Use the Pareto Principle to Boost Your PM Effectiveness

When stakeholders "ask for the moon", the triple constraint is great...but also use the Pareto Principle, or 80:20 thinking.

You're on a new project, and you soon become aware that stakeholders see it as an opportunity to fix every problem in sight...and achieve MANY different things at the same time. How do you handle this?

One of my favorite approaches, since becoming a PMP, is to use the Triple Constraint. I simply assert that there is a trade-off among the time, resources, and features/quality they want, and it's their choice. Increase time or resources, and they can have more features/quality...but it is their choice. This gets it off my lap, and into theirs.

But I have found yet another tool - applying the 80:20 Rule, or Pareto Principle, to my Stakeholder Management challenges. Like the Triple constraint, I think it will also put YOU in the driver's seat...

Let's look at the example, again, where a stakeholder sees the project as an opportunity to make changes - maybe to solve a plethora of ills, where they see the project and the funding and attention and feel that "this is my chance."

The key is to dig deep to understand their motivations. It does take some effort...but it's worth it! When you put the pieces together...you can now frame the project anew for success to achieve the most important things by applying 80:20 "stakeholder management", or applying the Pareto Principle.

Here are some of typical motivators that drive a stakeholder:

  • Opportunity to eliminate a continuing problem.
  • Gain visibility and notoriety for improving a situation.
  • Payoff in the form of a pay raise or bonus.
  • A coveted promotion.
  • Smoother, easier work for all concerned.
  • Potential for new growth opportunities - personally and for the organization.
  • Decreased costs.
  • Improved quality.
  • Payback to someone in the organization.
  • Favors for others.

The list can go on and on. the important thing is to identify the key motivational levers. Then you can apply 80:20 thinking to help identify the best path forward in partnership with these stakeholders. In the process, you need to begin to a process of resolution:

  • Recognize that the problem can result in scope creep, and that perhaps 80% of of what is requested may only add 20% of the total value of all the requests.
  • Your job is to scope the project, determining, through collaboration with the stakeholders, which items are part of the 20% that produces 80% of the value.
  • Develop a stakeholder negotiation and communication strategy to push off the 80% of items that will only produce 20% of the value - including when it may provide value to one stakeholder, but not to the whole.
  • Identify the ONE FEATURE, CORE PRODUCT, or PROCESS that produces primary value and build the scope statement around that, helping to focus attention.
  • Set up a system for responding to the desires of your stakeholders by distinguishing requests according to 80:20 principles.

This is a powerful approach, and upper management will take notice. This really is the thinking of upper management - prioritizing and getting the most out of the resources available. But it is also important to consider the context, and how the project fits into the overall organizational strategy when you apply 80:20 thinking. Most importantly, prepare to do a lot of listening throughout this process!

The 80:20 Rule, or Pareto Principle, is a powerful concept that is applicable in virtually every facet of life. If you can embed 80:20 thinking into your approach, especially in working with stakeholders, you will provide tremendous project management value.