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Identifying the very few


Happy Memorial Day! (If you’re in the US.) Let’s celebrate the holiday with a brief optimization story from military history.

Robert McNamara was a World War II veteran and John F. Kennedy’s secretary of defense. His role in the Vietnam war earned him a less than stellar reputation, but let’s focus on an optimization he made promptly after taking office.

This was the state of affairs when he arrived:

That the procurement and inventory policies of the U.S. armed services were in bad shape had been known ever since the Korean War. There had been countless studies—but things got worse, rather than better.

… and how he addressed it:

Mr. McNamara identified and separated the very few items—maybe 4 per cent of the items by number—which together account for 90 per cent or more of the total procurement dollars. He similarly identified the very few items—perhaps again 4 per cent—which account for 90 per cent of combat readiness … Each of these, McNamara insisted, had to be managed separately and with attention to minute detail.

Excerpts from Peter Drucker, The Effective executive

Optimizing this small but crucial subset of all equipment meant that even if the remainder saw no improvement, the whole would greatly benefit. It also meant having to improve efficiency for “a very few” rather than “the whole hot mess.”

Once the holiday’s over, what opportunities can you find to identify and optimize the very few? Are there 2 or 3 pages on your site that deserve 90% of your attention? Are there 2 or 3 elements on each page you should focus on? If so, zoom in on those, and give yourself permission to leave the rest alone.

© 2022 Brian David Hall