There is a Difference Between Effective and Efficient

I try not correct people when they talk, but when we are in the middle of a Lean transition, it is important to see the difference between effective and efficient and use these adjectives properly.

Most of the people I’m in touch with are non-native English speakers and this could make it difficult to see the difference, because these concepts may be described with the same word in their native language. For example, in Finnish both of them are translated to tehokas and the Swedish version is even more confusing: effektiv.

Let’s see what the Oxford Dictionary has to say about these adjectives:

  • effective: successful in producing a desired or intended result
  • efficient: a system or machine achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense

Still not clear enough, so here is a more simplified explanation:

  • effective: doing the right thing
  • efficient: doing things right

When I say that the meeting was effective it means that we really achieved something which brought us forward. On the other hand, when I say the meeting was efficient it means that the meeting was well executed, we finished on time, had minutes etc., but it does not necessary means that we achieved anything.

It may look like I’m playing with words here, but imagine that somebody would transform your organization into an efficient one. This organization may deliver on time and on budget, but not necessarily the features the customer wanted. So, first an organization must be effective - deliver the right features - and then be efficient - deliver them properly. This is the difference, this is why it is important to see it.

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