Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Efficiency, shmishency

At work today, I had the sheer delight and pleasure of working with one of the must curt, disrespectful managers within the company. This individual knows there is only one way to do things: her way.

I explained to her a way that I collaborate with one of my highest profile users, a manager in the Finance department. The gal I was talking to didn't like the method. To be precise, she said, "that's so darn inefficient".

She's right. The method is inefficient. But it's highly effective and garners much-needed good will for me and my department.

You tell me...what's the difference between efficiency and effectiveness? And when do you focus on one over the other?

I guess you can call this a test.


Scott said...

The difference between efficiency and effectiveness?

Efficiency is faster, cheaper

I would thing efficiency is to be pursued on the routine, effectiveness to be emphasized on the personal. In other words, seek the most efficient method in dealing with impersonal processes, but when dealing with people, it can be sacrificed for effective, thorough two way communication and good will.

I want to be efficient above all when finding a way to manage servers. When sitting with a user and working on a problem, I want to be effective.

That's what my gut says.

Jungebez said...

The difference bewteen efficiency and effectiveness:

Efficiency = less of something and savings. You spend less time on something and you save money.

Effectiveness = quality. You get the job done with high quality.

So which is more important to the end customer? to the program manager? Both are easy questions to answer, but how about this question: Which is more important to the overall success of the organization (or company)?

Rick said...

Good thoughts so far. I'll answer Jungebez's questions as part of my final answer.

Any other takers?

Rick said...

The answer to the questions, as I learned them when I worked for Electronic Data Systems:

- Effectiveness is "doing the right thing".

- Efficiency is "doing the thing right".

While we tend to look at the two terms like Scott did - effectiveness applies to relationships, per se, and efficiency applies to tasks - looking at things from a process-oriented perspective changes the game a bit.

My user always "knows" what she wants, that is, until we give it to her. At that point in time, it usually takes 2-3 more attempts at delivering something to her before she knows what she truly wants for the benefit of her team.

In this scenario, efficiency says that I do what it takes to save time, and reduce the number of iterations. That would expend less effort and save more time, wouldn't it?

It would seem so. However, I've learned that with this customer, it's better to take her initial thoughts, put them in some combination of textual/graphical translation, and give it back to her to digest before doing any work. Does it take longer? Maybe, but normally only involves me and her, and sometimes her team. The techies aren't involved until the user knows what she really wants.

In cases where I've listened to this user, written everything down, and said "go" to the technical team, we've ended up delivering late anyway, and always after we worked through 2-3 iterations of the requirements. BTW, this is how it tends to work for the other IT personnel that work with her, too.

So, I wasn't efficient, at least as most people think of efficiency. The job was not done quickly; however, it was done effectively.

The manager that took issue with my methods would have only succeeded at guaranteeing her own staff did 1-2 iterations of rework, thereby delaying other projects. That would have been ineffective. However, I delivered the end result "slower" than the manager would have desired. In actuality, the whole effort took less than a week, and the developer was able to complete other projects while waiting to get my user's ultimate requirements.

Effectiveness: doing the right thing.
Efficiency: doing the thing right.

This line of thought also works when evaluating two processes or tasks that have nothing to do with personnel. One task or method could seem more appropriate based on the environment, when in fact it only makes things more difficult. It may be efficient, but makes the enterprise less effective.

Do the right thing, then do it right. Don't do the wrong thing right, you just waste time.

Gino said...

A little late commenting in this, but, it sounds like the "efficient" method in this case is really short-term efficiency at the expense of long-term efficiency. In other words, pre-mature optimization.

Rick said...


If the issue at hand were a technical matter, I would agree with you.

This site helped me understand what Gino is discussing.

The matter at work deals mostly with the department's culture, the enterprise's acceptance of good project management and system development practices, and the personal preferences of the key user.

To that extent, I am actually gaining an ally by taking the approach I took. It makes system development collaborative, instead of like we are trying to ram a technical solution down my non-technical user's throat. She talks kindly about IT now, whereas a year ago, she did not.