback on the outcomes, you can do so by leaving feedback on the Goals and Outcomes talk page. This is an important step for the program as it gives us an opportunity to check in and ensure we are keeping with the spirit of the feedback we have collected over the past year.
What’s next: Midterm planning, prioritizing and roadmapping
We have collected and identified more than 100 concrete projects and actions which could positively impact our communities and staff. Many of these were further refined and discussed at the Wikimedia Technical Conference …and some of these projects have already been started! For the remainder, we will be evaluating and prioritizing them based on how well they help us achieve our stated outcomes. This is why establishing shared outcomes is so important - they allow us to have a common understanding of what is important and allow us to make decisions around what we build, how we build it and when it should be done.
This roadmapping process will happen over the next few months as the whole WMF is developing its 3-5 year strategy.
Participation and next report out
As mentioned above, if you are interested in providing input on the Goals and Outcomes of the program, please leave a comment on the Talk Page. We will be monitoring the talk page and updating outcomes as we receive feedback. We will also be updating the outcomes as we receive feedback from leadership as we agree on midterm priorities over the next few weeks. We expect the next major update for Platform Evolution to happen during midterm planning as we begin to prioritize specific projects.