Emergent process

Emergent processes are non-routine processes that cannot be predefined at a high level of detail. The path to achieving the end goal isn’t crystal clear.

Examples of emergent processes include:

  • redeveloping business strategy
  • designing a product for an untapped market
  • treating acute major trauma in a tertiary hospital

They differ from the repetitive and undeviating nature of routine processes like production work where tasks always achieve the end goal. Routine processes are scientifically optimised to maximise efficiency.

Emergent processes, on the other hand, aim for effectiveness more than efficiency. This is because their outcome depends on the situation. The situation will drive how steps are taken and who gets involved.

Highly effective emergent processes have these traits:

  • an end goal exists, but it’s often vague and will evolve over time
  • constant knowledge gathering exercise to inform next steps
  • new learnings over time will force activities to morph or get replaced
  • activities are done in parallel workflows as opposed to one-at-a-time

Finally, emergent processes involve people in different ways during the ongoing knowledge collection work. You may consider connecting with subject matter experts or running regular debriefing sessions.


  1. Debenham J., Simoff S. (2006) Managing Emergent Processes. Knowledge-Based Intelligent Information and Engineering Systems. KES 2006.
  2. Seath I (2009) Routine vs Emergent Processes. Improvement Skills Consulting. http://www.improvement-skills.co.uk/