Pareto principle

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Industrial & Organisational : Introduction : Personnel : Organizational psychology : Occupations: Work environment: Index : Outline

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80-20 rule, the law of the vital few and the principle of factor sparsity) states that for many phenomena, 80% of the consequences stem from 20% of the causes. The idea has rule-of-thumb application in many places, but it is commonly misused. E.g., it is a misuse to state that a solution to a problem "fits the 80-20 rule" just because it fits 80% of the cases; it must be implied that this solution requires only 20% of the resources needed to solve all cases. Mathematically, where something is shared among a sufficiently large set of participants, there will always be a number k between 50 and 100 such that k% is taken by (100 − k)% of the participants. However, k may vary from 50 in the case of equal distribution to nearly 100 in the case of a tiny number of participants taking almost all of the resources. There is nothing special about the number 80, but many systems will have k somewhere around this region of intermediate imbalance in distribution.

The principle was suggested by management thinker Joseph M. Juran. It was named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of income in Italy was received by 20% of the Italian population. The assumption is that most of the results in any situation are determined by a small number of causes. This idea is often applied to data such as sales figures: "20% of clients are responsible for 80% of sales volume." Such a statement is testable, is likely to be approximately correct, and may be helpful in decision making. Richard Koch has written extensively on how to apply the principle in all walks of life.

This is a special case of the wider phenomenon of Pareto distributions. If the parameters in the Pareto distribution are suitably chosen, then one would have not only 80% of effects coming from 20% of causes, but also 80% of that top 80% of effects coming from 20% of that top 20% of causes, and so on (80% of 80% is 64%; 20% of 20% is 4%, so this implies a "64-4 law").

The Pareto principle is only tangentially related to Pareto efficiency, which was also introduced by the same economist, Vilfredo Pareto. Pareto developed both concepts in the context of the distribution of income and wealth among the population.

The Pareto principle has many applications in quality control, and is the basis for the pareto chart, one of the key tools used in total quality control and six sigma.

In computer science the Pareto principle can be applied to resource optimization by observing that 80% of the resources are typically used by 20% of the operations. In software engineering, it is often a better approximation that 90% of the execution time of a computer program is spent executing 10% of the code (known as the 90/10 law in this context).

The Pareto principle serves as a baseline for ABC-analysis and XYZ-analysis, widely used in logistics and procurement for the purpose of optimizing stock of goods, as well as costs of keeping and replenishing that stock.