Knowing the outcome(s) of management efforts in applied ecology is topical and useful. The effort–outcomes principle states that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between the desired outcomes of management and the effort applied (the inputs) but with diminishing returns. A question addressed by this relationship is the following: How much management effort is enough to achieve a desired outcome? We evaluate the relationship—namely, how it is described or estimated—give empirical examples, and outline a novel and explicit conceptual framework that connects management efforts to outcomes. We conclude that the relationship has been described three ways previously: in stylized graphs, from computer algorithms, and in observational studies. We recommend a fourth way employing manipulative experiments carried out as part of an adaptive management program and designed explicitly to estimate the relationship's parameters.