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Understanding The Pareto Principle and How to Use it in Software Development

March 7, 2018
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pareto rule in software development

The Pareto principle, better known as the 80/20 rule, is quite common and can be applied in almost every field of life. The rule maintains that 20% of efforts give 80% of the result, and the remaining 80% give only 20% of the outcome. It sounds great, but is it practical when it comes to the IT industry? Well, let's explore this theory more profoundly to see the real benefits of the Pareto principle in software engineering.

80/20 rule in software development

Statistics show that users never use 45% of an app's features, 19% are in rare use, 16% are used occasionally, while only 20% are used frequently or always. Based on this statistic, we can sum up that if we focus on 20 percent of the core functionality of the app, we can get real benefits and guarantee its further development. The remaining 80% of features will serve as additional bonuses for more sophisticated users.

The Pareto principle serves to improve the overall software process throughout the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). This finding has heavily influenced the Agile management model, where 80% of the team's efforts are focused on what is essential at any stage of the product’s development.

The 80/20 rule in Agile is a flexible solution that helps make the development process more efficient and reliable. It helps not to dissolve into unimportant actions and helps to choose most suitable approaches to organizing the development process. In this case, the time spent on the main functionality will take 80 percent, while the rest 20 percent will be used to polish the remaining additional features.

Minimum viable product & the Pareto principle

The Pareto principle is perfectly suited for planning the general concept of a future software project. Minimum Viable Product or MVP is an excellent illustration of how we can reduce total tech & human resources for the software development, but at the same time understand what really matters to the end-user, before the app goes live in production.

This approach helps us explore the fundamental needs of the target audience in the first stages of the software development, while all further improvements or additional features (80%) will be introduced to the application only after analyzing the feedback from early users.

One of the key advantages of the MVP is to allow you to listen to your clients attentively. They will give you the accurate data, not just a hypothesis. It prompts you to search practical business solutions, which then will be appreciated by users of your product.

With the Minimum Viable Product, you can determine in time what features you can define as basics (20%), and which ones could be removed altogether. The performance and successful development of the project will not be harmed in any way; instead, it will greatly benefit.

80/20 rule in testing

For software testers, the Pareto principle also plays a significant role. The 80/20 rule allows the business to appreciate and understand the risks of software implementation and, as a result, to avoid unforeseen expenses and ensure the smooth work of the product during the latter stages of developing.

The code quality of the software could profoundly affect further successful product growth. Applying the 80/20 rule in practice, it appears that 80 percent of errors and crashes come from 20 percent of the most frequent bugs. So that, it is essential to place this 20% in a high priority, ensuring their timely elimination. Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, also highlighted the importance of this rule with his observations:

"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."
                                                                                                                                                                                                                          — Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO —

To protect your project from unexpected issues, identify the most frequent bugs and where they come from. Working on the causes that have the highest effect on the product’s functionality, you will focus your team’s efforts in the right direction, thereby saving your energy (as well as time and money) to solve the business objectives of the project.

80/20 rule and business strategy

The principle is valuable when applying it to build profitable business strategies. The 80/20 rule can help reduce the number of risks of many problem areas that can hinder the efficiency of the software development process and its testing.

Using the 80/20 model you get a scenario in which one software development company is developing 80% of the overall functionality of an app, while the second one is doing another 20%. With this model, you will be sure that if something goes wrong, you will always have a backup development team to count on.

QArea’s work with our partner, Skype, is an example of a successful implementation of this strategy. Here we had provided qualitative QA expertise and ensured smooth and robust work of Click to Call plugin. Creating cohesive quality control, we had to check each line of the software’s code while taking into account the various browser specifications, thus providing users with uncompromising product quality.

Also, this approach makes the development process more optimal if we are talking about a project maintaining and risks reduction. It means that one or few developers (depending on a project's size) from the backup team are continuously following the project, but not exactly working on it.

Nevertheless, if some extra additional help is needed, a client will be sure that he will not tolerate any time and cost losses. The reason is that the supporting team know all project's features, its architecture, and product’s business goals. Meanwhile, a client will pay just for immediate developer's work, not for the monitoring.


In summary, the Pareto principle is an excellent tool that can qualitatively enhance the level of efficiency of the software development process.

The 80/20 rule is not a panacea for all troubles, of course, but by applying this principle in practice, you can see the strengths of your application, as clear as the moments that would be worth improving, thereby increasing the business value of your software product.

At QArea, we also appreciate the advantages of the 80/20 principle. Contact us, we will be glad to share our experience with you!

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