Tool: Emergent Properties

In complex systems, such as product development organizations, certain properties appear only at the system level and cannot be directly traced to the properties of its parts. Emergent properties also occur everywhere in natural complex systems that surround us. In biology for example, emergent properties often occur through various collaborative patterns between the organisms of the same or different species. The latter case has a whole class of interactions we refer to as symbiosis (ex: intestinal bacteria is required for effective digestion in mammals). The example of the former case could be migratory birds flying in V-formation which, due to the upwash from each other’s wingtip vortices, can fly a much longer distance.

Similarly, many properties emerge in the interaction of knowledge workers and provide significant advantage to the enterprise. Here are some examples:

  • A developer and a tester can achieve a qualitatively different level of productivity, because testers are better suited to think critically of the system under development as they are not subject to the same cognitive bias.
  • Pair and Mob programming practices benefit from the same effect as in the example above. In addition to that, real-time interaction provides a qualitatively distinct opportunity to resolve inconsistencies in views of different people before those ideas get realized in code.
  • Interaction with the customer produces outcomes that cannot be achieved as a result of any lower-level feedback cycles.
  • Frequent integration is not the same as “infrequent” one, only performed faster; it produces a whole new level of effects. One of them is, due to the fact that the intervals between integration events are so small, there is disproportionally less disruption within the product development team.

Understanding emergent properties of collaborative practices and interactive scenarios are important to every successful transformation. Particularly, emergent properties are often at the core of Embedded Mental Models of practices and therefore are key to shifting organization’s mindset in the right direction. So, for example, it is easy to see the connection between qualitatively new effects of CI and understanding by developers that interrupting their flow of coding for integration is actually beneficial to the flow of value. Similarly, for the management it is crucial to understand that tight collaboration as part of Mob Programming produces outcomes that cannot be compared with he contribution of each individual done separately.

Some higher-level emergent properties occur as a result of “symbiotic” relationship between practices. So, for example, CI and Test Automation produce ultimate quality outcomes due to CI providing the natural vehicle for invoking the tests and test automation providing a whole new level of feedback as part of CI. The Practice Map in figure 1 demonstrate some examples, including the one just described.

Figure 1. Practice map with Emergent Properties.

Emergent properties are tightly connected with Self-Organized Behavior. More specifically, the exact dynamic of organization or team with respect to emergent properties, can never be effectively planned in advance and requires empowerment of knowledge workers and adaptive environment.


Ⓒ Org Mindset, LLC