Alfredo Pareto was an Italian sociologist who suggested that “80% of all wealth in this country is owned by 20% of the people.” This supposition was further developed by business and industry leaders who found that most of the quality problems were confined to a small number of machines or workers. In other words, “80% of problems come from 20% of the equipment or workforce.” (Donna Curry: Field Notes, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Winter 2001) SABES/World Education, Boston, MA)
This argues that typically 80% of unfocussed effort generates only 20% of results. The remaining 80% of results are achieved with only 20% of the effort.
Before you read on please listen to Brian Tracy on this short clip:
What It Means
You can apply the 80/20 Rule to almost anything, from the science of management to the sciences of the physical world around us. While the ratio is not always 80:20, this broad pattern of a small proportion of activity generating non-scalar returns recurs so frequently as to be the norm in many areas.
The 80/20 Rule means that in any set of things (workers, customers, students, parents, etc.) a few (20 percent) are ‘vital’ and many (80 percent) are considered not so ‘vital’. Is it ethical to apply this to our students and their learning? If so, in what way can it benefit their learning and progress? If not, does it mean that 80/20 rule has no significance in education other than in the management of physical resources?
[Note: By ‘vital’ here I assume the broad gamut of synonyms available for the word, and as applicable.]
It’s well known by Project Managers that 20 percent of work (usually the first 10 percent and the last 10 percent) consume 80 percent of the time and resources.
From research in the world of commerce we know 20 percent inventory on hand occupies 80 percent of your space. Similarly, 80 percent of your inventory line items (Stock Keeping Units) come from 20 percent of your vendors. At the same time, it’s likely that 80 percent of your revenues will be the result of sales made by 20 percent of your sales staff.
And 20 percent of your workers will cause 80 percent of your problems, while another 20 percent of your personnel will deliver 80 percent of your entire production/service.
The formula appears to work in both directions. And remember:
A 20% change in behaviour results in an 80% improvement in performance.
How Pareto’s Principle Can Help Us
The value of the Pareto Principle in management is in reminding us to stay focused on the “20 percent that matters”. Of all the tasks performed throughout the day, one could say (based on Pareto’s Principle) that only 20 percent really matter. Those tasks in the 20 percent very likely will produce 80 percent of our results. Thus, it’s critical that we identify and focus on those things. When the fire drills surrounding the “crisis of the day” begin to eat up precious time, remind yourself of the critical 20 percent you need to focus on. If anything in the list of activities and action items has to fall by the wayside – left undone – be sure it isn’t listed in that critical 20 percent.
Consider the following short clip: Improve Your Productivity with the 80/20 Rule
Why It’s Important to Be Careful
A more recent application or implementation of management theory that’s been making the rounds for a few years (both in books and lectures/seminars) suggests that we interpret Pareto’s Principle in ways that would create a new approach, sometimes termed Superstar Management. Its supporters claim that since 20 percent of your staff likely produce 80 percent of your results you should focus your limited time in management on only that 20 percent – the so-called superstars.
However, this proposed implementation of Pareto’s Principle to management is flawed; it overlooks the fact that 80 percent of your time should be spent doing what is really important, or most likely to deliver the greatest return. By helping your “good” teachers become better you are more likely to reap greater results than by dedicating the same management effort to helping the fewer “great” teachers become terrific. In this case, the sheer numbers work against you spending your time only helping manage and improve the few great staff members. Thus, it’s wise to evaluate various management situations and apply the Pareto Principle appropriately – and wisely.
By applying the skills you can optimise your effort to ensure that you concentrate as much of your time and energy as possible on the high payoff tasks. This ensures that you achieve the greatest benefit possible with the limited amount of time available to you.
Using the questionnaire that follows, find out your ability to use time effectively and efficiently – available in our online summer courses:
- FSC1708 – Characteristic Management Skills for School Leaders
- FSC1711 – Leaders and Managing Conflict and Stress
Originally posted on June 8th 2017