The 80/20 of the 80/20 Rule


Although the Italian sociologist and economist, Vilfredo Pareto, provided the foundation for the 80/20 rule (often called the Pareto principle) when analyzing income distributions in the 19th century, it was Joseph Moses Juran who applied the idea to quality management theory. It is a very valuable idea; however, one must be careful not to oversimplify it.

Juran initially referred to the 80/20 as “the vital few and the trivial many”. This is a good description for many of the things that an individual, team, or organization does.

Yet, problems can occur with this definition when looking at core competencies.

For example, would you want to visit a Doctor, Dentist, or Lawyer who only focuses on 20% of your problem as it will give 80% the solution? Probably not. Would you buy a cake that was only made with the top 20% of the ingredients (water, flour, eggs) as from the 80/20 Bakery as if the other ingredients (yeast, chocolate) were superfluous? Doubtful.

Sometime, it is necessary to achieve excellence and the small components are significant too. Juran realized this late in life and began to characterize the 80/20 rule as “the vital few and the useful many” yet this phrase has mostly been lost.

What is the 80/20 of 80/20?

The key is that both ideas of Juran are true. As a result, the 80/20 rule can be applied to bottom 80 percent of the many. As a result, it can also be thought as the 64/16/20 Rule in some circumstances:

  • 64% are the trivial many: this is the category where increased effort on the small things will produce diminishing returns and may not be the extra effort.
  • 16% are the useful many: these are non-vital items that still require full attention for total success.
  • 20% are the vital few: these should be the primary focus.

You need to be aware of your goals, projects, and overall outcomes to decide which subtasks are vital, important, and trivial. Productivity is about being able to choose wisely and then commit the correct amounts of time, energy, and resources to achieve the final result. The Pareto principle is a great model, except sometimes, one must also focus on the ‘useful many’ as well.