The 80/20 Rule & How It Impacts Software Development
In this post we examine the impact of the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, in software engineering projects.
What Is The 80/20 Rule?
The Pareto Principle, also commonly known as the 80/20 rule, states that for many events, “80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes, asserting an unequal relationship between inputs and outputs.” (Source: investopedia). The principle illustrates that the relationship between inputs and outputs is not balanced, and that the distribution of things is not always even (and is generally uneven). The insight behind the principle can have huge implications for a variety of situations, including product design and software development.
The 80/20 Rule and Software Development
The Pareto Principle is one of those unprovable maxims that has its basis in observational measures. It is quite interesting to contemplate, and once you wrap your head around the idea it can become quite powerful. When considering the 80/20 rule in the context of design, development, and the products we build for customers, the following realities arise:
- 80% of the effort produce 20% of the results
- 80% of the customers produce 20% of the revenue
- 80% of a web application’s features produce 20% of the application’s usage (meaning 80% of users only care about 20% of an application’s features)
These facts are huge! And, in today’s glut of information and feature-rich products, it’s important to remain cognizant of this principle more than ever.
The Pareto Principle in Software Engineering
So how does the 80/20 rule apply to software development? In a lot more ways than you may think. From design all the way to QA, the 80/20 rule can provide some insight (and lessons) on what to do and how to do it. If the Pareto Principle holds true, software development expenses and efforts can be dramatically reduced. It also means a lot of a team’s current efforts may be wasted, without anyone even realizing it.
As one writer explores on his blog, the Pareto Principle applies directly in software engineering in the following ways:
- 80% of bugs come from 20% of the features
- 80% of the complexity in an application comes from 20% of the code base
- 80% of an engineering team’s time is spent on 20% of the application
- 80% of an application could be developed in 20% of the time and budget
These figures are astounding, and have potentially-massive implications for the software development process and budget. Keeping in mind the 80/20 rule throughout software development and QA processes may help reallocate how time (and budget) are spent to better maximize results as they relate to effort.
Implications of the Pareto Principle on User Experience (UX)
Beyond software engineering, the Pareto Principle imparts how paramount UX is and supports the idea that the user should always be kept in mind from the very start when building a product. We already know that user experience is extremely important, and should be considered before development on a product even begins. Methods like usability testing and prototyping help ensure a product is on the right track throughout the development process, and the 80/20 rule helps underscore the importance of focusing on UX and doing the following:
Give Customers What They Want
When designing an application, consider the experience of the user. What do they want to see or do? Can you save them time and effort by getting what they want in the fewest number of clicks? Can you give them the maximum experience for the minimal effort?
>> Not sure where to start or how to know what exactly your users will want? Read 3 UX Design Challenges in New Product Development to find out.
Focus On Usability Over Features
Focus first on the features that will promote your business and/or your users’ experience. Make these solid and smart before you start thinking about including the kitchen sink (if you think about it at all). Since the principle states that 80% of an application’s features will result in only 20% of the usage, it’s essential the application is above all focused on usability rather than adding features upon features, many of which will go unused.
Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
Keep it simple and reduce clutter. Give your users easy access to see and do what they want. Since 80% of effort produces only 20% of results, it’s important to keep simplicity in mind. Over-designing may actually result in wasted development time (and budget), with little return or impact noticed from your customers.
As you can see, understanding the Pareto Principle’s role in software engineering and keeping it in mind (even the back of your mind) when developing can have a big impact on not only the way your team works, but more importantly on how they focus their energy. The 80/20 rule is helpful in reminding us just how important user experience is, and ensuring we keep it top of mind throughout the entire process.
At Praxent, we understand the importance of UX, and the customer is an integral part of every product we design. Learn more about our approach, or contact us to see how we can help with your next project.