The Pareto Principle


The Pareto principle as applied in the steel industry is often interpreted as meaning that 80% of the defects will be caused by 20% of the underlying causes. So far so good, but during my working life I’ve also applied a different version, which is that 80% of the result can be achieved by 20% of the effort. It’s the last 20% of the result that causes most of the work, and especially the last 5% can be a balls aching job.

Hence, if at all possible, you avoid having to do that last 20%, and especially that last 5%.

This may surprise some of the people who have observed my way of working, and how through being well organised I could a lot done in very little time. Also because computers tend to force people to give the full 100% before the system is satisfied, otherwise it may well lead to a “computer says no” situation.

Still, there’s a number of ways that you can travel light and achieve a “well enough” result. For instance you can skip a detailed planning, and let the details of the system work themselves out during the execution stage. You can also pare down the documentation phase to the absolute minimum and without producing thick volumes that no-one will be able to follow.

But especially when processing your customer’s requirements there’s a lotto be gained by putting yourself in your customer’s shoes, and supplying him/her not with something that covers his/her current requirements, but something that covers the requirements of subsequent development phases. By predicting what will be the future requirements you spend a little bit of extra effort in the here and now, but you save on future modifications and alterations that ultimately grow the total effort beyond what you would have spent if you had built them in from the start.

I know from experience when I knew that there would be further developments beyond the original design but didn’t feel that I wanted to spend the extra effort at the time. More often than not, that came to bite me later, and from that I’ve learnt that it’s false economy not to include known extensions even though the customer hasn’t asked for them yet at the time.

Strange, isn’t it ? I’m essentially a lazy person, who is willing to increase the current workload provided that as a result the total workload will be greatly decreased. And if I can get away with getting 80% of the work done with 20% of the effort, and if this 80% is sufficiently close to the 100% result to be satisfactory in practical terms, then that’s what I’ll settle for.

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