In statistics, Pareto charts are used to highlight the biggest factors in a data set, and help you to isolate the most common problems or issues. The idea behind a Pareto chart is that the few most significant defects make up most of the overall problem. By addressing these defects, you can create a more effective and efficient system. 

In this article, we will show you how to create a Pareto chart, and also touch on specific use cases for Pareto charts. 

What is a Pareto Chart? 

A Pareto chart or sorted histogram chart is a statistical representation that contains a bar chart and a line graph. The bars are arranged in descending order and represent a specific defect or problem while the line graph accounts for the cumulative sum of the variables or defects. 

It gets its name from the Pareto principle formulated by Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto. The Pareto principle is the origin of the 80:20 rule which roughly translates to 20% of your input accounting for 80% of your outcome. We will delve into this in detail as the article proceeds. 

With a Pareto chart, you can calculate descriptive statistics using a set of variables. In addition, it is often used as a cost analysis tool that helps organizations to determine the feasibility of a business idea. 

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How Pareto Charts Work 

The primary idea behind a Pareto chart is that a handful of significant defects are responsible for the overall problem in a specific context. So, the purpose of this chart is to highlight these causal factors so that the researcher or organization can resolve them and improve output. 

To better understand how a Pareto chart works, let’s get familiar with the Pareto principle formulated by Vilfredo Pareto. 

What Does the Pareto Principle Mean? 

The Pareto Principle attempts to explain the imbalanced causal relationship between variables in different contexts. It states that for many outcomes, 80% of consequences come from 20% of all causes or inputs. This is why it is known as the 80/20 rule. 


Initially used to explain the lopsided land ownership in ancient Italy and wealth distribution, the Pareto principle now applies to several scenarios including HR, education, and marketing. For instance, it suggests that you only need 20% of strategic efforts/inputs to achieve 80% of your goals. Other similar assertions that follow the Pareto Principle include: 

  1. 80% of car accidents are caused by 20% of motorists.
  2. You need 20% of your productive hours in a day to achieve 80% of your goals.
  3. 80% of all Internet traffic belongs to 20% of websites

Of course, these are simply assertions that are not backed by proof or scientific formula. In itself, the Pareto Principle is more of an observation than a full-fledged scientific theory, which means it doesn’t apply to every scenario. 

Pareto Principle in Human Resources Management

Human resources managers can use the Pareto Principle to develop more strategic workplace policies and create a more efficient workplace. You can leverage this rule to improve growth, employee engagement, and communication in your organization. 

In the workplace, the Pareto principle means that 80% of the responsibility and work are shouldered by only 20% of your employees. On the other hand, it also means that a small number of employees are responsible for 80% of the challenges and drawbacks you will face as an organization.

Use for Free: 45 Employee Survey Questions + [Free Template]

Here’s how you can apply the 80/20 rule to your employees:

  1. 80% of your decisions should be employee-driven.
  2. Dedicate 80% of your time to employee-led conversations.
  3. Create an objective performance management process
  4. Let employees focus on the 20% most important tasks.

Explore: Free Human Resources Form Templates

Pareto Principle in Education 

Teachers can apply the Pareto Principle to improve classroom engagement and the overall behavior of students. Based on this rule, we can deduce that 20% of what teachers do in the classroom accounts for 80% of student performance. This means that teachers should focus on a handful of important goals to help them achieve maximum output and have a substantial impact on their students. 

Here’s how you can leverage the Pareto Principle for classroom engagements:

  1. Use the 80/20 rule to track the consumption of resources in the classroom
  2. Use this principle to create a balance of content and impact in the classroom. 
  3. The 80/20 rule can help you distribute tasks among students equitably. 

Try These Out: 9 Types of Educational Assessment

Pareto Principle in Marketing 

In marketing, the Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of your sale would come from 20% of your customers. As a marketer, your role is to identify the subset that makes up this “20%” and invest in your relationship with them. Alternatively, you could say that 20% of what you do represents 80% of that particular activity’s outcome.

Here’s how you can apply this rule to your marketing and sales activities:

  1. Use the 80/20 rule to discover your best customers and identify niches with the best opportunities. 
  2. The Pareto Principle can help you identify difficult customers and resolve any issues with them. 
  3. Use the Pareto Principle to identify and delight your best buyers. 
  4. Use the Pareto Principle to identify high-intent keywords that can boost customer engagement and traffic. 

Read: Customer Insight: Types, Examples & Tools Guide

What is the Difference Between a Histogram and a Pareto Chart? 

In some way, a histogram and Pareto Chart are quite similar. They are both statistical representations that account for the frequency of occurrences. However, they have fundamental differences, and we’ll discuss them in this section of the article. 

  • Definition 

A histogram is a type of bar chart that uses the height of the bar to convey the frequency of an event occurring. On the other hand, a Pareto Chart combines bar charts and line graphs to account for the order of impact of an event. 

