Thinking about Project Health

by VanL

Some of the most valuable work that OSPOs do involves open source project health. It could be that your organization wants to make its sponsored projects successful, or you could be proactively trying to understand and manage your open source supply chain risk. Either way, understanding community health is an under-appreciated part of a successful open source program.

What do we mean by "project health"?

Project health in general refers to all the factors that contribute to the project's well-being, such as community engagement, quality and quantity of contributions, user satisfaction, and code stability. Assessing the health of an open source project is essential for ensuring its long-term success and sustainability.

Project health can be measured using different metrics. Technical health can be assessed by evaluating factors such as code quality, bug fix rates, and release frequency. Social health can be measured by factors such as the diversity of contributors, community engagement, and user satisfaction.

Evaluating project health is critical because it helps stakeholders identify areas where the project may be struggling and take corrective action to address them. By maintaining a healthy open source project, stakeholders can ensure its sustainability and success.

What does a healthy project look like?

There is no one single measurement that can tell you if a project is healthy. There are a lot of different dimensions to health. What is more helpful is thinking about trends. Is the project growing or shrinking its contributor base? How quickly do people get responses to issues that they file?

Each project will have a different profile, so tools are needed to understand what the baseline is for each project. One important source of tools and knowledge is the CHAOSS (Community Health Analytics Open Source Software) project. CHAOSS is a community-driven initiative that seeks to advance the field of open source project health through data-driven analysis. It was founded in 2017 as a Linux Foundation project and is focused on creating standardized metrics and methodologies for measuring the health of open source communities and projects.

The CHAOSS project develops tools and metrics that can help open source project maintainers, contributors, and users better understand the health and sustainability of their projects. These metrics include measures of community activity, such as the number of active contributors and the frequency of code commits, as well as measures of project sustainability, such as the diversity of contributors and the level of community engagement. Their flagship software, the Grimoire Project, provides a platform for automatically gathering and presenting some of the information created by an open source project.

A more recent tool is Orbit is a commercial product with a free tier. It integrates well with GitHub and other source code hosting sites and provides an easy-to use interface.

How does project health support your goals?

Open source project health is sometimes discussed in very general ways that don't tie how project health affects your business. Without understanding what you find important about a project, it is hard or impossible to tell how "healthy" it might be.

The things that you measure about project health can vary a lot depending on what your business goals might be. If you are just managing your open source supply chain, you might be most interested in the diversity of the project authors and the number of casual contributors that return to contribute again.

If your company is supporting an open source project as part of your business strategy, then different metrics may be of interest. For example, a company that is pursuing a Dual Licensing or Infrastructure business strategy would probably be most interested in the number of users and downloads. A company that is seeking to commoditize some aspect of technology (e.g., an Adjacency model ) might be most interested in the variety of contributors.