The Pareto Principle

5 08 2014

The Pareto principle, also known as 80-20 rule states that roughly only 20% of the causes affect 80% of the effects.

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I would like to give you some examples and an attempt to connect the rule with some aspects of Apple’s strategy to design hardware and software products although I didn’t find any hints published by Apple which explicitly refer to the 80-20 rule. But I’m sure it’s in the mind of Apple’s engineers and can be seen as a guideline for developing products.

Microsoft and the Pareto principle …

Paula Rooney published this noteworthy insight on October 3, 2002

Microsoft’s CEO: 80-20 Rule Applies To Bugs, Not Just Features

In recent months, Microsoft has learned that 80 percent of the errors and crashes in Windows and Office are caused by 20 percent of the entire pool of bugs detected, and that more than 50 percent of the headaches derive from a mere 1 percent of all flawed code.

In an e-mail update sent out broadly to enterprise customers on Oct. 2, 2002, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer highlighted initial progress being made on the company’s Trustworthy Computing initiative, an effort rolled out by the vendor last January to improve its reputation in the reliability and security arenas. For one thing, there will be faster bug-fixing as a result of an error-reporting facility embedded in Office and Windows. And that error-reporting tool will be part of the forthcoming Windows.Net Server 2003.

The automated error-reporting tool enables customers to relay errors to Microsoft in a condensed “mini-dump” format, which simplifies the process, Ballmer said.

“One really exciting thing we learned is how, among all these software bugs involved in the report, a relatively small proportion causes most of the errors,” Ballmer wrote in his three-page memo. “About 20 percent of the bugs causes 80 percent of all errors, and – this is stunning to me – 1 percent of bugs caused half of all errors.”

But one analyst said that customers should not come to the conclusion that the 80-20 bug ratio will make it easier for Microsoft to clean up problems with its software.

“The 80-20 rule is often believed to be true in most things. Most often it is used by vendors to distract people from the problem of inadequate quality with the implication that they only need to work on a small number of issues to correct that problem,”

said Rob Enderle, research fellow at Giga Information Group.

“What’s forgotten is that 20 percent are often the most complex, most difficult issues to correct and the most likely to spawn new problems as part of the correction process.”

The tool and debugging method, however, did help Microsoft address 20 percent of all Windows XP bugs in Service Pack 1, more than half of all application errors fixed in Office XP Service Pack 2 and 74 percent bugs of fixed in the beta test version of Visual Studio.Net, Ballmer claimed.

A summary …

Ready for a summary of Pareto’s principle?

So here it is and as usual on iNotes4You it’s summarized with the help of a mind map.

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Feel free to download this map from my Box account.

The alternative file formats have been created with iThoughts (.ITMZ file format). Compatibility to other tools is limited. The DOCX file format is suggested for those who don’t use a mind mapping tool. The file contains the image as well as a detailed outline of all topics.

Application File format
Adobe Reader PDF
Apple iWork/Microsoft Office DOCX
iThoughts ITMZ
MindManager MMAP
XMind XMIND

Apple and the Pareto principle …

Apple’s operating system for mobiles, the hardware, and software applications are as complex as other comparable systems. Only developers are deeply engaged in what’s going on in the code if a user e.g. taps on the touch screen of an iPhone or an iPad. Be sure, it’s a lot what has to be considered when designing the code and providing APIs (Application Programming Interface) to developers who then create their apps based on implemented functionalities of iOS.

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For us, as users of Apple’s mobile devices, there are only two but quite important things, the UX (user experience) and the UI (user interface).

One common adage in the IT industry is that 80 percent of all end users generally use only 20 percent of a software application’s features. Aside the concrete numbers this seems to hit the nail right on the head and I think nearly all of you can agree. Only a minority, the power users, get more mileage out of an application.

Basically there are two options to increase the UX of software products

  • two versions
    a standard and a professional version with extended features
  • one version
    with features limited to the commonly accepted needs of customers

Apple goes the latter way roughly according to the Pareto principle.
But there seems to be a problem.

What are the features if all the options are roughly reduced to the mentioned 20%?

Well, it depends on the application and necessary features can only be identified by constantly looking on the behavior of customers.

If you settled all the needs of customers the next problem comes up.

How can the features be packed in a clean and tidy user interface?

It was Sir Jonathan Ive, Apple’s top designer, who once said

Simplicity is often equated with minimalism. Yet true simplicity is so much more than just the absence of clutter or the removal of decoration. It’s about offering up the right things, in the right place, right when you need them. It’s about bringing order to complexity. And it’s about making something that always seems to “just work.” When you pick something up for the first time and already know how to do the things you want to do, that’s simplicity.

Regarding the UX and UI I found a noteworthy article by Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D., on uxmag.com about The Psychologist’s View of UX Design (please use the link under ‘Related link’ to read the full article). It can be seen as a validation of the Pareto principle in the sense of separate the vital few from the trivial many. And with this it also proofs Apple’s strategy of seamless usage of its mobile devices.

Here is a summarization of the main points visualized in a mind map.

20140419-205613.jpg

Feel free to download this map from my Box account.

The alternative file formats have been created with iThoughts HD for iPad (.ITMZ file format). Compatibility to other tools is limited. The DOCX file format is suggested for those who don’t use a mind mapping tool. The file contains the image as well as a detailed outline of all topics.

Application File format
Adobe Reader PDF
Apple iWork/Microsoft Office DOCX
iThoughts ITMZ
MindManager MMAP
XMind XMIND

There’s a finite amount of resources to focus on finding and fixing issues or improving the user experience. It’s the task of designers and engineers to find out the small number of items account for a disproportionate amount of results. An effective strategy is to separate these vital few from the trivial many to improve the user experience.

If you use an Apple mobile device you already recognized that problems with the operating system can be solved with solely three methods

  • Reboot
  • Restore
  • Recover

This is a quite remarkable step to reduce the efforts of users to fix problems.

It’s definitely the wrong and most ineffective way to fill a knowledge base with thousands of articles, often not applicable for devices even if they run on the same version of an operating system. That’s my experience of working on Microsoft Windows based computers in the last 30 years. Problems with drivers, Dynamic Link Libraries, vulnerabilities, monthly published patches, etc. have been quite frustrating tasks, wasted your time, and, regarding the usage of Windows PCs in businesses, cost a lot of money. A reason could be the genes Microsoft put into the cradle of its operating system.

Summary …

Companies looking at the 80-20 rule have to identify the 20% in all areas which means find out the few vital from the many trivial.

Going along with this analysis more simple solutions for usability problems, feature requests, support calls, software bugs or revenues can be created.

If you recognize that reading just 20% of my blog post let you understand 100% of my intention than you have a further validation of Pareto’s principle.

Related links …

Apple’s Focusing

Apple’s Strategy and Ad

The Psychologist’s View of UX Design

Thanks for stopping by.


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