Proceedings of the 55th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2011, Hull, UK, Proceedings of the 55th Annual Meeting of the ISSS

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Equifinality in Project Management

Maria Kapsali


Projects are the best means of creating and diffusing innovation in complex and risky environments. However, surveys reveal that the majority do not achieve their goals and waste huge amounts of resources. Notorious examples are the NHS NPfIT project which has massively overspent its initial budget by £10 billion in addition to lagging behind completion by several years, and many multibillion EU funded projects involving innovations that were abandoned after the pilots.
Research from academics and practitioners in the past two decades suggests that this failure is the result of using conventional project management methods, which fail to capture the serendipitous, evolutionary and experimental nature of the activities in innovation projects. Therefore the question remains as to the best method to manage projects that involve high levels of change.
The results of my previous research based on multiple EU healthcare innovation projects revealed that a key concept taken from system thinking is most suitable to be developed into a method that helps managing change in projects. This concept, called equifinality, refers to the fact that similar results can be achieved flexibly through different trajectories and in spite of initial circumstances. However a robust method based on equifinality has not yet been established, which is the basis for this proposal. The research question is: How can the system thinking concept of equifinality be applied to current project methods, so as to empower project managers in the handling of change, thereby improving the achievement of their goals?
This paper critically assesses the ways equifinality has been explored in previous research in other fields of management like operations and manufacturing, the discontinuous application of system thinking in management research and explores methods based on multiple case studies and triangulation through which equifinality can be explored further in project management. The issues of holism and interdisciplinarity are discussed as critical to the application of system thinking in project management.
This research does not only provide a new theoretical framework. By taking a concept from one theoretical field (system thinking ) and applying it to another (project management), it proves that academia will benefit substantially because by crossing its disciplinary boundaries theory will be enriched through a more holistic way of organizing, improving both the relevance to practice of explanatory rigour of theory and methods

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