7 Best Practices for DAO Season Planning
April 11th, 2022

Written by Andi Schuster and White Flamingo, with input and editing from Phil H, Carllyn Yuvienco, Jocelyn Hsu, and Tyler Whittle

As DAOs have grown and scaled in size over the past couple years, a natural partitioning has occurred. DAO scaling challenges have not only resulted in the establishment of working groups and talent pools to handle particular projects, but also created sub-DAOs or guilds in many of these organisations (e.g. Moloch, Yearn, Bankless, Friends with Benefits).

To support these changes, many DAOs are leveraging structured goal-setting frameworks via the concept of seasons. Seasons are sprints of about 6-12 weeks which coordinate contributors around a series of measurable objectives.

Setting goals for DAOs ensures community consensus around objectives and timelines. It also helps to reinforce belief in the overall mission of the DAO through concrete actions at a project delivery level. While the opt-in nature of DAOs are great for brainstorming and discussion, they often lack the necessary focus and accountability to achieve outcomes in a timely manner.

The structure of seasons enables DAOs to flexibly set goals and incentives in a manner that provides a natural cadence. It also results in numerous benefits that we will explore in this article including:

  • Providing focus on a singular theme that aligns with the DAO’s mission
  • Giving dedicated time to reflect and plan
  • Allowing for bottom-up emergence of initiatives and ideas from the community
  • Incentivizing enthusiasm from contributors
  • Setting the rhythm of a DAO through processes and rituals
  • Providing measures of success for objectives
  • Allowing for flexibility to adjust in real-time throughout the season

A brief history of seasons in DAOs

Over the past year, we’ve seen seasons emerge as the preferred way of setting goals in DAOs. Seasons have been adopted widely not just in social DAOs but also by protocol DAOs, grants DAOs, and more. Friends With Benefits (FWB) was the first DAO to propose seasons as we know them today, proposing their Season 1 at the end of December 2020. Patti at FWB explains they went with this model because “seasons readily allowed for themes”. These themes would act as concrete guiding principles around which to organise, focus minds, and strengthen collaboration.

However, as Patti also notes, the inspiration for seasons at FWB has a longer history. The actual concept of seasons appears to have originated from gaming communities, notably Fortnite. It was Simon De La Rouviere who first proposed “seasons” in community tokens in October 2020, as a way of navigating productivity in social token communities. In other words, seasons provide DAOs the structure needed to ensure tokens continually end up in the hands of active contributors.

Many DAOs have since adopted seasons as the de-facto process to coordinate resources around time-bound objectives. Organisations like RaidGuild, Bankless, and Forefront were early adopters following FWB. Numerous other DAOs have since “forked” the concept of seasonal sprints and are continuously evolving the framework to their needs.

As there is no canonical definition or playbook for seasons, each DAO uses them slightly differently. We conducted extensive interviews with DAO operators to better understand how the ecosystem utilises seasons. Based on those interviews, we developed a playbook of 7 lessons learnt season planning in DAOs. We’ve grouped those lessons into three key areas: planning, aligning, and steering.

Planning

Have a theme to set focus

“Seasons have a beginning, a middle, and an end. They are like a story: you want people to go on a journey. And because DAOs are about vibes, you want seasons to have interesting names or themes in order to capitalise on trends.” - Fancy, Protein

DAOs are great for running many small experiments, and doubling-down on those the community most passionately endorses. Taekikz at RaidGuild calls this process “confirmation of waves of enthusiasm”. To help focus this enthusiasm, DAOs often based seasons around themes. These themes often naturally emerge as an organisational problem or opportunity from daily business, market trends, or the founding mission (e.g. interoperability, community growth, sustainability).

Having a theme for each season in DAOs is important. It narrows the focus so contributors can easily prioritise initiatives and projects. However, themes need to align with a DAO’s overarching mission. As Zakk at Cabin noted, in order to ensure this, it’s crucial that DAO leadership and contributors are comfortable saying no and have an effective mechanism to assess experiments based on alignment with the wider DAO mission.

