The maturity phases of open source projects and working groups

Alyssa Rock — Tech writer. OSS community manager. DocOps enthusiast.
Mar 9, 2023, updated Sep 8, 2023 4 min read

I wanted to share an adaptation of a Slack post I made at The Good Docs Project since it was my first attempt at describing the maturity lifecycle of open source projects and working groups. These observations are based on my three years in the project and the patterns I’ve observed.

When setting up a new working group, there are a few phases of maturity that working groups go through:

❤️ The Heartbeat Phase

This is the first phase where the goal of your group is to establish a consistent heartbeat. A heartbeat means you’re meeting at a regular cadence and that you’ve got at least one person—but ideally two or more people—attending consistently. In this phase, you need to do everything you can to attract additional people who will be the heart of the group. These people will do the main work of the group and eventually become the group’s main leaders and advocates.


In order to find the people who will be the group’s heart, you have to sometimes bend over backwards to make the meeting as easy as possible to attend for the people who will make up the core group (heart).

That means making sure:

  • That meetings accommodate schedules.
  • That people are invited personally.
  • That meeting notifications are communicated out regularly to the group (and beyond).
  • Working on your elevator pitch to attract new members, and more.

There are many other additional strategies you could use to promote attendance and cast a wide net in the project and beyond.

The number one most important way to overcome the challenge and survive the heartbeat phase is to establish consistent meeting patterns with 2+ people who attend very regularly.

What success looks like

A group graduates from the heartbeat phase when you’ve found the heart of your group: the core group members.

Sometimes this phase can last many months and can require lots of persistence.

🚴 The Momentum Phase

This is my favorite phase. This is when the group has found their core members and they start to build momentum. They begin doing some awesome work and making a meaningful contribution to the project and other people or groups in the project start to rely on them. Because other people in the project start to notice the good work this group is doing, the group begins to attract even more people to the group who want to be a part of that.


As the group starts to attract more members, they begin to experience growing pains with onboarding new members. They usually need to start formalizing and documenting their contribution process, building out a backlog of work, and making it possible for new members to self-onboard where possible. They often need to start documenting the knowledge that is locked in the minds of the group’s core members to share internally and externally.

What success looks like

A group graduates from the momentum phase when they begin to attract members from multiple time zones that want to contribute and the group needs to split off into more than group that will work in parallel.

👨‍👧‍👧 The Sibling Group Phase

This is the powerhouse phase where now you have more than one group that is going to work in parallel on the same task, so you create 1-2 sibling groups that meet in different time zones to offer more meeting times for new members in a variety of geolocations. Be aware that when you split off and create a new sibling group, that group starts at the heartbeat phase.


The biggest challenge of this group is that once you split off, you introduce significant coordination costs (overhead). In this phase, you have leaders of multiple groups and those leaders need to ensure:

  • That information can be shared asynchronously across the groups
  • That everyone is aligned on the group’s common goals
  • That positive innovations (such as better ways of working or producing higher quality work) that are developed in one group can be shared with the other groups.

You also experience the challenges of the previous two phases because you still struggle to onboard new members (which places a heavy burden on working group leads who are already overtaxed from the high overhead) and the splinter sibling groups have a real risk of not surviving the heartbeat phase.

What success looks like

Groups can coordinate successfully across time zones and new project members can onboard successfully and contribute freely to any group they want regardless of which time zone they are in while still having the same high quality experience.