7.2.1 85:15 RULE

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The 85:15 Rule is used to separate causative data into process-related groups

and people-related groups. The basis of the 85:15 Rule is that 85 percent of

problems are process related while only 15 percent of problems are people related.

Be careful when interpreting this rule, though. It does not mean that if

you have rules, they will create 85 percent of your problems. It simply means

that there is a significantly higher probability that an error was caused by a

process than by a person.

There are some who say, ‘‘There are no good rules, just good sense.’’ I believe

that’s half right. There are indeed good rules, but everything needs to be interpreted

with good sense.

The 85:15 Rule is used extensively in the area of education. Brenda Barnes

and James Van Wormer state:

Deming and others have established that the potential to eliminate

mistakes and errors in the workplace lies mostly in improving

the systems through which work is done, not in changing

the individual workers. Their observations have evolved

into the rule of thumb that at least 85% of work problems can

be corrected by changing the work system and less than 15%

can be corrected by changing individual workers. Current research

indicates that the split probably leans even more towards

the system. The rule probably should be 95/5 or 97/3. In his

famous Red Bead Experiment, Dr. Deming proved that the only

way to improve a product or service is for management to improve

the system that creates that product or service.1

The appropriateness of that statement here is that it not only confirms the

ratio but also implies it is even greater than the 85:15 stated.

This rule is particularly appropriate for use in this process because our Program

Plans and Technical Plans are directly driven by Standard, Customer, and

Enterprise Processes.

The 85:15 Rule is used for separating process issues from people issues for

the purpose of problem solution. I suggest using this technique first to orient

your actions to the potentially most rewarding group of solutions. It is a simple

way to put your data into two piles.

The 85:15 Rule is a very simple and highly effective technique to evaluate

each issue you come up with. Look at the issue. What is the issue, what affects

it, and what does it affect? If the answer to the questions is process, put it in

Pile A. If the answer is people, put it in Pile B. If you follow the precepts of the

85:15 Rule, there is an 85 percent probability that the answer lies in Pile A and

a 15 percent probability that the answer lies in Pile B. Which one would you

address first?