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  • Writer's pictureWes Goldwater

Embracing Efficiency with My Favorite Chart: The Pareto Chart

The Pareto Principle, famously known as the 80/20 rule, is a concept that has fascinated me for years. It states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. This principle, which I've found incredibly useful in both personal and professional settings, is best visualized through one of my favorite charts: the Pareto Chart.

Understanding the Pareto Principle

At its core, the Pareto Principle is about identifying the most significant factors in a set of problems or data. Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, initially observed that 80% of Italy's land was owned by 20% of the population. This disproportionate distribution of wealth led to the broader application of this principle in various fields like economics, business, and quality control.

In business, for example, it's often seen that 80% of a company's profits come from 20% of its customers. Similarly, in software development, roughly 80% of errors can be attributed to 20% of the code. Understanding this principle helps in focusing efforts on the areas that yield the most significant results.

The Pareto Chart: A Visual Tool for Analysis

The Pareto Chart is a simple yet powerful tool that combines both bar and line graphs to represent data. It's designed to highlight the most important among a (typically large) set of factors. In essence, it helps in visualizing the Pareto Principle.

Here’s how the Pareto Chart works:

  • Identifying and Listing Problems or Causes: First, you need to identify the issues or causes you want to analyze. This could range from customer complaints to defects in a manufacturing process.

  • Scoring or Measuring Each Problem: Each problem is then scored or measured. This could be based on frequency, cost, time, or any other relevant metric. Oftentimes, frequency is used as the default score.

  • Sorting Problems from Most to Least Significant: The problems are then sorted in descending order based on their scores.

  • Creating the Chart: On the left vertical axis, we have the scores (i.e., frequency of occurrence), and on the right, the cumulative percentage. Each bar represents an issue, with the height indicating its score. A cumulative line graph runs across the chart, showing the cumulative percentage of the total score. If you’ve ordered your data correctly, you’ll see your highest columns on the left, gradually descending as you move to the right.

  • Analyzing the Chart: The chart helps in quickly identifying the 'vital few' - the small number of causes leading to a large portion of the effect. These are the areas where focusing your efforts can lead to significant improvements.

Applying the Pareto Chart in Real Life

I've applied the Pareto Chart in various scenarios, from managing time to improving business processes. For instance, by analyzing manufacturing defects on a production line, I could focus on the few critical issues causing the majority of the defects, leading to more a effective and profitable business flow.

In personal productivity, the Pareto Chart helped me identify that a small number of tasks contributed to most of my productive output. By focusing on these tasks, I could improve my efficiency significantly.

One note regarding this in practice, your chart might not align at exactly 80/20 and that is okay. The Pareto Principle is a rough guideline. I have found that, while not exact, results are usually close. It is extremely common to see 82/18, 75/25 or even 70/30. The principle of identifying the vital few still applies.


The Pareto Chart is not just a tool for business analysts or economists; it's a versatile chart that can be applied in many areas of life. By visually representing the Pareto Principle, it provides clarity on where to focus efforts for maximum impact. Whether you're looking to improve a business process, enhance personal productivity, or solve complex problems, the Pareto Chart can be an invaluable tool in your arsenal.

At Prosigliere, we are passionate about data and using the right tools to help drive change. If you’d like to explore solutions like this with Prosigliere, please reach out. We’d love to explore solutions together.

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