While listening to a lecture from Wayne Wymore - Professor of Systems Engineering, University of Arizona - I came to a new understanding of one of sacred cows of agile development and agile project management - emergence. The requirements emerge, the processes used to develop code emerge, the system itself emerges. For example, the discussion of "emergence" in bio-ware - our brain for example and the emergence of consciousness - is a mystery in todays understanding (see the October issue of Scientific American for a nice overview). It simply means we do not understand the underlying mechanism of the brain.
In the case of requirements and processes in the development of software, this ignorance has another impact. If a system (the system of software development) has an emergent property, then it says this property is something we don't understand. If the system used to develop software does certain things - desirable or undesirable - and we can't explain these properties, the agilest labels this as emergent. And usually adds the sub-label of "desirable" to the emergent property.
Let's pretend there is a desirable emergent property. A property we can't explain. This is the definition of Emergence by the way. It is a property we can't explain, a property that was not there in the model of how the system works, before we observed the property. The system (in this example a software development method or project management method) can be deployed (put to use) but its has properties that have "emerged" and aren't explainable prior to their emergence. If these qualities (the emergent qualities) are good at one time, then there is no reason these properties could not be bad at another time. If we don't understand the property the first time how could we predict the continued benefits in the future.
When ever a system exhibits "emergent" behavior that is not understood prior to observing the behavior, the system and its behaviors needs to be considered a failure. Even if the property is labeled as emergent, it's a failure until the property has been understood in terms of the underlying system.
The key to success in project management - and possibly software development methodologies - is to observe the emergent behavior, then find out why this desirable behavior is in fact desirable and the source of desirability.
An emergent property is a signal of ignorance of the underlying process