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Richard Koch’s 80/20 Principle Applied: A Practical Example

This article aims to give you some insight about “The 80/20 Principle The Secret to Success by Achieving More With Less”, from Richard Koch, while providing an example of how one can apply it. Applying this principle with an amazing team led to the creation of GCE-NIST 🎓, a student’s group with an open-source project, which aims to help students 👨🏻‍🎓 @ Técnico Lisboa.

In a nutshell:

The 80/20 principle states that 80% of what you achieve in your job comes from 20% of the time spent.

The 80/20 Principle has helped to shape the modern world. Yet it has remained one of the great secrets of our time — and even the select band of cognoscenti who know and use the 80/20 Principle only exploit a tiny proportion of its power.

-Richard Koch

It seems to me that the reason why the 80/20 Principle can be valuable can help us see things differently and, give you great insight into what is really happening in the world around you. Therefore, one can make informed decisions about what to do next.

So, how can you invest just 20% of your time and getting 80% of the whole returns?

This principle may seem counterintuitive because we tend to expect that all causes will have roughly the same significance. Consider, for instance, that we often assume that all customers are equally valuable or that each friendship has the same importance, or that each day or week or year we spend has the same significance. That all opportunities are of roughly equal value so that we treat them all equally.

Of course, the real world is not like that. Clients do not have the same value. Certain events in your life are, obviously, more important than others. Friendships do not have the same meaning. It’s up to you to prioritize and find meaning in the situations you face yourself with. And it’s up to you to do something about it.

So, how was GCE-NEIIST born?

It was triggered by failure. We were at the bottom.

Thankfully, we refused to accept failure. In fact, the refusal is the route of progress: evolutionary, scientific, social and personal. As we wanted to make progress and solve the messy situation, we had to come up with a plan. A great motivation for the change was found in this sentence:

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world.The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

-George Bernard Shaw

And this one also opened my eyes:

Are you working to make others rich or is it the reverse?

- Richard Koch

It was time to adapt. It was time to stop complaining. It was time to start doing something about it.

Using the 80/20 Simple Framework

You can apply a two-phase process in order to apply the principle to any problem you want to solve. Firstly, the analysis phase, in which you gather information about the problem. Secondly, the thinking, where you reason about it. Following the thinking, it’s time to apply the solution.

The Analysis:

Here, you have to take the data you have and rank it. You have various techniques of data visualization that can help you analyze data that you have about the certain situation. Mental maps can also help you to build a model of the problem you are trying to solve. This will make sure you are not forgetting about major points. With this kind of information, there is intelligence to make informed decisions.

Summing up, and introducing the next phase:



The author names this phase as “Thinking 80/20”, to explain how to apply this principle to our lives.

Simply, after analyzing all the information you have, you should come up with a plan to implement those changes. And then, the action is the key. Keep in mind that your mindset and perspective will decide between success and failure.

My effort is in the direction of simplicity. People in general have so little and it costs so much to buy even the barest necessities because nearly everything we make is much more complex than it needs to be.

- Richard Koch

Now, just go for it. Apply your plan.

A Practical Example

GCE was not doing very well. When I entered GCE, it was not organized, had almost no members and a legacy difficult to deal with. For one and a half years, we were completely out of the map. We were not able to deliver true value to most students. We focused on a very particular niche, and we could not even directly reach it. We were acting in darkness, blindly. Lacking data, combined with an inefficient vision, and not caring in depth about the major student’s concerns led to a very weak output.

The Solution

The motivation was re-creating a group with an appealing vision, that could attract and serve students.

In order to solve this problem, we took a several-steps approach, based on the refusal of the status quo.

Note: If you’re interested in Open Source and collaboration 🙌 👏 🤝, check our organization GitHub page, aimed to help students 🎓 @ Técnico Lisboa, GCE-NEIIST. We are welcoming collaborators😀

Step 0: Vision. We made really clear that in GCE, we wanted people to gain experience in a real-world context with real-world projects and real-world responsibilities while learning and having fun. And the best part: we were aiming to help the community of the university.

Step 1: Recruitment. As we were only two, with no budget and unknown, we had to attract some potential members that shared our (new) vision.

Step 2: Saying hello. In order to show up on the map, we planned a major event, leading to some brand awareness.

Step 3: Saying hello again. In parallel, we built more brand awareness, through social media.

Step 4: Services. We are about to release our first MVP, which is a service aimed for Computer Science students. With this service, we can to make an impact.

The next step is happening as I’m writing:

Step 5: Expanding our mindset. We are looking for awesome persons with a strong mindset, to help us grow and expand.

Step 6: Growing our service base. The goal is to launch more services and provide more features to students and professors while growing our technical team.

Step 7: More events and brand awareness.

A team that shares values like friendship, respect, shared experience and trust was and is the strong foundation make things happen.

Keep in mind that resistance to change and people devaluating your ideas is inevitable. I believe that no matter the barriers if you want to pursue something, you should not quit. The challenges were huge but, we made it really simple. Simple is beautiful — complex is ugly.

What happened up to step 5?

We simply worked hard to follow the plan and grow this group that went from 2 to 11 members, in just one semester. Now, we are aiming to welcome a few more members! We established partnerships with companies, talked with professors and with the university staff. In one semester, we obtained a comfortable budget, thanks to the activities we developed. We focused our efforts on developing our open-source project, making it easy for new contributors. Soon after that, we started using an efficient workflow, that allows us to start serving students, our initial goal.

With the vision in which you and your team believe, you can go anywhere. Thanks, team. You rock.

The project is on!

Next steps:

If you liked this article, please click the 👏 button on the left. If you didn’t like it, well, that’s a pity. Just kidding, I would ❤️ to hear your opinion!

Keep Rocking 💪



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Rafael Belchior

R&D Engineer at Blockdaemon. Opinions and articles are my own and do not necessarily reflect the view of my employer.