Are you focused on the “Vital Few” or the useful many?

Bernie Haffey

Edwards Deming asserted that one could not be an effective leader without understanding management theory. The same can be said about any scientist or investigator: if you don’t understand scientific theory and method, you can not be an effective scientist.

While Deming’s management system is built on several disciplines including statistics and psychology, the proven theory of quality management represents the dominant set of underlying principles.

The Pareto principle, named after the Italian engineer who discovered it in the late 19th century, represents one of the most powerful of these principles. When used in conjunction with gap analysis, it states that ~20% of factors contribute to ~80% of an identified performance gap.

Why is such a simple statement so powerful and why do so many leaders ignore it? As human beings, we tend to add and complicate things to the point that an organization can become immobilized with a tidal wave of priorities that are all equally important. By staying focused on 20% of the items, or the “Vital Few”, we give ourselves a fighting chance at successful execution.