openSUSE:Strategy Process

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Why openSUSE?

We lack a clear answer to the question "Why openSUSE?". This question or similar ones (what do we want to reach, what goal does openSUSE follow, who is our target user? etc.) are stated on a regular base. To find an answer to that we should first see our current Strength and Weakness and define from there 鈥淲hy openSUSE?鈥

A strategy statement should answer the following questions:

  • Who are we?
  • What are the goals?
  • In which time frame?
  • By doing what?
  • Who is our target?

A strategy statement needs a clear focus on a product, target group and/or services. To serve everybody won鈥檛 succeed. Sample strategy statement: The openSUSE project a community around the openSUSE Linux distribution that excels in welcoming new users and contributors, making the distribution very simple to use for newcomers, excels in delivering eye-candy, provides a stylish, unique user-interface and facilitates media consumption. The community targets the upcoming media-consuming internet generation that wants technology to just work.

Some background

The openSUSE board members plus a few more people invited by the board: Kurt Garloff, Andreas Jaeger, Jan Weber will meet on a regular base to come up with a Strategy proposal for the openSUSE project to be discussed with the rest of the community. As Kurt has some special knowledge on how to create a strategy he volunteered in leading and guiding this effort.

Strategy development process (inspired by HBS/Porter)

Understand what strategy is

Strategy is:

  • Strategy vs. operational effectiveness (o.e.): Every company tries to improve its o.e.; what can be done here is depending on the state of the art of technology, organization, 鈥 You can gain some advantage by excelling here, but chances are that the competitors catch up and you live the miserable life of a company that differentiates by doing the same thing as everyone else, just a tad bit more efficiently. Strategy is about tradeoffs 鈥 things were you need to decide to do one or the other (either because things are physically incompatible, e.g. for a retailer delivering the cheapest products vs. offering a great ambiance and personal customer service 鈥 or because you have limited resources and need to chose.)
  • A strategy has long-term goals (10+ years in classical business, at least 3 鈥 5 years in IT space)
  • HBS definition: A strategy is an integrated set of choices that positions a firm in an industry so as to generate superior financial returns over the long run. (I suggest we replace financial returns by attracting community for openSUSE.)
  • The more companies/communities have very similar strategies, the worse the competition 鈥 the more they differ, the better for everyone.
  • Strategy statement: We are (position) that delivers superior (strategic goals) by doing (a few compet. advantages) to (target group)
  • Strategy statement is simple and should be well-known internally, to customers, to competitors 鈥 no advantage in secrecy.
  • The activities to achieve the strategic goals are a rather complex set that are interdependent 鈥 understanding and executing these well is a lot of work 鈥 and not at all easy to replicate.

Understand the industry

Understand the industry (we need to think what we consider the industry 鈥 competition for software developing and using community?) 鈥 we used Porter鈥檚 five forces to do that. Important thought behind that is to have a broad look 鈥 except for direct competitor also look at suppliers, customers, new entrants and possible substitutes, pricing power of customers, pricing power of suppliers 鈥 (and possibly the sixth force: complements that would help us being successful).

→ Our understanding of the industry.

Better understand our customers

Better understand our customers - what do they need, expect, suffer? - why do they use our product at all? - what problem do we solve for them? - what different groups/segments do exist? - trends/changes?

For this we run an openSUSE survey in February 2010.

Classical SWOT

Definition of SWOT: (Current) Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats


(optional) Understand current activities that we do to create the current strengths / products / goals

Strategy Definition

STRATEGY DEFINITION: Based on all that above, we will have a discussion about possible future positions:

  • What competitive advantages do we want to have? To whom?
  • How sustainable would those be?
  • What activities are needed to build them?

Condense this in a strategy statement: We are (position) that delivers superior (strategic goals) by doing (a few compet. advantages) to (target group).

On strategy in general we said, the broader our strategy is the less realistic it will be to achieve as we do have limited resources. The more focus we get in our strategy the more likely an achievement will be 鈥 but as it is about trade offs we will disappoint and maybe lose a number of openSUSE followers.

Create a plan to implement the strategy

  • What activities would a community undertake that is aligned with the strategy?
  • What activities do we have today?
  • How do we get from where we are to where we need to be?
  • How do we track/monitor/measure progress in that transformation?


  • The strategy is most powerful when its understood very well within our community, with our customers, with our competitors(!)
  • The details on our activities to execute the strategy might not be as public 鈥

Other Strategy Efforts