IT Governance

Emergent Design in Enterprise IT

Is there a better way to approach enterprise IT? Does it really need to be a top-down affair that bulldozes over what came before it? Kailash Awati might have a better way. He wants to introduce you to the concept of “emergent design.”

The Origin of Emergence

The term emergent design was coined by David Cavallo in the context of technology-driven education reforms in indigenous cultures… Cavallo observed that traditional systems engineering approaches that attempt to change an educational system in a top-down manner fail primarily because they do not take into account the unique features of local cultures. Instead, he found that using the existing culture as a starting point from which to work towards systemic change offered a much better chance of the new ways taking root. In his words, “[the] adoption and implementation of new methodologies needs to be based in, and grow from, the existing culture.”

In other words, we need to be mindful that any enterprise IT initiative is going to cause reverberations throughout the business and to its stakeholders. Awati cautions that emergent design is not quite the same as agile software development though. For starters, he says it is not possible to become an expert in emergent design. The only way for people to excel in emergent design is together through collaboration, so that robust systems and processes may be built.

Another point of interest in emergent design is being able to distinguish between “complicated” and “complex” projects. The difference between the two similar words is that a complex project will also have an added element of “wickedness,” such as stakeholders with their own conflicting opinions. Basically, wickedness is any element that cannot be planned for in advance, and that is what makes it complex.

This only barely scratches the surface of emergent design though. At Awati’s full post, he offers a very lengthy and citation-packed analysis of emergent design in enterprise IT, and you can read it here:

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