Do You Have an Emergent Project?

I just finished the electronic version of Manage Your Job Search, integrating my comments from my beta reviewers. I’m getting the book ready for print and audio now. One of my realizations is that a job search is an emergent project. As much as you might want to, you cannot predict an end date.

Other emergent projects are writing books (at least, for me they are) and change projects, such as transitioning to agile.

What are the common characteristics of emergent projects?

  • You know what you want as a result. You either want a job, a great book, or an agile transformation, which is often a cultural shift.
  • You can’t plan the entire project all at once. You can plan a little. You might even be able to outline the entire project. But you know you will have to replan as you proceed.
  • You know things will change. As a veteran of all three kinds of projects, yes, I can guarantee that all three will change!
  • You can take advantage of opportunities along the way.
  • Serendipity makes the project better.
  • Even if you are one of the people instigating the project, you depend on other people to complete the project.

Emergent projects are often a time of great change for the people on the project. They can be fun, also. But they can never be planned so that they “just work that way.” Nope. The people on the project need to adapt to what is going on that day, the next day, and the next.

Many projects have characteristics of emergent projects. But they are not emergent by nature. More projects have deadlines, where they start to lose value if you don’t release them by a certain date. Or, if they take too long, they are too expensive to consider.

If you have an emergent project, hang on for the ride. Use lean approaches and limit your WIP (work in progress). You will have cultural change.

Let me know if I’ve missed other kinds of projects as emergent projects. Thanks.

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  1. Matthias Bohlen

    Hi Johanna,

    my emergent project of the year is email marketing. I completely changed my email marketing during the last 6 months, and it seems as if it will take me another six months to do so.

    Will have to change my thinking and habits, too.


    • Johanna Rothman

      Matthias, yes, email marketing is another emergent project. Although, I’m not sure it has an end 🙂

  2. Matthias Bohlen

    Oh, I mean changing the email marketing is the emergent project, not email marketing per se. But maybe the change doesn’t end, either. 🙂

    • Johanna Rothman

      Matthias, wow, I am living the changing email marketing with you, my friend 🙂 At least, this year I am!

  3. Elinor Slomba

    I liked this post! I would tentatively add that – beyond job seeking – matchmaking of any kind is an emergent project. From dating to finding the right school for a child to curating an art exhibition. And yes, serendipity is so intrinsic to the process that it’s almost recursive (more peripheral awareness leads to more serendipity which leads to more opportunities which require more peripheral awareness…) Lovely way to live and organize approaches to living, in the emergent mode.

    • Johanna Rothman

      Elinor, thank you for going meta on me! Yes, I had not thought of the match-making part of this. How right you are!

  4. Tushar

    Hi, thank you for making this post , I totally agree with you that a job search is an emergent project and we can’t predict at the end date. it’s a great help to me.



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