Law of the Vital Few
The Law of the Vital Few is better known as the 80/20 rule or Pareto’s Principle. Basically, approximately 80 percent of an input affects 20% of the output while 20% of any input will affect 80% of the outcome. That means 20% of your time, resources, efforts, or customers is responsible for 80% of all of your results. This is one of the key concepts that I learned from ITW and we employ the rule daily.
Think about it and see if this is true (I bet that it will be close):
- 20% of your customers produce 80% of your revenue
- 20% of your software code produces 80% of the ”bugs”
- 20% of your people produce 80% of the results
- 20% of your pots and pans are used 80% of your time when cooking
So what do you do with this knowledge?
Do more with less. Focus on what matters most. You stop treating everything as equal and start paying attention to the 20 percent. Give VIP treatment to your 20% of customers and keep them happy – give them special status, i.e. Financial institutions have “premier” status for some clientele and airlines have special rewards and privileges for frequent fliers. Fix the 20% of the software code that will affect product quality and perception.
Also consider whether to treat differently or even cut out of some of the remaining "80%". You might be losing money or devoting scant resources on a customer who buys once in a blue moon, e.g. maintain a legacy product feature or give them deep discounts - it may be worthwhile to cut your losses and invest elsewhere for better results.
Parkinson's Law of Triviality is also known as the “bike shed effect”. It refers to the tendency of people in organizations to give disproportionate attention to trivial issues and details.
Ever been in a product development or release meeting where attendees spend hours debating seemingly trivial items such as lettering, signage, color while comparatively bigger and more technical issues are seemingly discounted? The reason is that issues such as lettering, signage and color are easier to grasp by all (suddenly, everyone becomes self-appointed experts) while other issues are more difficult to understand and critique (no one dares speak on such matters to expose how little they know). The result can be that precious resources and time will be spent on these items instead of the much more essential and critical concerns. For example, you can end up having to devote development time to create multiple artistic concepts and designs for a committee approval.
C. Northcote Parkinson observed that an approval committee for a nuclear power plant spent the majority of its time on issues such as the materials for the staff bike-shed, while neglecting the less-trivial proposed design of the nuclear power plant itself – because everyone is an “expert” on making a bike shed versus the plant design. (In fact, they could not even come to a consensus on the bike shed and had to schedule a follow up meeting!)
What can you do? Like it or not, you cannot fight human nature. One proactive move is to meet individually with the “players” who will be in the meeting beforehand to discuss what the meeting expectations are and to get their buy-in and approvals beforehand. Practice what I referred to as “Shuttle Diplomacy” so that there are no surprises and that your goals are shared goals.
Be aware of these laws in your work and life.