The Governance By Subprojects Template

Audience of this HowToAudience of CONTRIBUTING.mdRequired by CNCF
MaintainersContributorsYes, graduated

This HowTo is for project maintainers who need a Governance for their project. The goal of a file is to inform contributors about how your project is run, and encourage them to get involved in project leadership.

Great governance docs will:

  • Show potential contributors that their contributions will be treated fairly
  • Show contributors that leadership positions are available to them with work
  • Help project leaders resolve disagreements with minimal drama
  • Provide a scaffold for promoting contributors and maintainer continuity

Fill out the template

The template is located in the CNCF project-template repository.

Copy the template file into your repository, and rename it

There are instructions for filling out the template that look like the example below:

screenshot of the template, there is a link to instructions, and a warning emoji with text explaining how to fill out this section of the template

Some links are specific to your project. Search for the word TODO in the markdown for links that need to be customized. When you finish editing the template, remove the Instruction links that explain how to fill out the template. Also remove any ⚠️ prompts and their explanatory text.

Governance By Subprojects

Subproject Governance is the most complex of our templates, since it covers the most complex situation: a “federated” project that consists of multiple, related, but quasi-autonomous subprojects. The TAG developed it originally for the Konveyor project, and has been used by several since then, including the Operator Framework project.

By “subprojects”, we mean technically distinct areas of your overall project that each have their own internal leadership and operations. Depending on your history, you may call these subprojects, projects, SIGs, vendors, plugins, drivers, or a variety of other labels. We will use “subprojects” as a generic label.

This template defines a two-level structure where authority flows up from the contributors to the subprojects, to subproject leadership, and from them to overall project leadership.

Is This Template for Us?

The Subproject Governance template is for you if your project:

  1. Has multiple (at least 3) distinct “subprojects”
  2. The different subprojects share few or no maintainers
  3. The overall pool of maintainers is too large or too differentiated for all maintainers to participate directly in overall project governance

If your project meets all of the above conditions, or expects to do so soon, governance by subproject may be for you.

If you don’t yet meet these conditions, we recommend that you start with a simpler governance template, like the Maintainer Council template, and move to this subprojects template later when you actually need it. Starting with a complicated governance structure before you need it creates overhead and extra work for project members and maintainers whose time is often better spent on project development, rather than governance.


What Do I Need to Know?

In addition to the general requirement to research how organization, task assignment, and authority in your project already works, there are some specific research requirements for this template:

  • What are your subprojects, currently? How many are there? How do things like documentation and website development fit into your list of subprojects?
  • How are leaders/maintainers selected in each subproject? What are the requirements to be a maintainer? Is this the same across all subprojects, or different?
  • What does each subproject “own”? Do they have separate repositories, or do they share repos?

Take your time answering these questions. Particularly, determining the list of subprojects can be harder than you expect. For example, you can pretty easily decide that each “working group” in your project is a subproject, but what about documentation? Does each subproject own its own docs, or is there a “documentation” subproject? What about general project administration, like github management, events, and your website? Is that a subproject, or is it handled some other way?

What Do I Need to Customize?

Most customization of Subprojects happens in the following areas:

  • Names: the template uses Project/Subproject. However, many CNCF projects already have other terms for these concepts, such as Project/SIG or Umbrella/Project, and you will need to do a search-and-replace.
  • Values: like all templates, you need to have a list of project values to include.
  • Individual Subproject Governance: the template assumes that each subproject is governed by a maintainer council. Should you have different governance within subprojects, you will need to detail that.
  • Whether elected as well as appointed members should serve on the Steering Committee, and how many.
  • How many representatives each subproject should appoint to the steering committee.

For an example of customizing the template, look at how Operator Framework used it.

What Else Is Required?

This template assumes that you have already adopted the Code of Conduct, added the CNCF-required security practices, and added a Scope section to your README.

The template also expects you to have a documented Contributor Ladder, either based on our template or otherwise. If you do not, you will need to adopt that as well.


Project: The overall, “umbrella”, “core”, or “main” project

Subproject: The individual group/repository where work on the project gets done; alternately called projects, SIGs, repos, drivers, plugins, operators, working groups, or other units of work that each have their own maintainers.

Maintainer: A Maintainer of any individual Subproject; the highest level on the Contributor Ladder. Also called “owner” or “approver”.

Contributor: Anyone who contributes significantly to your project, whether code or non-code, according to the membership threshold defined in your contributor ladder. Called “Organization Member” in the Contributor Ladder.
Inclusive of the Maintainers.

Template Details


Your intro paragraph needs to include a succinct summary of what the overall goals of your project are. This then defines what kinds of subprojects are appropriate for your project.

Example: “enabling application migration to Kubernetes”


Like the other templates, you need to place a list of values here that define what your project strives for. Some of these will be general (like “fairness”) and some will be specific to your problem domain (like “asyncronous operation”). The Values are listed in your governance template because all project leaders are expected to follow these values. Deciding your values is a good topic for a general community meeting.

See our documentation on Charters for some examples.


