Sunday, 16 October 2016

The 80/20 Rule

How can we avoid featuritis and concentrate just on the tasks that will make us more efficient? Many years ago, approximately a century ago, someone called Pareto realised that 20% of the pea pods in his garden amounted for 80% of his crop. The remaining 80% of his pea pods amounted to the other 20% of his pea crop. Intrigued by this ratio, he also checked that he could use this rule to other fields. He went on to discover that, back then, 20% of the population had 80% of the income. The remaining 20% of the wealth was in the hands of the poorest 80% of the population. This principle, based in empirical knowledge, has been in use since then. It helps improve efficiency and productivity in economics, commercial distribution, marketing, engineering, and, naturally, in software development.
For example, we start to develop our product with a huge list of requirements and features as a base. Yet we know that only 20% of those features will be used 80% of the time. A large chunk of the remaining features will only be used 20% of the time. We can apply this principle to development time. Using it, we can deduce that if it takes us about 10 months to build a product, in 2 of those months we will be able to develop 80% of the features. Thus it would take us about 8 months to solve the remaining 20% of the most complex and difficult features. This leads us to ponder: will people use these features? Are they really indispensable?

Say we manage to identify the most important features, and we keep them as simple as we can. Wouldn’t we be able to dispense with 8 months of work and deliver a highly effective product in 2 months only? We already know that 20% of our effort will produce 80% of our results. Wouldn't it be worthwhile to sit for a moment and think for a bit about what we should devote our time to? I’m sure it would.

You can find texts like this and many other about how to manage agile projects in my book Agile 101: Practical Project Management (available on Amazon).

Book on Scrum: Agile 101, Practical Project Management
Agile 101 - Practical Project Management

Translation by Begoña Martínez. You can also find her on her LinkedIn profile. Proofreading by David Nesbitt.

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