Technical decision making/Background

The technical decision making process was adopted in 2020 as an evolution of the Requests for comment (RFC) process (TechCom).

Why? edit

To evolve the TechCom RFC process to a more explicit decision making process that allows teams and other stakeholders to have a clear understanding of:

  • What types of decisions must utilize this process
  • What the timeline expectations are for that process
  • Who the stakeholders are that should be engaged in their decision
  • The lifecycle of a decision: a problem being raised -> decision being made -> published -> revisited -> iterate and improve

Currently, many cross cutting technical decisions are shepherded by TechCom. TechCom has lacked the resourcing to be proactive about decisions and all necessary stakeholders aren’t always represented. This shift is designed to take the best parts of the TechCom process and improve upon the challenges. It is also intended to allow iteration. The first release doesn’t propose to improve every single aspect of the existing process, but does have the goal to make those aspects at least equal with the status quo. The change will ensure decisions are being driven by teams or groups fully committed to completing the work, that problem statements are defined early and stakeholders are outlined.   This proposal is also designed to remove gatekeeping by ensuring people are consulted rather than giving explicit approval. Following is a review of the successes and difficulties of the existing TechCom process. In shifting this process we do not want to forget the successes but also want to improve on the challenges.

Successes of the TechCom RFC Process

  • Clear place to ask for a decision
  • Process occurs transparently on Phabricator
  • TechCom Radar summarized discussions going on
  • Defined process
  • Identifies many stakeholders during the process

Challenges of the TechCom RFC Process

  • Not always clear who is driving the decision and when a decision will be made
  • Viewed and reacted to as gatekeeping
  • Sometimes stakeholders are missed
  • Often TechCom is brought in late in the process
  • Solutions are brought forward without a clear problem statement/stakeholders not agreeing on what problem is being solved
  • TechCom does not have inclusive membership
  • Not a clearly resourced committee
  • Project Management of process not clearly resourced

Mapping of current process to new process edit

Current New
TechCom Technical Decision Forum
RFC Decision Artifacts
Workboard: phab:tag/techcom-rfc/ Workboard: phab:tag/tech-decision-forum/
TechCom Radar Technical Decision Radar
Last Call When the stakeholders have been engaged
RFC is closed RFC is published as Decision Record on

Decision type matrix edit

Below are typical decisions from the existing RFC process. These decisions are outlined here to ensure they are not lost in the transition. Some decisions are outside the scope of this process and a new responsible party is proposed. Both the type of decision and the group that should be responsible for driving this type of decision are outlined below. Some items such as the product specific decisions are not technical in nature and should be made by Product rather than in this process.  

Type of decision Description Recent Examples Who is responsible for this decision?
New system or capability Project that touches other systems components, is a new component or service or is introducing a new capability on the production system. RFC: Expiring watch list entries

RFC: Wikimedia Push Notification Service

Architecture Team
Picking specific tools Teams should be able to pick the right tools to do their jobs. If the tool impacts 1 other team then it needs to go through the process.

Currently in our coupled environment though this is difficult so greater coordination might be needed for a time.

RFC: Adopt a modern JavaScript framework for use with MediaWiki

RFC: Add a frontend build step to skins/extensions to our deploy process

Engineering Teams that owns the component in question
Software implementation details Engineering practices focused questions. The “how” RFC: Standard method for feature-management in skins/extensions

RFC: Require use of common storage abstractions (policy)

Engineering Teams that owns the component in question
Product Questions Typically product questions that engineers would like an answer on because it would make some aspect of engineering life easier. Which browsers do we support at what level is one type of example. Removing support for IE 8 from basic support Product
Feature Requests Volunteer community developers sometimes have engineering level features that would be deployed on Wikimedia production infrastructure. Director of Product, Platform
Gerrit Privilege Policy Currently volunteers get +2 status through this. Staff receive +2 automatically Gerrit privilege policy Technical Engagement/Developer Advocacy (facilitation of decision)

Transition process edit

This variant of the process was piloted with Vue.js decisions. During that time the Technical Decision Making Process/Forum and TechCom both existed. TechCom will continue to be responsible for other decisions beyond the work of the Vue.js Taskforce per the existing TechCom Charter. Having both exist at the time allows for trial and iteration on this process on a small scale before using it for a wider range of decisions.

Once the pilot is finished all technical decisions and TechCom will be transitioned to the Technical Decision Making Process.  TechCom members may serve as representatives of their teams on the Technical Decision Forum if that is what their team decides.

What happens to existing RFCs?

There will be a two week grace period after the Technical Decision making process and Technical Decision Forum is set-up for groups to claim their existing RFCs. After the two weeks the remaining Phabricator tasks that are purely RFCs will be closed and the TechCom-RFC board will be archived. Other tasks that are tagged as RFCs but contain other work will be triaged and untagged as an RFC and requested be moved to the next decision making process if appropriate. The tickets can always be reopened and transitioned to the new document format if they are still relevant.

Resources edit