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Thursday, August 6 • 13:30 - 14:00
Innovating Research Methods to Understand Flexibility in Complex Projects

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In this paper we discuss how when we innovate in the way we examine the nature of the relationships and combinations between the elements in equifinal and multifinal pathways, we can identify ways of making innovation projects more flexible and therefore more successful. To initiate a discussion on this topic we illustrate an example with a short vignette.

Academics and practitioners suggest that project failure is caused by rigid conventional project management methods that fail to capture the serendipitous, evolutionary and experimental nature of complex innovation projects. There is general agreement that innovative projects need to be ‘flexible’ to be successful. There is a general trend in research studies to focus on either flexible project planning and/or on flexible product specifications but there are but few suggestions that flexibility lies in the management of equifinal and multifinal processes taking a complexity perspective. Therefore, satisfactory explanations have been hindered by a weakness within project management methodologies to conceptualize complexity. In this chapter we will suggest methods that could enable researchers to investigate flexibility in equifinal and multifinal processes as well as ideas about how these methods could be embedded in current research practice.

Equifinality and multifinality are useful concepts to investigate multiple trajectories to reach goals. Equifinality occurs when "a system can reach the same final state, from different initial conditions and by a variety of different structures/processes paths." We can equate equifinality as the concept of convergence: Multifinality refers to designing a system (organization) where individual actors or its subsystems meet their own goals while the system as a whole also meets its goals. Attaining varied outcomes from parameters in an interconnected system is divergence. 

Both equifinality and multifinality are faculties of complex systems, and they both defy the definition of a precisely planned and meticulously implemented process completely controlled or predicted by initial conditions. For this reason their investigation in management generally and project management particularly has been put off – it is tied with the investigation of causal complexity within convergent/divergent project structures/processes, and this investigation has been hindered by the absence of complexity methods that suit social enquiry. We explain the reasons why complexity enquiry in project management is hindered. we define the elements of both equifinality and multifinality, based from a complexity perspective, to be: 

Equifinality = Convergence of pathways

Multifinality = Divergence of pathways

E/M pathway = initial conditions / regulation (from feedback) / contingency / outcome

In our vignette example, the determination of which pathways are optimal comes as a result of integrating regulatory mechanisms coming from feedback loops within the pathways. Regulation will not only show us multiple pathways but can also help to ensure that contingencies are controlled, and mechanisms are put in place to detect and address breakdowns. It is important to note that regulatory mechanisms, in general, can be extremely varied and irregular and for this reason configurational methods can be used to assess the optimal equifinal and multifinal pathways. It is the proposition in this study that the location of flexibility or the lack of it can be detected in the nature of the relationship between the elements in the equifinal/multifinal pathways. By this we mean that these elements are configured (combined in various relations) in a phenomenon called causal complexity within which their interdependence creates unique sequence of events. 

Presenter / Artist

Maria Kapsali

Lecturer, University of Hull
ISSS Regular

Thursday August 6, 2015 13:30 - 14:00
Stockholm 2 Scandic Berlin Potsdamer Platz, Gabriele-Tergit-Promenade 19, 10963 Berlin, Germany

Attendees (3)