80/20 or 20/80?

By September 1, 2016

Chuck 2You hear a lot of talk about the 80 / 20 Rule these days. Spend 20% of the effort and get 80% of the results. What a great concept. This has driven the whole Agile movement—get something that’s close and get it out there.  Works (may be, but that’s out of my lane) for software, but when we get to hardware—whoa!

Because with hardware you need to get everything finished. So the flip side of the 80 / 20 Rule is that it takes 80% of the effort to get the last 20%, to get from a product that mostly works to one that really works, to get from building 10 to building thousands (or hundreds of thousands), to get from kinda done to done done.

We’re the 20 / 80 Rule guys. We tend to get called in after the easy 80% is accomplished, when victory has been (mostly) declared.  We do the dirty work—cleaning up drawings, straightening out BOMs, driving out cents (or milli-cents)—as well as the long slow slogs of optimizing supply chains, developing production test solutions, driving reliability up and Takt time (a useful German word for the time it takes for each manufacturing step in an optimized line) down. Besides the technical and execution challenges, we also often face incredulous customers wondering why it’s taking so long, consuming so many hours, and—gulp—requiring iterations.

Lots of work, but when it’s all done, when the product is on the shelves at Target or hooked up to a wind farm in the high desert, there is a certain amount of satisfaction on getting that last bit done.

Then it’s time to do it again.

Of course it’s smart to go after the low hanging fruit first, to knock down that 80%–helps with funding, allows for some testing, and makes for great marketing collateral.  But don’t forget that last 20%–and don’t forget to budget appropriately (hint, the answer just might be 80%…)


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