80 20 principle

Budget Time: Use the 80/20 Framework to Keep Costs in Line

You’ve probably heard of the 80/20 concept (also known as the Pareto Principle), where 20% of whatever you are considering (i.e. workers, technology, inventory) is responsible for 80% of the results (productivity, sales, and profit.) The fourth quarter of the year is budget season and a great time to take a closer look at your overall cost structure within the 80/20 framework. It’s time to ask yourself what you REALLY need to run and continue to grow your business.

When addressing costs – start with the larger impact and more important things.  Dive into the right problems. 

Don’t start with something that will have a minimal impact.  I like to value stream map key processes with stickies and a whiteboard.  Note people and processes around the sales and delivery experience and the customer/vendor touch points like invoicing and getting paid, improving customer delivery, paying vendors, and maximizing cash outlays.

Here are three areas to take a careful look at, with an 80/20 perspective.


So much of business is based on unknown revenue numbers, and people are your biggest expense. An unfortunate reality is that many times, the people who got you to where you are now are not the same people to get you to where you need to go next. They cannot change and develop as the business does. That’s why budget time is also a good time to review your organization chart. You’ll often see that 80% of your results are coming from 20% of your team. Can you identify the 80% that are less productive and think of ways to scale, or invest in increasing their contribution through training, for example? Are there ways to continue growing your revenue while not growing (and perhaps even reducing) your team as you look into next year?


Another cost that can be significant is Infrastructure investments – money you put into the business for tools, applications, equipment, and more. These generally come in what I call stairsteps, not in a linear path. It’s tempting to be attracted, for example, to the bells and whistles of new technology, but it’s quite possible that only 20% of the features would contribute to 80% of your results. Ask yourself if investment into new tech or equipment would overcomplicate the workplace rather than be the solution you need. Will the learning curve create other problems/costs? It’s essential to ensure that these investments will actually elevate productivity and address challenges.

For example, you may decide that a new ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system will streamline tasks and management of employees. This can be true! But if the system is overcomplicated, and you have to retain an on-call consultant for a year, is that an effective use of funds in the long run? It could be, but there may also be simpler solutions available using applications you already have. Perhaps some additional training on current applications so users can move from beginner to intermediate or advanced would cost less and work just as well.

Bonus tip: One way to help separate the problem and solution is to identify and address the pain points in one meeting, give time for the assigned team members to research potential solutions, and then have a separate meeting to consider the options they discovered. This allows your team to determine the core problem without having to provide potential fixes right away. A clear understanding of the problem can be extremely helpful in researching solutions.


Face it – all companies are leaking, some worse than others. Another cost to consider is what your vendors are charging. It’s not unusual for companies to be paying for services and products they aren’t using regularly (or don’t need more of right now.) Again, 20% of the services and products you receive could be covering 80% of your needs.

I recommend that you review each vendor invoice and credit card charge for the next 45 days and determine if each item is necessary. When I’m doing this for a client, I ask the obvious question – “What is this for?” Other questions include, “Are the services billed leading to the expected outcome?” “Are you paying for a subscription for an app you only use twice a year?” “Are automatic deliveries keeping your supplies overstocked?” “Are these conference expenses leading to the collaboration, soft skill enhancement, or team bonding or are you essentially providing your employees a paid-for trip/vacation?” (If that’s something you want to budget for, fine, but be intentional about it.)

If you need a more objective eye, there is a group of consultants like my colleague Steve Thompson at Integrity Cost Consulting. He can analyze your vendor spend to look for historical overpayments. His company earns their fee based on the savings they find. I love that! I like to track savings based on hard savings AND process improvements as a critical success factor.

Cost analysis exercises are generally a helpful practice for most companies, even if they can be somewhat painful. Use this 80/20 framework to budget wisely.

Additional tips:

  • Ask yourself not only about getting the best price – but getting the best value. 
  • When cuts are necessary, be sure you cut deep enough the first time.
  • Do cost analysis on a regular basis.

Need some objective input? I can help. Contact me!

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