Now that Oprah joined Twitter, it is a serious medium. In Project Management we like “serious”. It sounds wise, professional, the proper thing to do. Now that Oprah is leading the masses towards Twitterland, we need a serious answer to why we should use this medium in our projects.
The short answer: Twitter can enable osmotic communication in virtual teams, and avoid social isolation.
Twitter, or any Twitter-style equivalent, is an endless stream of short messages created by millions of people around the globe. These messages can contain every type of information: a weather condition, the content of a fridge, a stock tip in response to someone asking; if you can fit the message in 140 characters, you can throw it in the Twitter information river.
You can add a message into the stream for no particular receiver, or you can address your information package to a particular person. If you want to sent me a message on Twitter, you do this by starting the 140 characters with @projectshrink.
If you are plugged into Twitter you can try to follow every bit of information that flows by. Within 10 seconds you will drown by the sheer amount of bits. Twitter provides two ways to slice and dice the flow to get the information you might consider relevant. By person and by content.
- Person: you can follow every Twitter user you want. By selecting a person his or her Tweets (messages) will be shown to you.
- Content: you can create searches with keywords, and Twitter will provide you with a stream of all messages containing this keyword.
Real Time Small Messages
The most prominent characteristics of Twitter are “real time” and “small messages”. That is why it feels like “conversations in the background”.
If you run Twitter in the background (using tools like Tweetdeck) it is almost like listening to people talking in the background. Sometimes something catches you attention and you mentally zoom in.
It provides a virtual connection with the people you are following. Where ever you are with your laptop or iPhone, you get subtle impressions of what “the others” are up to. It creates a sense of “group”.
Alistair Cockburn introduced in his book “Agile Software Development” the concept of osmotic communication – indirect information transfer through overhearing conversations or simply noticing things happening around you. To me personally it happens very often that a talk between people in the same room morphs from murmur in the background to a conversation you find yourself all of a sudden eavesdropping on.
Osmotic communication is a very important type of communication. It provides “missing” information, you don’t know you are missing. It provides sources you normally would not think about. It provides information in a context you haven’t considered.
The “triggers” for zooming in to chatter on the background are patterns. With Twitter we can use keywords popping up in a message as a trigger. If someone is talking about your project, mentioning it by its name, you will zoom in.
Sense of Group
The project landscape is turning mobile, multi-cultural, 24×7, highly distributed and in ever flux. The group you are working with can be scattered all over the world, in every time zone, but also just in the building across the street. Projects are allocated cutting almost every boundary in existence. This working environment increases the risk of isolation. Even in a room full of people one can have a sense of not belonging to any group. Feeling left out.
People need to feel part of a group. In the end we are social animals. Luckily for us, Twitter is social media. By following the people you want to form a group with, want to create a social connection with, you can have each other’s “presence” in the background at all time. As with all forms of communication, to create a real connection you need to participate, have a genuine two-way conversation.
Originally Posted: http://www.basdebaar.com