The 80/20 rule: A project manager's secret to success

By Lucas on Feb 24
80/20 rule

The 80/20 rule, also referred to as the Pareto principle, is a cause-and-effect concept. It states that 20% of causes are the source of 80% of the effects. The Pareto principle has been applied to a variety of areas in business, including project management.

For organizations, project management helps them manage their resources, budget, and time effectively. It also provides a framework to manage changes and risks and ensure the projects are completed to their required quality and within budget and timeline.

The 80/20 rule is a widely recognized concept in project management and can be used to identify the critical activities contributing to a project’s success. It can also help project managers improve project estimation, determine the common reasons for project delays, and optimize resources.

1. Understanding the power of the 80/20 rule

The Pareto principle was introduced by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto in the late 19th century. While studying income inequality, Pareto observed that 20% of the people in Italy owned 80% of the land. This finding was important because it showed that the income of the minority had a sizeable and disproportionate effect on the overall results.

The 80/20 rule is widely used in many industries to optimize resources, increase efficiency, and achieve maximum results. It states that a small percentage of activities may account for a significant portion of revenue, certain issues, or a project’s success in a business. Here are some examples of industries where the Pareto rule can be applied:

80/20 rule explained

Sales and marketing

The 80/20 principle can be used in sales and marketing to identify high-value consumers. So the industry can only focus on retaining those clients while reducing its marketing budget for the rest of the audience.

Software development

In software development, the developers can apply the 80/20 rule to determine the most critical functions or features of the software. This will help them develop applications that meet users’ requirements.

Finance industry

Investors can apply the Pareto principle to identify which assets are performing well in an investment portfolio. This will help them focus only on the top-performing assets to reduce risk and optimize their returns.


Manufacturers can use the 80/20 rule to focus on the reasons behind manufacturing defects. This will help them minimize defect rates in their items and improve their product quality.

2. Applying the 80/20 rule to project management

As a project manager, the 80/20 principle can help you focus only on the critical inputs. This will allow you to prioritize issues to prevent project delays and allocate fewer resources to reduce time and costs. Check out below some ways to apply the 80/20 principle to project management:

80/20 rule project management

Determine the critical 20% of tasks

The first step to applying the Pareto principle to project management is to observe which tasks contribute the most to accomplishing a project. As a project manager, you can do this by analyzing the completion time for a task, resource consumption, and effect on the project’s path and its data.

Focus on the critical tasks

Once you’ve identified the urgent tasks required, ensure to spend your resources and efforts on their completion within time and budget. This may include reprioritizing and reallocating resources to fulfill high-priority, critical tasks.

Delegate the less-critical tasks

As a project manager, you can delegate less-priority tasks to other team members or external contractors. This will save you time, allowing you to focus more on the most important activities.

Track progress and adjust focus as needed

While managing a project, you already know that project requirements can change or issues can arise. So, you’ll need to shift your priorities or resources to address them. Therefore, monitor progress continuously and adjust focus as needed to ensure that your project is on the right path to achieving its goal.

3. Benefits of the 80/20 rule in project management

80/20 rule benefits

Improves productivity

There is a certain time of the day when productivity is at its peak. The productive hours may not be the same for the entire day, but they will be almost the same total amount. While the rest of the day may not be productive due to off-site meetings or activities that don’t contribute to the project’s success.

While working on a project, the 80/20 rule can help you track your productive hours. You can also reduce distractions that hinder you or your team’s work during that time. When you count the total hours spent and total hours wasted, you’ll be able to focus more on the productive hours and expand them to cover more of the day.

Helps with time management

The Pareto rule leads to faster completion of the project. Let’s say you are working on website development. By using the Pareto principle, you’ll be able to identify important tasks such as content creation, site design, and testing.

You can effectively allocate your time to these tasks by giving priority to the most critical ones. This helps you set realistic deadlines, and you can also delegate the less-important tasks to others. This will reduce time wastage, leaving you free to focus on other, more important work.

Increases the quality of work

The 80/20 rule can help you identify the areas in your project where you can focus on the important tasks. By prioritizing these tasks that are vital for your project’s success, you and your team can add value to the projects, leading to an increase in the quality of work.

Assume you are introducing a new product to the market. Here the tasks to consider include conducting market research, developing a marketing strategy, and creating marketing content. You can then allocate resources to work on these tasks, such as hiring a team to develop a marketing plan.

Provides higher job satisfaction

The Pareto Rule contributes to a positive and productive environment in project management, providing higher job satisfaction for teams. When team members only work on important tasks, they'll feel like they're making progress toward the project's goal and will feel a sense of accomplishment with their work.

For instance, you are a project manager of a construction project that involves building a hospital. The most critical tasks will include foundation work, site preparation, and framing.

When you give these tasks to your experienced team, they can show off their skills and make important contributions to the project. Besides, by prioritizing only vital tasks, your team members won’t feel burned out by doing activities that do not align with their stamina or are less important.

4. Tips for effective project management with the 80/20 rule

No rule can make a project successful if you don’t know how to master it. Here are some tips for effective project management with the Pareto principle:

80/20 rule tips

Establish open communication

A Project Management Institute (PMI) study states that for every $1 billion spent on a project, a company is risking $135 million. It also shows that poor communication puts 56% of that $135 million at stake.

Therefore, it is vital to establish effective and proper channels of communication so your team members can provide feedback, share concerns, and ask queries. This will help you resolve issues before they become major problems.

Reduce project time

When applying the Pareto rule, it’s essential to manage time for a project to get the most out of your and your team's efforts. You can optimize project time by breaking down the project plan into smaller and more manageable activities, scheduling deadlines, and tracking the project’s progress regularly.

Set realistic expectations

It is important to set realistic milestones and timelines for the project, as unrealistic goals can overwhelm your team.

When using the 80/20 rule in project management, establish objectives that are achievable and ensure your team has the necessary resources to accomplish them. This will prevent them from getting discouraged, which can lead to low-quality work.

Motivate the team

Everybody needs recognition for their work, as it acts as a catalyst for boosting their morale. Therefore, celebrate each success of your project management team to maintain their morale and show pride in their work.

This will instill a sense of accomplishment in the members, motivating them to make more efforts. Recognizing the work of your team will also create a positive culture of teamwork, which will lead to better collaboration, project performance, and communication.

5. The bottom line

The 80/20 rule is a powerful tool for project managers seeking to optimize their project time and reduce costs. It prioritizes only 20% of the activities that add 80% value to the project’s success. This rule also helps project managers follow only realistic goals that lead to better team performance, quality work, and maximum efficiency.

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