Technical difficulties and the 80/20 rule

foto_azimut_vilfredo_pareto

In the effort to consolidate ScienCentral web properties (including archives and tools for reporters and clients) onto one dedicated server, we have generated duplicate articles, posts of drafts, incorrect publication dates. We are quickly correcting these errors.

In the midst of the frustration,  a thought occurred to me. Is there a way to predict the best and cheapest way to solve the problem and prevent similar ones in the future?

Lots of people – like business people and  engineers – use mathematical versions of the 80/20 rule, which does have an official name – the Pareto Principle. The principle is named after an Italian economist and sociologist, Vilfredo Pareto, who wrote about how 80% of the land in Italy is owned by 20% of the people. Pareto popularized the word “elite” to describe the small portion of the population that has the greater economic advantage. In non-mathematical terms, Pareto was able to calculate that life is not fair.

There are lots of ways to think about this principle. 80% of your income can come from 20% of your clients. This site gives lots of great examples of how people can use the principle in different fields. So is our web site hiccup an 80% problem or a 20% problem? Since I never went to business school and was taught how, how can understanding the 80/20 nature of the problem help us run a better business?

80% problems are easy to solve and should be relatively cheap.

So say it as an 80% problem. WordPress and other tools make it possible for non-technical people to do 80% of the tasks needed to build and run a web site. 80% of the people will do reasonably well at it, assuming a well-designed system. 80% of the problems people encounter are similar enough to each other that fairly ordinary help files and help lines will fix common problems. Low cost, flat fee solutions can work well for clients and providers for 80% problems.

But if it is a 20% problem, where technical people need to invest too many hours in exploring unique solutions, then help providers can lose money on flat fee solutions, making the business model unsustainable.

So far, ScienCentra’s problems look to be 80% problems (thank you Abnel!), but we have not gone through all possibilities yet.  We will keep you updated. And we’d love to hear about your experiences with using the 80/20 rule. Do you think it is true in your field?

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