Let the president lead

Proposal to Ruby Australia

Posted by Anton Katunin on 14 July 2016
Tags: ruby, ruby australia

TL;DR; I'd like to propose new organisation structure for Ruby Australia: decrease committee role and give more power to the president.

Recently I went to Rails Camp 19 in Adelaide and as always Ruby Australia General Meeting was held there. I've seen many committee meetings but only now realised that the organisational model for Ruby Australia is chosen incorrectly.

Any group of people has organisational structure. Would it be group of 2 people, medium company or whole government. You can classify organisational models as committee or leader. In politics their simple examples are democracy and dictatorship/monarchy. They are opposite to each other and both carry pros and cons. The key is understanding when to use it, and how to use it efficiently.

Committee should be favoured when

  • requirements are highly complex
  • tolerance for risk is low
  • consequences of error are serious
  • stakeholder buy-in is important.

The process is optimal when committee members are diverse, bias and influence among committee members are minimized, ideal group sizes are 7-12 members per committee, and a simple governance model is adopted to facilitate decision-making and prevent deadlocks.

Leader, by contrast, should be favoured when

  • projects are time- or budget-driven
  • requirements are relatively straightforward
  • consequences of error are tolerable
  • stakeholder buy-in is less important

Leader model excels when time and budget considerations are paramount, and when innovation is key to success. The process is optimal when the leader has strong generalist knowledge of the relevant domains, the leader with talented, loyal people supporting him, and when performance is valued over politics.


  • Leader - fast and risky
  • Committee - slow but careful

If you want stakeholder buy-in, you need a committee model. If you want innovation, you need a leader model. You generally can't have both. It just doesn't work that way.

Let's analyse Ruby Australia:

  • members has limited time
  • members lack the diversity
  • high turnover of committee members
  • organisation has limited budget
  • mistakes don't carry much risk
  • goal is straightforward

As you can see there are little to no benefits of using committee model. The only big risk I see is the risk of losing funds due to mismanagement. Hopefully that's easy to mitigate by simply cutting the president's power and assigning the responsibility to other person.

In addition it's hard to be elected as president as it takes years to be known in the ruby community. By contrast how long did you know your political party leader before you've voted for him? How many times did you speak with him? Zero, maybe once if you are lucky. I've realised I know committee members better than people who run the country. I have better idea who to vote for in Ruby Australia and my life does not depend on them.

Leader model works great for focused communities. Rails, Linux, Apple and Ruby just to name the few closes to us. It doesn't mean that all decisions are made by a single person. In fact it's quite opposite. The major work is done by supporters and followers, and the direction and the final decision are made by the leader. Most big companies have a CEO, the single orchestrator of the company. After change of CEO quite often you can trace his/her influence on the whole company.

DHH doesn't make decisions about each pull request submitted to Rails, but he has the ultimate veto power to use when he believes is important.

Think of it as the community is the engine and the leader does the steering.

And finally I assume there are some requirements to follow from legal perspective for all organisations in Australia but let's not confuse them with daily organisation operations.

My proposal is clear, leave committee as is, give the president more power and the rest of community can follow them.


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