Legal Business

The E Words: Effectiveness and Efficiency

The Three Geeks and a Law Blog guys (I think it's Tony Brown writing) have an interesting post on the limits of efficiency.

It leads me to ask (rhetorically), What's the difference between effectiveness and efficiency?

You know the old saw about "doing the right thing" v. "doing the thing right." The E words don't quite align with it, but that's the right direction.

Consider: Efficiency is about doing better what you already do. Effectiveness is about prioritizing, doing the things that matter and skipping or skimping on the things that don't.

For example, I made eggplant in garlic sauce for dinner the other night. I've done it often enough that it no longer takes an hour. I know what order I need to do the steps in - for example, I can mince the garlic, the shallot, and the ginger on the same large cutting board because they all go in together, and I know that I have time to do the mincing after I start the eggplant wok-frying. (I'd rather boil the sucker, but my daughter likes it pan-fried.) We don't have to set the table until it's all simmering together. In other words, I'm now fairly efficient at making this many-steps-needed dish.

I've also somehow convinced the reincarnated T. rex posing as my son that a) eggplants aren't scary purple space alien pods and b) he actually likes this dish and will eat it. Getting my son to eat anything mildly healthy is a major issue, but I have been effective at devising a dish we'll all eat - vegetarian daughter, mostly vegetarian spouse, carnivorous I-will-not-eat-broccoli son, and moi.

Consider Legal Project Management and process improvement ("six sigma"). To oversimplify, process improvement is about efficiency - improving your current processes. LPM is about effectiveness - doing the right thing for the client and the law practice.

LPM is better when you do those things the right way, and so I include sections on process efficiency in my full-day seminars and Master Classes on Legal Project Management. I don't necessarily call it that1, however; too many people think process efficiency is something foisted on them by space aliens emerging from purple pods.

Both efficiency and effectiveness are important. Given the choice, I'd rather start folks down the road of effectiveness and then help them travel that road efficiently.

Read more on the Lexician Blog.