Off-seasons are essential to reflect, plan, and onboard

“The lack of structure during our off-season planning was a feature…You need to switch between focused and diffused mode of your brain. Being remote is great for execution, doing check-ins, and being heads down. But it is not good for ideation and reflection.” - Zakk, Cabin

A saying is emerging in DAOs: Where there is a season, there must be an off-season. If you don’t have an off-season it’s likely your DAO will end up in the stressful situation where you are simultaneously wrapping up the current season and planning for the next.

An off-season is when the core contributors of a DAO get together, reflect, and give feedback on the season prior. It’s also when they plan for the season to come. During this period, only essential operations and community vibes are maintained. Richie at Clarity and Fancy from Protein both affirmed the need to separate time to reflect on the prior season from time to plan for the next one.

These were sentiments shared by Auryn at Gnosis, and Julia at DAO Masters, who said that cooldown periods were also the perfect moment to onboard new contributors. Kassen from Crypto, Culture and Society (CCS) agreed: “I see seasons as longer ‘sprints’ for the DAO to achieve its goals, and the off-season allows for much-needed reflection, and rest!”

Seasons have the additional benefit of helping improve mental health for DAO contributors. Auryn from Gnosis said that having set on and off seasons helped focus minds and alleviate the all too common attention burden prevalent in DAOs right now “as the expectation is to be on Discord 24/7”.

Alignment

Bottom-up creativity should support a top-down mission

“Allow for emergence. Set a top-level goal of what you want to achieve as a community, but let people pitch ways to contribute to that goal.” - Zakk, Cabin.

The best ideas can come from the most unlikely of places. Defining season goals ensures that bottom-up suggestions are aligned and cross-pollinated with top-down decision-making. DAOs should seek to define goals and themes during the off-season. DAOs can then use a set period of time before the season starts to solicit ideas from the community.

Kassen from CCS talks about the importance of both top-down and bottom-up practices across a DAO’s functions. In Kassen’s words: “it's a lot of bottom-up goal setting with a check-in with ‘leadership’ to make sure we're aligned. Because I'm on the community team, our metrics for success are centred around member engagement, quality of member experience, and feedback about our programming.”

Ultimately, community engagement and buy-in in the goal setting process will lead to more mission-aligned and creative projects along with more focused contributors.

Success is down to the contributors

“We spent a long time thinking about our goals before getting people into the Discord. With an initial thesis, we then ran 6 workshops with the community—around goal setting, structure etc, so people could come together.” - Fancy, Protein

The success of seasons (and DAOs in general) depends on community buy-in, competent contributors, and effective systems. Auryn from Gnosis in particular lists incentives, self-regulation, and belief as major dependencies for successful community engagement.

Retaining talented contributors is crucial to achieving season goals. Often contributors drop-off throughout a season. This can be especially frustrating for communities. Taekikz from RaidGuild says that it’s essential to “look at who shows up and contributes. Look for the people that stick around and make an impact, but always be open and welcoming to everyone.” Capturing the enthusiasm and desire to contribute from these individuals will benefit the DAO down the line.

Coupled with this, DAOs should also pay attention to which contributors have worked together previously. While DAOs should champion diversity of thought and incentivise new contributor onboarding and contribution, Fancy from Protein notes that it’s not uncommon for those with shared project histories or successes to want to work together and co-deliver strong output.

In sum, spot and incentivise committed talent who will see the season through. Passionate and high-potential > highly-skilled but unreliable.

Steering

Processes are the pulse of your DAO

“As part of our ‘systems’, we map out seasons very clearly to early ‘rhythms and rituals’. Three days a week [we consistently have] different things like talks, open calls, and workshops.” - Fancy, Protein

Adding structure to each season helps contributors understand when to do what, and how. This means defining:

  • The length of a season (e.g. 12 week cycles)
  • The season’s pace (e.g. weekly team check-ins)
  • Sequencing (e.g. kick-off, call for proposals, mid-season retrospective, submission)
  • Additional programming (e.g. cross-guild syncs, social events)

This is beneficial not only for general contributor alignment, but also for accountability and group cohesion.

