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Equifinality & Planning for Change

Keeping equifinality at the forefront of your mind while planning makes you prepared for change, reducing the risk of diminishing or jeopardizing your outcomes. Remember that there can be multiple means to an end — especially online.

Equifinality: “the principle that in open systems a given end state can be reached by many potential means.”

As managers and marketers, we setup plans to achieve goals, champion them throughout the organization, and then work to stay on track. We define linear paths to reach outcomes and convince ourselves, teammates and champions that our plan is THE way to reach our goals. Yet its important that we don’t become so attached to a plan or blinded by its efficiencies that we lose the ability to reach the outcome.

basic equifinality diagram

3 Ways to Incorporate Equifinality into Planning:

The trick with equifinality is identifying alternative means ahead of time. That way you have true alternatives ready instead of fixes or substitutes without comparable value. Here are some easy ways to get started:

1. Look at the tasks you assign to people and figure out if it can be handled in-part or completely by technology

Technology doesn’t have to mean,”new software to buy, install and learn”. It can be as simple as:

  • Making sure that key reports are generated and automatically delivered via email.
  • Building an FAQ page to answer questions that typically go to customer service.
  • Setting up email filters, so key topics and documents are easy to print and compile.
  • Recording a training session so that new hires can get up to speed quickly.

You may not be able to completely remove humans from the process, but reducing their labor and shifting them to a QA role will save you and them valuable time. Note: you should build in some time for trial & error at the beginning.

2. Find resources that can deliver the basic inputs.

Key deliverables usually start with some grunt work. You may have internal resources or vendors to help you, but you don’t want them to waste hours on mindless work.

  • Need research support? Post on college job boards, or look at sites like Elance
  • Trying to design training for a new tool? Make sure you scrape whatever you can from the vendor, and give the salesperson a call to see if they have some collateral to share.
  • Looking for a data set? Ask around to see if another department has already built something similar. It may not be perfect but it will save you time by giving you a foundation to build on.
  • You can find a list for damn near everything. Use Google liberally.

Services abound to fill the big and large gaps in your teams. Many of them are free or very low cost. The initial research may take a while but the list you build will payoff over and over.

3.  Don’t be dependent on any one person — that includes you.

Lean teams are one of the major legacies of the recent recession. This means that most companies are not staffed to support any type of redundancy. There is also a lot of competition for high-value employees (e.g. iOS developers, experienced international accountants). This means that your team will have a couple of key tasks that only one person can perform. At least, that’s how it will look at first glance. You don’t want your whole project to get delayed or derailed because one person got sick.

  • Have singular resources give you a walkthrough of what they will being doing. You don’t need to understand every piece in depth, but you need a sense of where your key artifacts are coming from and what systems are there to develop them.
  • Make sure all key team members get a regular update on the project or campaign as a whole. This should include dates and some metrics. The idea is to make sure that the team knows what’s next in case of a drop in communication.
  • Conscientiously apply #1 & #2 above. These are the best methods to make sure you can run lean regardless of what comes up.

Bonus: Refer to the Critical-Path

Always come back to the core aspects of your project: What must get done and when. The longer a project goes on, the more likely it is to adopt additional requirements. It’s okay to build the extras into your planning, but be prepared to jettison them if they are complicating movement on the critical path.

Thinking about equifinality reminds me that the only thing that can stop me from reaching my goals is panic or a lack of imagination.

Published in Project Management Ideas Working Blog

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