The Difference Between Efficient And Effective


Friday, 6.04pm

Sheffield, U.K.

If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing. – W. Edwards Deming

Anything you do can be represented as a process. You take something that’s in one form, an input, and transform it into something else, an output. It’s easy to visualise this with real-world examples such as transforming rubber into tyres but it also applies to more abstract concepts such as transforming data into insight. You can think of a process as representative of real things – that machine, that conveyor, that material – or as representing mental models – ways of seeing the world.

There are two things that are important for a process. Objectives tell you what you’re trying to achieve with your process. Resources are what you have available to operate your process. The distinction between inputs and resources is because inputs are transformed into outputs and move on while resources stay or are exhausted in the transformation process, such as the use of energy.

And this brings us to the difference between an effective process and an efficient process. You might think that these must be the same thing, but the diagram above is a nice model of the difference between the two, which I first saw in in this webinar by Andrew Wright.

An effective process is one where the output meets the objectives that have been set. In other words, if the objective is to make a box you make a box and not a vase. An efficient process, on the other hand, is one that makes the best use of resources. You minimise the amount of time, effort and cost that goes into making that box. This is a simple and clear way to understand the difference. There’s no use efficiently doing the wrong thing. Doing the wrong thing better does not make it right.

What we should do is make sure that we clearly understand what the objective is and then go about achieving it in the most efficient way possible. If we do that, we will be effective.


Karthik Suresh

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