Simplify decisions by focusing on critical factors
In 2015, I project managed the implementation of new European wide regulations at one of the world’s biggest telecomm companies. At stake were the relationships and revenues of the company’s biggest customers. I applied a simple prioritisation rule developed a century earlier by Italian Economist, Wilfried Pareto. He observed that a small percentage of causes have a disproportionate effect. Pareto’s Principle or the 80/20 Rule suggests that often c.80% value comes from c.20% of inputs. Using this rule, I organised dedicated resources to focus on 20% customers (with 80% of revenues) and fewer resources on the long tail of customers. The project was delivered on time with few hiccups thanks to my friend Pareto.
Types of simple rule
Investing the time up front to clarify what will move the needles dramatically increases the odds that simple rules will be applied where they can have the greatest impact. - Donald Sull
A simple rule is a guideline tailored to a task which balances concrete measures with flexible judgment. They help us make better decisions, solve problems and achieve goals. Simple rules work because they focus on the most critical variables in a situation and block distractions. They are also flexible, allowing us to respond to changing conditions.
Types of simple rule include:
Boundary rules: Make binary decisions. An example relates to knowing When to Stop Searching and Choose a house to buy or somewhere to park our car. The 37% Rule says select the very next option that is better than all others after 37% of the options have been reviewed.
Prioritisation rules: Rank options and choose the best one. When deciding which features to develop first in my mobile apps, I use the ICE Framework which ranks options by Impact (on users), Confidence (in delivering value) and Ease (of implementation). The features with the highest ICE scores get built first.
Sequencing rules: Ordering tasks. When working on a new project, I identify the most critical aspects which are not under my direct control. Then get a plan in place to progress them first.
Feedback rules: Monitor progress and make adjustments as needed. I write and send meeting notes within a day.
My daily simple rules
Forget about goals, focus on systems instead. Goals are about the results you want to achieve. Systems are about the processes that lead to those results. - James Clear
Simple rules can be used in many areas of our lives. Here are some I use daily:
Eat a healthy breakfast and drink a glass of water.
Exercise by walking 2-15 miles and always take the stairs.
Read books for at least an hour.
Learn something significant.
Generate 10 ideas, e.g. blog posts.
Dinner at the table with my family.
Relax by listening to entertaining podcasts, e.g. The Museum of Curiosity.
Sleep 8 hours per night.
These simple rules save me time, and improve my health and sense of fulfilment.
Simple Rules talk by Donald Sull
How to Prioritise Tasks post by Phil Martin
Balancing Explore v Exploit Data Trade-offs post by Phil Martin
Simple rules are often effective, but should not be applied robotically. As Picasso said, Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.