“[Propinquity] refers to the physical or psychological proximity between people. Propinquity can mean physical proximity, a kinship between people, or a similarity in nature between things (“like-attracts-like”). Two people living on the same floor of a building, for example, have a higher propinquity than those living on different floors, just as two people with similar political beliefs possess a higher propinquity than those whose beliefs strongly differ.

Struggling to see how propinquity has any relationship to OSS? Bear with me because I have a couple of examples to share. One today, another tomorrow.

Most OSS vendors have a relatively small target customer list, which are spread across large geographies, even the whole globe. This means that a vendor’s project and product teams are often separated by large distances on any given project. Rarely does a project occur in the same location as a vendor’s product development headquarters.

Interestingly though, a project team usually is located nearby to the customer’s implementation team. So the law of propinquity suggests that over time there may be a tendency for the vendor’s project team to develop stronger kinship with the customer than their own product team. You may question this, but I can attest to it occurring. I have worked on projects where the product team had no sense of the pain being felt by their project team and customer alike.

The risk for vendors is bidirectional – the product team loses a sense of closeness with the project team and the project team starts to push more strongly for the needs of the customer than might be warranted. The challenge for vendors is to find a way to increase propinquity between project and product teams.

I’m sure you can think of a variety of methods, but I’m a believer in building the following into your project plans – getting your developers out into the field and getting project teams back to head office if feasible. Another is to get the team members working closely together and developing stronger bonds in head office when between projects to create long-lasting propinquity. If those methods aren’t viable, our industry has invented a few technologies that just might help (ie video-conferencing, instant messaging, social media, etc).

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2 Responses

  1. Ryan you’ve excelled yourself – not only is this a very interesting and insightful article, but I can’t get over the new word I’ve learnt today!

  2. Thanks Evan. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the second perspective of propinquity in OSS even more, which is due to drop onto the blogroll tomorrow. 😉

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