Realize Great Work Through Every Day Emergence

Jeff Lopez-Stuit

The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.”
The eleventh principle behind the Agile Manifesto says something powerful about the role that emergence plays in creating the space for teams to do great work. Changing the order of words can put more emphasis on the faith that Agile puts in teams:  The architectures, requirements, and designs of self-organizing teams willemerge, and what emerges will be the best.

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What that principle doesn’t say about emergence is also a potent expression of what self-organized teams are capable of:
The principle doesn’t say “the best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams…
…except when there are a lot of dependencies between teams.”
…or “when there is a critical emergency project that will require the team to shift priorities.”
…or “except for large enterprises that have scaled 50 teams or more teams.”
…or “except when the teams are distributed across the Earth.”
No matter how big and complex a system may seem, or dramatic the situation, or where the people are located, allowing people to self-organize will allow the best solutions to emerge.
Practice Everyday Emergence
I can’t contribute to the volumes written about how complexity science contributed to understanding of self-organization and emergence.  I can offer a few simple practices that allow a team to build their self-organization muscles and generate the conditions where emergence can happen:

  • Make your work visible – having everything the team needs to work be physically visible to everyone allows people to see and experience patterns and relationships that enable people to work together to
  • Size your own work – when agile programs start to get large,  many organizations take short cuts by allowing architects,  subject matter experts, and other non-team members to put size estimates on a team’s work.   Don’t allow this!  It’sthe team that commits to the work, and the team that owns how much work they will commit to.
  • Honor your commitments – Treat a sprint commitment as something the team honors as their word. This doesn’t mean that the team never fails on a commitment.  It means that the team honors its intention by acknowledging failure when it happens.  Honoring commitment creates the space for understanding, and for better performance to emerge.
  • Raise those impediments!Exposing impediments, and expecting them to be cleared is one of the fastest ways a team can seed emergent behavior.  It’s the gateway to the entire organization refactoring itself to something it couldn’t have imagined before.

Agile puts huge faith in people, and in what can emerge when they are allowed to self organize.   The greatest contribution you can make to your team, your company, and to Agile is to deepen your practice what you learn at the beginning of your Agile journey and to help your team along the path.  What emerges will be the best.

Jeff Lopez-Stuit

Jeff Lopez-Stuit is a Senior Agile Consultant at SolutionsIQ.  He’s been an agile practitioner for nine years, and has coached and lived with teams throughout the United States, India, and the United Kingdom.  The next stage of his agile journey is emerging at  You can reach him at