Anyone that knows me will already know that I do a lot of Open Source development. I’ve been positively Open Source obsessed for over 15 years now and enjoy working on Open Source so much that I often describe it as a hobby and regularly work on it in my evenings and weekends.
One of the things that I like to do is to encourage people to contribute to Open Source, leading projects within the Ember community as part of my role on the Ember Core Learning Team and regularly end up "assigning" people work as part of those projects. Sometimes I have a mentoring-style relationship with people where we would meet every week to discuss the work that they have been doing and see if there is anything I can do to unblock them. Invariably I will always have someone say in one of these calls that they are “really sorry but I haven’t been able to do any work on the task this week”. I have always told them the same thing, and for the longest time, I have also told them that I really need to write down my thoughts in a blog post so that I can just send people the link when it comes up. This is that blog post!
You have already gone above and beyond
The conversation that I have with people when they haven't been able to get their "assigned task" done in the context of Open Source usually goes a little something like this:
You are doing this work as part of your free time. You have already done something for this project which is already going above and beyond, anything you do past this point is all gravy.
Even if the person had never written a line of code/documentation/configuration etc. and have just had a conversation about an issue, they have already done more than expected because they were never expected to do anything. We always need to keep in mind that most open source contributions are given from people that are opting to give up their spare time (usually for free) and the level of expectation can never come anywhere close to the sort of relationship that an employer might have with an employee or contractor.
When planning in an Open Source context I never have any expectation that anyone will complete any task they say that they do, even if they say they are working on it right now and guarantee that it will be done by 5pm tonight. Even when I’m talking to colleges of mine who also happen to work in a company that provides 20% time to work on open source, I never feel bad if they don’t do something they said they would. Open source is an amorphous anarchy of projects that are usually driven by people’s interests and passions so any of the regular project management expectations don’t apply here.
If you say you are going to do something don’t feel bad if you don’t get it done, it is never a problem.