Agile PM Process Grid-6.8 Osmotic Communication

John Stenbeck in his book “PMI-ACP Exam Prep PLUS Desk Reference” creates an agile project management process grid with 87 processes divided into 5 process groups and 7 knowledge areas.

The block of processes I am covering now are those in the Communication knowledge area that are done during the Iteration phase of an agile project.    This process is 6.9 Osmotic Communication.

What is osmotic communication?    Generally there are three main forms of communication:

  • Interactive or face-to-face (one-on-one)–when information is exchanged between people
  • Push (one-to-many)–when information is sent from a centralized location to those who need that information
  • Pull (many-to-one)–when information is put in a centralized location, and those who need that information pull the information from that location when it is needed

Osmotic communication is a form of pull communication when members pick up information from a centralized location, but rather than having the source be a static set of files, the information they are overhearing is in itself interactive communication, i.e., conversations occurring in a common area.

The top form of interactive or face-to-face information is recognized as THE most effective channel available.   If these effective communications are occurring in a common area, then a second level  of benefit can be gained by having people overhear those interactive communications and thus being made aware of current insights on the project.

Of course, osmotic communication presupposes colocation in order for it to work.   What are some of the constraints on the effectiveness of osmotic communications?

Have you ever been to a networking function with more than 50 people?    In order to hear your own conversation without being drowned out by those of others, you need to breakaway into a quieter corner if you are to have a meaningful conversation amidst the din of the background noise of everybody else trying to have a conversation.   This points to the fact that osmotic communication works best with small teams.

However, if teams are larger, than just like in the example of the networking session, it is good to have breakout spaces or even a private office available for conversations that need to be held in private without the possibility of being overheard.

If teams are distributed rather than collocated, then you must work on fostering trust between team members and creating digital spaces where conversations can take place in order to achieve the best communications possible on a team, no matter where the team members may be.

The next post gets into the knowledge area of continuous improvement, and how this is implemented during an iteration.




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