As a project manager or a team member who has been put in charge of a project, you have plenty of tools that will help you achieve a successful outcome. For one, you have the authority that goes with being a project manager. Then, you probably have a project management methodology to provide structure and guidance. If possible, you should have project management software tools at your disposal, as they can be incredibly valuable for several different reasons.
And then there’s the Internet, the global repository of collective knowledge that holds many principles, methods, or information you will find useful. Of course, there are also plenty of methods, principles, or pieces of apparent wisdom that will not only be of questionable usefulness but will derail your project if you decide to take them to heart. However, if the piece of online wisdom you’ve come across is called “the 80/20 principle,” don’t disregard it too quickly. It might be just the thing you need to take your project management to the next level.
What Is the 80/20 Principle?
Back in the late 19th and early 20th century, an economist called Vilfredo Pareto calculated that, in his native Italy, a fifth of the population had control over four-fifths of all land in the country. Pareto’s land distribution was applicable to other countries as well — it turned out that, at the time, it wasn’t uncommon for 20% of a country’s population to own 80% of the land.
The principle was later re-framed and popularized by Richard Koch and many other business gurus as an axiom that stated that, in many different settings, roughly 20% of the causes will be responsible for 80% of the outcomes. So, for example, 20% of the clients will be responsible for 80% of the sales. The richest 20% of the people will have roughly 80% of the wealth and pay the same share of taxes. And even Microsoft added their own example by concluding that 20% of the bugs present in a software will be responsible for 80% of the errors and crashes, as well as that 1% of the code contains around a half of the faulty code.
How Does the Principle Apply to Project Management?
In project management, the 80/20 principle is a fine tool to slice the project any way you see fit. Let’s say the project is creating a piece of software. The principle implies that your team might spend 80% of the time working on just 20% of the project. 20% of the team might be responsible for 80% of the work done, and 80% of people who end up using your software might use only 20% of its functions.
The problem with using the Pareto principle this way is that it doesn’t solve any of your problems. Yes, you might spend 80% of the time working on only 20% of the project. But if that part of the project is the crucial part, it’s not like you can just cut it out to save some time. However, if you’re willing to dig a little deeper, you’ll find that the 80/20 principle is a very valuable tool for making your project run more efficiently. Here are a couple of ways you can use it when figuring out how to delegate tasks.
Improving the Task — Team Member Fit
Let’s say that your project follows the principle when it comes to the relationship of time spent and the completion rate — it takes 80% of the time to complete 20% of the work on the project. If you can determine which part of the project is that 20%, you can also find a way to delegate the tasks better. If the reason why it takes so much time to do so little work is that you gave out work that doesn’t fit the team member’s competencies, you can easily fix it.
In some cases, it might turn out that there’s no way to re-delegate some of the tasks to speed up the project. It might happen that some of that 20% of tasks just got bundled in there by mistake. And then, you can take steps to delegate, either internally or through outsourcing, the work to the people who are more capable of handling it. So, instead of having your team members work on writing press releases and other copy for the software launch, for example, you can simply hire third-party services like Handmade writing and let the professionals do the writing.
Finding Value in Your Team and Your Project
The Pareto principle implies that 20% of your team will finish 80% of the project. That alone should point you towards the MVPs on your team and let you know who you can count on. But you can do much more than simply use the rule to find the people who are best at speeding through vast amounts of work.
The 80/20 principle will probably tell you which part of your work is the most valuable. You can probably find that out well before you start working on the project through market research — some features will be more desirable and attractive than others, for example, and consequentially more responsible for the success of the project. Then, you can use the most valuable members of your team and delegate them to work on those crucial features.
If it’s something that’s going to make or break the product, you need to delegate the best people you have to it. If it’s something that’s just supposed to be there, the only thing you need to worry about is that it’s there. Throw the best people you have and the most time you have at the small part of the project that’s responsible for the major share of its success.
At its core, the 80/20 principle is there to remind you that there doesn’t have to be a linear proportion between time and work done, or time and quality, or any two other measurements of resources or project success. It shows you that little things can have a huge impact, and that huge things can have a negligible impact. And if you use that principle to look at the project you’re managing, you might easily find different ways to make it more efficient — either through changing how and to whom you delegate tasks, or by doing something else differently.
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