  • Arrangement of the Bars 

In a Pareto Chart, the bars are arranged in descending order, so that the variable with the highest impact appears first. Also, the bars are not joined together, as is obtainable in a histogram. 

On the flip side, all the bar graphs in a histogram are conjoined. Also, they are placed sporadically to show the frequency of different variables

  • The Presence of a Line Graph 

A Pareto Chart uses a line graph to represent the cumulative percentage of the visual representations. This means the line graph always rises from left to right as the bar graph falls from left to right. There’s no line graph in a Histogram. 

How to Create and Read Pareto Charts 

Building a Pareto Chart from scratch may appear complex, especially if this is your first time. To make it easy for you, we’ve curated five (5) simple steps for creating and reading Pareto Charts. Let’s get into them. 

Step 1: Discover the Causes 

First, outline the causal factors you want to represent on the chart. These causal factors could be positive or negative depending on the context of an event. For example, in marketing, positive causal factors could be revenue-generation, churn rate, or other customer lifetime value metrics

Step 2: Create a Frequency Table

Create a frequency table to account for the occurrence of different variables at different points in time. Your frequency table can have a cumulative frequency column. 

Step 3: Convert the Numbers to Percentages 

Convert the variables to percentages. This is because percentages are intuitively easier to understand than regular numbers. 

Step 4: Arrange All the Numbers in Descending Order

Arrange the variables in descending order; that is, from the highest variable to the lowest. 

Step 5: Plot the Line Graph and Bar Chart

Draw a line graph of the cumulative percentages. The first point on the line graph should line up with the top of the first bar. 

How to Read a Pareto Chart 

When interpreting a Pareto Chart, the most important things you should focus on are the individual values and cumulative values. 

The bar charts show the individual values of the different variables. Each bar is plotted on the X-axis and in descending order. These bars represent the most important factors and give the user a chance to understand their individual values. 

Next, you should read the line graph for cumulative values. Typically, the line graph crosses each bar at the top. From the several touchpoints, the researcher can separate the primary causal variables from the rest of the data represented on the chart. 

Uses and Applications of Pareto Charts

Pareto charts have several applications in marketing, education, and human resources management. For example, organizations can use this chart to reconcile the company’s revenue growth with specific time periods. They also come in handy when you want to analyze large volumes of data in an organization. 

Let’s consider how Pareto charts work in some real-life scenarios. 

1. Population Control

Countries can use Pareto charts to analyze population growth over a period. It can help with the identification of cities with the highest population acceleration ratio, plus their impact on the overall data. 

2. Data Analysis

When analyzing data about the causal factors of a problem, you can use Pareto charts to plot out the frequency of each variable, and identify any significant variables. 

3. Project Management 

Pareto charts are an important tool in project management, especially Six Sigma. Project managers depend on these charts for quality management, and to figure out the most significant problem in a process. 

Other common use cases for Pareto charts include: 

4. When there are many problems or causes and you want to focus on the most significant

5. When you’re analyzing broad causes and their specific components 

6. Quality assurance teams use Pareto charts to discover the most significant defects that have a far-reaching impact on output. 

Advantages of Pareto Charts

Pareto charts play an active role in different fields and spheres of knowledge. Its influence comes from the several benefits associated with interpreting your data using these charts. Let’s get through a few advantages of Pareto charts. 

  1. With a Pareto chart, you can easily identify the different root causes of a problem, and come up with a viable solution to test. 
  2. It helps you to streamline your strategy. You’ll learn to focus on solving the most strategic issues that are responsible for the most problems. 
  3. Pareto charts help you to visualize problems, and plot on solving them. 
  4. In human resources, Pareto charts can help you identify high-fliers and bottom performers. Armed with this data, you can develop specialized engagement programs for the different subgroups. 

Disadvantages of Pareto Charts 

Should you use a Pareto chart in all statistical presentations? No. The following are a few limitations of Pareto analysis: 

  1. It has no scientific proof and it cannot apply in all contexts. 
  2. A Pareto analysis wouldn’t help you to identify the root causes of a problem. Most times, you’d need to pair a Pareto chart with a root causal analysis tool to discover the root cause of a problem.
  3. It doesn’t account for the severity of a problem. 
  4. The analysis process can get cumbersome if there are many variables. 
  5. It focuses on past data which might not be significant to current or future scenarios. 
  6. Pareto charts can only show qualitative data that can be observed.
  7. Pareto charts cannot be used to calculate the average of the data, its variability, or changes in the measured attribute over time.


When you have a good understanding of the Pareto chart and how it works, you can leverage its principle to improve your workforce, optimize your marketing campaign, and improve teaching and learning. In-depth knowledge of Pareto charts means you can identify the root causes of major challenges in your organization and resolve them strategically. 

  • busayo.longe
  • on 9 min read


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