This section starts with your current list of subprojects. Each should be in the form of:

* [Subproject Name](link): short definition of this subproject

The name of the subproject should link to the “main” repository or subfolder of that subproject, where hopefully there is additional information about that subproject.


* [Documentation]( writes, edits, and owns 
  the User Guide, Administrator Guide, and the project blog.

This is then followed by an explanation of how each subproject is governed. The example provided offers a simple maintainer committee structure which you’ll notice is very similar to the Maintainer Council governance option for projects. This relies on having a complete Contributor Ladder, which avoids needing to define maintainers and other roles in the governance document itself.

If the term you use for your highest level of technical responsibility is not “maintainer”, you’ll want to replace that in this section.

If your subprojects already have leadership structures that are different from this, you’ll need to define them here, or in linked document(s). In addition to any details those subproject documents may have, you’ll need to ensure that they also cover the following overall project governance requirements:

  • selecting a representative to the Steering Committee
  • removing a maintainer

The current text has each subproject appointing one representative to the Steering Committee. This is appropriate for any project with 4 or more subprojects, or one that expects to grow to 4 or more subprojects. However, if your project has 2 to 4 subprojects and does not expect to grow, then it may be appropriate to have each subproject appoint two representatives.

If you feel that selection of the representative is likely to be contentious, you may wish to change to using a preference election system over simple polling.

Steering Committee

The Steering Committee (SC) is the escalation-level body in charge of the overall project. This body might also be called the Technical Oversight Committee. The members of the SC are the project’s owners as far as the CNCF is concerned, and are responsible for the running of the overall project.

There are a list of suggested duties for SC members, which should be edited to reflect your actual project’s needs. Also, note that the template suggests that the SC can delegate its powers to individuals or other groups, which will be a necessity for any large project. For example, the SC could delegate handling security reports to a Security Team. In most projects, the day to day technical decisions are handled within each subproject, but conflicts between subprojects or anything else that can’t be handled within a subproject can be escalated to the Steering Committee.


The template includes text for elected members comprising a minority of the Steering Committee. Our recommendation is to have zero, one, or two of these, but not more.

The reasons for having these are:

  • Helps balance out big vs. small subprojects without having designated numbers of extra seats for specific subprojects
  • Gives your general contributors some direct representation
  • Offers a route to leadership for folks outside of slowly working through the Contributor Ladder
  • Gets contributors to think about striving for leadership roles once a year

However, federated projects can work quite well without elected seats, especially if the overall pool of contributors is small and inclined to consensus. Elections do involve a significant amount of overhead. If you decide to do without them, then just delete the whole Elections section, as well as the line at the start of the Steering section.

If you are holding elections, the process described is a simplifed version of the process used by Kubernetes. That project has found the appointment of Election Officers by the SC to be a good way to handle conducting elections. For the elections themselves, the CNCF can provide Elekto instances for holding the vote, or you may have another preference such as Helios or OpaVote.

The template text outlines only one type of representative: a general contributor Member representative. Eligibility to vote would be qualifiying for the “Organization Member” level on our template Contributor Ladder, or whatever your project equivalent is.

Depending on your project’s needs, you may want to have alternative or additional types of representatives. For example, you might want to have a representative elected at large by all collective maintainers, which can be a way to ensure that your biggest subprojects get additional representation. Text used for that would be:

The Maintainer Representative(s) will be elected by the collective Maintainers
of all subprojects, as defined in the Contributor Ladder.  They will be elected 

In the current text, candidates are not required to be Organization Members or Maintainers themselves. You may or may not want to require that. If you do, use text like:

The Contributor Representative(s) will be elected by the collective Organization
Members of all subprojects, as defined in the Contributor Ladder.  
Representative(s) must be Organization Members themselves, and will be elected 

Code of Conduct Committee

One of the key duties of the SC is to appoint the Code of Conduct Committee (CoCC), who are responsible for handling any CoC violation reports. This assumes that you have a large enough pool of maintainers and other very involved contributors to staff a CoCC outside of the SC. If you do not, use instead the following text:

## Code of Conduct Reports

The Steering Committee is responsible for handling initial Code of Conduct
reports or incidents. They will receive reports of conduct violations 
confidentially.  If a report is determined to be a violation, they will 
recommend action on it appropriate to the scale, nature, and context of the 
violation, from requiring an apology, up to expulsion of an individual from the 
project. Should any report require a full investigation, or involve a member
of the Steering Committee themselves, the report will be forwarded to the
CNCF conduct team for handling.

If your CoCC is defined in a separate document, delete the text and link to it instead.

Adding and Removing Subprojects

These sections outline the procedure for adding a new subproject, as well as removing one. There is not a lot of need for customization here, unless you want to specifically spell out additional technical requirements. The one thing you need to spell out is the location of your “archive” or “attic” namespace.

The one paragraph you may want to consider is the one outlining Experimental Subprojects. This provision is there because sometimes you want to “try” a subproject, but it currently doesn’t have useful code or a pool of maintainers. In that case, you may want to give that subproject a route to join your project without the same expectations and authority as the established subprojects. If this doesn’t sound like something you’re ever likely to do, you can cut this paragraph.