Rethinking 80-20

20% of the people do 80% of the work.

We hear Pareto's Principle invoked all the time as if it is something universal and beyond our control.

What if it's not? 

What if these percentages are not because of some predetermined tendency of the way individuals act, but result from the systems and processes we put into place?

Maybe the reason a small percentage of people frequently do the largest percentage of the work is because that's the way we've been led to believe the system works.  So as a result we plan for it accordingly.

When looking at situations from a system thinking perspective, you go beyond the events visible at the surface to dig deeper in search of the patterns producing them and the structural source of the pattern.

So the next time you lament and accept the lack of participation in a program or the small corp of volunteers doing the heavy lifting on a project, look to see what principles or practices you've put into place that might be leading to those very results.

You might just find that 80% of your systems are focused on enabling only 20% of your potential participants or contributors.  Your problem may not be the people, but instead your processes.


Alex McClung said...

Yes. My line of work involves investigations into Pharmaceutical manufacturing failures. We are exceedingly reluctant to assign "human error" as a causative factor for the same reasons you describe. Our investigations Almost always expose a weakness in a process. Usually. We see process flow and process hand-off points as the weaklink in the system.

Jeffrey Cufaude said...

Alex: That's a great example. More individuals should stop to question the system before assigning blame to human error.

Thanks for sharing.