The Pareto principle says that often 20% of the causes generate 80% of the effects.

Some examples for this law from wikipedia:

  • Pareto showed that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population (similar distribution applies to other countries)

  • Pareto notices that 20% of the peapods in his garden contained 80% of the peas.

  • 80% of the complaints come from 20% of the clients

  • 80% of the profits come from 20% of the time spent on work

  • 80% of the company’s sales come from 20% of the products

  • A common rule of thumb in business is that 80% of your sales will come from 20% of your clients

I’ve noticed how this rule applies to my work:

  • With projects I work on - most of the work (~80%) is easy, fun and done quickly, then the remaining small part (~20%) is hard, frustrating and takes more time than all of the other work combined. Usually this is the unpredicted elements or just random things that refuse to work. Most people quit after finishing the easy part, when the hard part is encountered.

  • Most users (~80%) will be polite and either leave a positive review or not contact me at all. A minority of the users (~20%) will be very vocal and negative with responses ranging from bad reviews to angry all caps emails.

  • Most of the income comes from a small section (~20%) of loyal users.

So what?

I’ve been noticing how this principle applies to many things in life and work. Lately I’ve been wondering what conclusions I can draw from it and how I can use it to my advantage. One thing I already do, and I often mention in this blog, is when building a new product, I focus only on the minimum required version to ship it. I try to build the functionality that is the most critical and leave the rest for later, once I’ll be able to see that someone actually uses what I’ve built.

I think the main takeaway is that many things can be separated to a “critical” part and “nice to have” part.

  • The “critical” part is the core functionality of an app that has to be finished that can be released. The other features and optimizations can be added later if needed.

  • The “critical” part of working on a new project is those 20% in which I encounter the parts which I didn’t predict and stuff that just break for no reason.

  • I would also like to focus more on the 20% of the users that are paying customers to make sure their experience is excellent. I think focusing on this group will give a better result in the short term than to try to make this group bigger.