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Is your project effectively efficient?

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Is the question of whether your project is effectively efficient one that you have considered? If the answer is no, you are not alone, but effectiveness and efficiency need to be uppermost in your mind from the inception of your project and throughout its life cycle. Here’s why.  

If you search online for ‘project failures’, you’ll be awash with results. If you dig deeper and read the reports, articles and case studies on why these projects failed, in the majority of cases they will lead you back to two underlying issues. First, getting the project strategy or goals wrong. Second, not delivering in terms of timescales, costs or quality, or a combination of all three. In essence, what you do and how you do it. The former is about effectiveness, while the latter is about efficiency.  

Balance effectiveness and efficiency 

Both words are frequently used, often without a full appreciation of what they truly mean, their symbiotic nature and the consequences of focusing too much on one to the detriment of the other. This was confirmed recently in a LinkedIn survey that I undertook, in which only 5% of respondents said that it was important to consider both effectiveness and efficiency.  

One of those respondents stated: “I’d suggest it’s a balance between the two and the location of the fulcrum depends on the level of risk associated with your project/product/ service. A high risk service (such as saving lives) would tend towards effectiveness, for example.”  

I totally agree, and the key is having the understanding and awareness of both. The other 95% of respondents who chose either effectiveness or efficiency could be focusing on achieving a goal that is a huge drain on their resources or accomplishing goals in a resourceful way but focusing on the wrong ones.  

Effectiveness comes first 

Effectiveness is about accomplishing the right thing, whereas efficiency is about accomplishing something resourcefully. What comes first, effectiveness or efficiency? In my experience, it is effectiveness, doing the right thing, that comes first, as there is nothing as wasteful, or indeed damaging, as being efficient at doing the wrong thing. So, initially your team needs to be asking the question: are we doing the right thing? Once your team has agreed the right goals, then they should be asking the question: how do we do the right thing in the most resourceful way? 

Achieve your goals in the most resourceful way 

In high-performing teams, understanding effectiveness and efficiency helps them to focus on achieving the right goals in the most resourceful way. In terms of teamwork, different aspects of teamwork align more with effectiveness, others with efficiency.  

As an example, consider three of the 16 elements of the Team DyNAmics Model, which helps teams to measure their effectiveness and efficiency. ‘Team Purpose’ is defined as the understanding of why the team exists, what this enables and the benefits this delivers. So, on the fulcrum of effectiveness and efficiency, it falls on the side of effectiveness. ‘Processes’, defined as the rules, regulations and guidelines by which tasks are achieved, aligns with efficiency. ‘Transformation’ is defined as the implementation of ideas to change what is done and how things are done to become more effective and efficient, so it is at the midpoint of the fulcrum.  

How to use it a personal level 

Effectiveness and efficiency also work on a personal level. As a keynote speaker talking about high performance teamwork, I can be effective if I deliver a speech that meets the agreed objectives; but I am not efficient if I take an hour and a half when I’ve been allotted an hour. However, I could deliver it efficiently by being on time but delivering learning that doesn’t meet the objectives. Success only happens when I am both effective and efficient.

I would therefore suggest that the title of the 1982 Fun Boy Three/Bananarama hit ‘It Ain’t What You Do, It’s the Way that You Do It’ needs to be changed to reflect both effectiveness and efficiency. I suggest ‘It Is What You Do and the Way that You Do It’, as that’s what gets results! 

Read Nick's article in the spring issue of Project, 'Ask yourself: is my project effectively efficient?' Free to APM members.


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