Collaborate, Conquer, & Grow: Mastering the Art of Issue Management for Open Source Projects

Collaborate, Conquer, & Grow: Mastering the Art of Issue Management for Open Source Projects


5 min read

Have you ever faced a dilemma as a maintainer, wondering whether to tackle an issue yourself or create an issue for the community to solve?

Knowing when to delegate tasks and involve external contributors is crucial for empowering contributors, fostering a healthy community, and keeping your sanity intact. However, there are also tasks that only the core team may and can handle.

In this article, I will walk you through prioritizing issues wisely and deciding when to delegate or best handle them in-house.

Prioritizing Issues: A Clear Roadmap to Success

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Before deciding to delegate or tackle an issue, you must learn how to prioritize it. With a mountain of issues, effective prioritization is crucial. How do you know what to tackle first?

It would help if you considered these factors to prioritize issues:

  • Severity: Critical bugs, security vulnerabilities, and blockers must be addressed first.
  • Impact: How many users are affected? Issues impacting a large user base deserve your quick attention.
  • Difficulty: Can the issues be resolved quickly, or will they require significant effort? Consider prioritizing these based on the time and resources that you have.
  • Alignment with project goals: You want to focus more on issues that contribute to the project's vision rather than nice-to-have ones.
  • Community interest: If a feature request has high community engagement, such as active discussions, and receives enough potential support, you might want to consider prioritizing it.

Now, you know how to prioritize issues. Next, we will dive into which issues are best to delegate and which are best for you to work on yourself.

Empowering Your Community: When to Delegate

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Most of the time, writing an issue is more challenging and time-consuming than working on it yourself. But if you handle everything alone, you will get burnt out quickly.

Remember, the key to open source is the community. Delegating issues to the contributors can bring fresh perspectives, lighten your workload, and foster a sense of ownership within the community.

Now, the question is: What kind of issues do you better delegate?

  • Bug fixes: Clear, reproducible bugs with minimal scope are perfect for contributors to tackle. You need to ensure that these bugs are not affecting the functionality of the current state of your project, even without being fixed immediately. These types of bugs are usually related to UI performance.
  • Documentation improvements: Updating documentation, adding tutorials, or fixing typos and grammatical errors can be tackled by anyone with a keen eye and contributors with writing skills.
  • Small feature additions: Well-defined, self-contained features are perfect for contributors looking to expand their portfolio. You must ensure these features align with your project's vision and scope.
  • Testing: Do you need to test specific functionalities or add test coverage to your project? These tasks, while crucial, can often be delegated.

To manage these issues, you can label them with bug, feature, testing, help wanted, etc., depending on the issue type.

Always remember that contributors volunteer their time to help you maintain and enhance your project. So, when time is sensitive, consider handling them in-house rather than rushing contributors to finish the issue promptly.

Delegating issues is one of the ways to attract new contributors to your project and build your contributor pipeline. Contributors come and go; you want more contributors to stick around and contribute more after their first pull request for the sustainability of your project.

Delegating issues will help contributors understand your project and its codebase better, and it help you offload some of your work and build a vibrant community.

Maintaining the Core: Issues Best Handled In-House

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Even though delegation is important in open source, some issues need to be handled immediately and can be complex and too sensitive to be taken by external contributors.

There are three major factors that you need to consider when deciding to handle issues in-house:

  1. Time: When a problem needs to be addressed and handled quickly, or you need to ship a feature within a deadline, you want to take this on yourself. It's best to refrain from putting time pressure on contributors.
  2. Complexity: The core team has more context about a feature and has a bigger picture about the direction of the production. Consider handling this in-house when you need to work on something complex.
  3. Continued communication: Issues that require continued and regular communication between maintainers to update the progress and make prompt decisions in the process, potentially taking place outside GitHub for efficiency, are usually best left to core members.

"In-house" doesn't necessarily mean the tasks can only be tackled by the core team. You might have that one contributor who is a well-known community member because of their work and contributions. They regularly ship quality work, know the codebase and documentation inside out, and are familiar with your project's workflow. You know you can trust these types of contributors with the in-house tasks. However, when time is essential, you want to refrain from giving the task to them and let the core team do that instead.

Here are some types of issues that are best handled in-house:

  • Critical bugs: When a bug has affected the functionality of the whole project, you can consider it critical or high priority. This kind of bug can't wait and has to be fixed immediately.
  • Architectural decisions: Major changes to the project's core structure or direction require your deep understanding.
  • Security vulnerabilities or privacy concerns: This type of issue is sensitive, and protecting user data is your top priority. So, you need to fix these kinds of issues yourself.
  • Complex refactoring: Extensive code overhauls often need your experienced perspective and in-depth understanding of the codebase. It requires careful planning and analysis for efficient, maintainable, and scalable code.
  • Creating or modifying guidelines: The rules of your project and how to contribute to it are yours to determine. Having more people outside your team to throw ideas can cause you to drift away from your original intention and direction.

Consider labeling these types of issues with core team work, critical or high priority to inform that these will be handled in-house.


Mastering issue management is a game-changer for open source maintainers, but it is also an ongoing process. Adapt your strategies as your project evolves, ask for community feedback, and don't be afraid to experiment to find the best approaches. By doing so, you can transform issue management into a powerful tool for community engagement and project success.

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