Efficient vs. Effective

One of the Principles of Agile Manifesto is:

The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face communication.

When I try to keep memorise these principles, it’s always the best way to understand the real meanings of each of them in practice before keeping them in mind. However, these two words, ‘efficient’ and ‘effective’, have confused me for a while. One reason is that they both represent the meaning of ‘with great effect’ in Chinese when I use most translation applications. So let’s grasp the distinction between them.

First of all, the definitions of them in Oxford English Dictionary are shown below.


achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense.


successful in producing a desired or intended result.

We can see that ‘efficient’ is used to describe a kind of status of the process, while ‘effective’ focuses more on the result.

Then, based on it, these two words may be easily associated associate with ‘Doing the right things and doing the things right’ literally. In this manner, we can say ‘doing the right things’ is effectiveness and ‘doing the things right’ is efficiency. However, when you are doing the right thing, you cannot 100 per cent sure that you are doing it well. Also, when you are doing a thing well, it doesn’t mean that this thing is meaningful to you. There are some examples presented as following.

  • With his power, Mumen Rider could not transport all injured people to the hospital effectively, while organised rescue operations efficiently.
  • Genos can effectively defeat the monster with his trick, but he needs to spend a lot of time to accumulate energy to use the trick, which is not efficient.
  • Saitama has become too powerful as that he can defeat any monster in the most efficient and effective way – just with a single punch.

In addition, I also found the episode Effective – Efficient. They mean different things in English, which is very helpful to understand the meanings of ‘efficient’ and ‘effective’.

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