Why the 80/20 Rule Matters

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Recently, I spoke to a good friend who complained that the last tasks in his company’s project nearly took three-times the effort than all the preceding tasks combined. He attributed the resulting delay to the start of the project when the team rushed through some of the early decisions to show progress. If this sounds familiar, you are not alone.

The work in the first few weeks often determines whether later a project stays on schedule and within budget. Why?

Early on in a project, the team makes several fundamental decisions about the scope, goals, and potential solutions. If these decisions are rushed, small design problems can easily be overlooked. Just because these problems are small now, that does not mean they will not compound into significant issues in the future. Imagine having to delay a major product launch because your website needs to be redesigned to accommodate the new products. Yikes!

There is where the 80/20 rule comes into play. It says that 20% of causes determine 80% of the effects. Here are some real-world examples of this rule:

  • 80% of visitors use 20% of the features on a website.
  • 80% of the revenue in a restaurant comes from 20% of its menu items.

You have to admit it; there is some truth to this rule.

In my field of web design, the 80/20 rule means spending more time with clients during the design phase, assessing every decision for their impact on layout and user experience. A website with a clean layout and an intuitive flow allows customers to interact with your site smoothly and efficiently, improving user experience and potentially increasing revenues. Simplicity also makes a website more flexible and cheaper for you to maintain.

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