Working groups and sub-DAOs can define their own processes within this framework. However, DAO operators have found it especially useful to predefined processes where the various levels (community, contributors, leadership, and even investors) can come together and co-deliver on a predictable schedule.

Outside of the season processes, there are also core roles like community, operations or builders that need to ensure DAOs continue to be governed and operated. Not everything can be moulded into a framework(!).

Richie from Clarity noted that keeping the DAO alive and kicking requires wider community engagement with non-project contributors throughout the season. Inputs, ideas and initiatives from the community and users should be collected, too, as: “they have an influence on what is proposed during the cooldown and planning period”, according to Auryn from Gnosis.

Success metrics are key, but often overlooked or unrealistic

“At startups the metric is growth at all cost. In web3 and DAOs, we get to re-evaluate that. It doesn’t need to be growth at all cost.” - Taekikz, RaidGuild

In the early stages of a DAO, it’s crucial to set measurable and realistic goals. Measurable goals increase accountability while realistic goals improve morale at the end of a season. DAO operators we spoke with found that the most effective goals are often those that are publicly declared, as they hold people and DAOs accountable.

If you raise a Mirror crowdfund saying you’ll create three NFTs and don’t, then you will lose credibility with the community. Some DAOs point publicly to their favourite success metric. For example, Gitcoin’s is ‘getting developers to quit web2 jobs’ and Odyssey is ‘on a mission to onboard 1M people to web3’.

Though, as some DAO operators said, actually measuring and transparently sharing such metrics is still a missing part to the puzzle. As a result, many web3 operators are on the look-out for new tooling or simply building their own solutions, as seen at the example of BanklessDAO’s DAODash.

Be fixated on the goal, but flexible in the details

“DAO goal setting, like a lot of other goal setting, is fluid. It's definitely important to have concrete goals, but since DAOs evolve so quickly over time and are constantly improving, the goal setting should reflect that reality.” - Kassen, CCS

DAO seasons usually sit on a spectrum between either hard stopping after a defined period of time no matter the output or prioritising output and therefore shortening or extending the period around that.

Seasons introduce not only a fixed amount of time to achieve a set of goals, but have other variables like the number of contributors or final outputs. While time is set, many of these variables should be designed flexibly. As Taekikz from RaidGuild explains: “Flexibility generally needs to be built in. Planning is important and fun, but there are often things that come up that need to be improvised—you need structures that enable that.” Enabling this elasticity allows for concentration on an agreed goal without sacrificing agility on how to reach it.

Some DAOs we spoke with deliberately focus on output rather than timeline. Rather than sprinting towards an output by a fixed date, Auryn from Gnosis said they adopt an approach more akin to: “Here’s this thing that we want to do. Let’s allocate this amount of time to it, and get the best version of it that can build in this amount of time”.

No matter where on the spectrum DAOs sit, they should also build in flexibility when it comes to compensation. Budgets drive incentives, and therefore work output. However, they are often hard to set at the planning stage of seasons. There therefore also needs to be some margin for effort to course-correct budgets and/or goals.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach here but whichever route a DAO takes, teams should meet frequently throughout the seasons to evaluate and adjust timelines and output accordingly.

Implementing seasons for your DAO

While challenges remain across communities around adjusting goals and budget mid-season, unclear metrics, contributor accountability and retention, seasons provide a promising system and structure for DAOs to implement and iterate on.

It’s also important to remember that while many DAOs may be well-fitted for seasons, others may not. A DAO’s goal-setting framework needs to align with the organisation's mission and product. “Don’t blindly copy operations processes from other DAOs if it doesn’t fit your DAOs mission,” as Taekikz from RaidGuild said.

Whichever systems and processes a DAO chooses, they need to work for that DAO and its contributors. New processes are a lot like leather shoes—you have to walk a few miles before they are worn-in.

Season planning in your DAO?

At DAO Masters we have made it our mission to facilitate discussion around DAO tooling, processes, and best practices. If you have questions or feedback on season-planning in your DAO, come and say hi in our Discord!

And for more on how to run your season, this form will give you access to a Notion template that we’ve compiled for you to use in your DAO.

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