Industry » Yacht Technology » Yacht Electronic Technology Projects: The 80-20 Rule

Yacht Electronic Technology Projects: The 80-20 Rule

Andy portrait with NAS3000 140x207

You might not be familiar with the term "80-20 Rule," but I'm sure you've seen it in practice. Also called the "Pareto Principle," the "Law of the Vital Few," and the “Principle of Factor Sparsity," it states that in many instances, about 80% of the effects come from about 20% of the causes.

I've seen many examples of the 80-20 rule related to yacht electronic technology projects over the years. And as vessel IT systems become more complex and cutting-edge, I think we'll only become more familiar with this concept.

This is how an 80-20 situation usually goes:

My yacht IT team is called on board to analyze and fix a "big problem." Often, another company had been hired to install a major new high-tech component, such as an audio visual system, VoIP phone system, wireless network, or maybe all of the above. But after spending a lot of time and money, the owner and captain are upset to learn that the system doesn't work as expected.

Typically, the owner and crew are frustrated because they can't pinpoint the cause of the problems. And most of the time many features of the system do actually work as advertised.

This is where the 80-20 principal applies; 80% or 90% functional just doesn't cut it. It's the last 20%, or even 10%, of the project that is going to make the difference between perceived success or failure in the mind of the owner and crew. Without that last 10 - 20% of funcionality, they will lose confidence in the newly-installed system and consider the system a failure.

Why do some projects fall prey to the 80-20 Rule?

So why do installations of technical systems on yachts, usually by talented and skilled installers, often fail to meet expectations? Based on many years of experience, these are the big four factors: 

1.      Unrealistic timelines

2.      Changing project scope

3.      Unnecessarily complex installations

4.      Insufficient project management

Compressed schedules at the end of a project are often a big factor in causing technical loose ends at the end of an AV/IT installation. Technical systems installations are always one of the last steps to be completed on a new build. This is unavoidable, as the vessel has to be at a certain level of completion before these systems can be installed.

If the build schedule slips but the delivery date does not, technical systems installers often get squeezed in the middle. So they have to install, configure, and test their systems in less time than planned. If the technical scope of the project has also been allowed to grow in an unmanaged fashion, sometimes called "scope creep," this can also lead to the adverse effects of the 80-20 Rule.

With today's high tech systems, a significant level of complexity is unavoidable. If a system is expected to perform complex functions, the system itself must be similarly complex.  

However, we have seen a trend towards new build and refit projects specifying highly complex onboard systems, especially for larger superyachts, strictly for the sake of using the latest technology. This is without regard to what is actually required by owners, guests, and crew. In this way, overly complex systems are a big factor in the negative effects of the 80-20 rule.

Getting closer to 100%

So the new, highly complex, extremely expensive vessel technology doesn't work. This is where the GCS Technology Team comes in. We methodically go through every system end-to-end, rationalizing and simplifying where we can, to bring the overall system to the level of completion that it should have been at the end of the build. We also work with the crew to provide them the documentation, tools, and understanding they need to better manage the systems.

We fix the electronic system and it all ends happily ever after, But what can we in the superyacht industry learn from this story? Here is my take-away:

Big projects are difficult. They take lots of time, money and expertise to be done correctly. So hire people for your yacht IT refit who are knowledgeable and experienced installing systems on vessels. Then give the people you hire the time to do the installation right.

It’s not enough to have the know-how to do yacht electronic technology installations.There must be a project manager overseeing the project and seeing it through to completion. Good oversight and project management from the top level (and here I'm referring to the overall build) keeps all aspects of a project moving forward. It also absorbs changes, manages scope creep, and keeps everyone on track to project completion.

The superyacht technology system should be "complex enough" to meet the owner's needs into the foreseeable future. We must not be afraid of complexity, it is unavoidable, but we should not pursue it just for the sake of being high tech unless it is required. When possible, go with the simpler, more elegant solution.

The bottom line is this: even with good project management,100% of projects will never achieve a 100% perfect implementation. But with better management of schedules, scope, and complexity we can get much closer to that goal.

*Written by Andy Levy

Contact: Great Circle Systems 

Since co-founding Great Circle Systems with Scott Strand in 1999, Andy has split his time between executive management functions, guiding development of the company's products and services, such as the NAS3000 Optimizer, and providing high level technical consulting services to GCS clients.

On the technical side, Andy specializes in maritime Internet communications, vessel network design and integration, and superyacht remote support and administration. He has over 30 years of professional experience in software design and development and information technology management.

Andy received a BS in Computer Science from the University of California. When not working on yachts, he can typically be found skiing, hiking or biking with his family in the Sierra Nevada mountains near his home

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