The 80/20 Rule as Applied to Software Development

The 80/20 rule, a concept credited to the 19th century economist Vilfredo Pareto, argues that 80 percent of the land and wealth in a population is held by 20 percent of the people. Joseph M. Juran, an American management consultant and engineer, applied this rule to quality management, stating that 80 percent of the issues in the workplace occurred due to 20 percent of the problems. Juran then went on to apply the concept to everything from work issues to software development (our little world). The rule seems to apply to many different situations, but does it apply to software development?

Software Users

The 80/20 rule often gets turned around when developing software where new and average users represent 80% of users and super users cover the remaining 20%.  A company that only develops for the top 20% will marginalize its position in the market because it makes most users have to adapt TO the product… a big fail.  Consequently, the best strategy is to develop software that is instantly familiar to everyone… and thus very easy to use.  This is Apple’s philosophy as stated in their iOS 7 design principles:

When a product is designed properly — when you don’t have to adapt to the technology because it’s already designed around you — you develop a connection with it. It becomes more to you than just a device…  With iOS 7, we took something millions of people already love and refined the experience to make it even more effortless and useful. So the everyday things you need to do are the everyday things you want to do. And iOS 7 lets you work in ways that are instantly familiar, so there’s no need to relearn everything.

Usability Planning

It is important when planning software usability to understand the users. Demystifying Usability defines the “average” user as someone in the general population who has not been exposed to much technology, and is not concerned with how the software works. Usability should be based on making software easy to learn quickly by the average user. This will ensure that not only the 20 percent will grasp it, but 80 percent will also understand.

A Final Thought

Whether you are a Product Manager, Program Manager, or a software developer, your goal should be to build software that is easy to use for everyone.  Don’t get sucked into an 80/20 rule where you just respond to those who make noise or demand more features (the 20%)… and definitely don’t fall under the spell of thinking more features will keep your users happy.  Know your market and build software that is beautiful, instantly understood, and devoid of one-off features that will distract rather than empower your end-user.  

One Response to “The 80/20 Rule as Applied to Software Development”

  1. Dale Elizabeth Merriman

    Excellent article/blog as I find that new is not necessarily better; especially with the inordinate steps taken to navigate Windows 8 and many other latest generation software packages. Although it is hard to say, I think I represent an 80% cross-section of the population in my compatriots who hold different job roles, are of varying ages, feel the same, and are part of the scaled population that has the need for expedition and step-reduction in usability.


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