“Obviously, the highest type of efficiency is that which can utilize existing material to the best advantage.”
– Jawaharlal Nehru, Former Prime Minister of India
Reuse is like a miracle drug for productivity improvements. In the execution of projects, reuse is typically the #1 driver of productivity. I leverage reuse on every project. Anytime you are building something, it just makes sense that you can build them faster and probably better if you use materials that have already been built and tested. I worked with a software development company that realized hundreds of millions of dollars in development costs by having a strong reuse strategy. And, they didn’t just realize cost savings, they got higher quality software out to market much faster.
What is Reuse?
Reuse is when an item, such as a document, design, software code, or model is used again for the same or a different purpose. Organizations that effectively manage reuse are typically much more productive and have shorter cycle times in developing products and services. It is much easier to borrow or build a wheel than to reinvent the wheel.
Reuse is one of the little known best practices of great organizations. Reuse can happen all across an organization. Strong IT groups have libraries with code, test scripts, and software, properly tagged and documented for reuse in other IT projects. Furthermore, strong IT groups ensure their systems are modular and are designed as a service to allow reuse and simple integration with other systems. Effective marketing groups have extensive organized databases that house their creative assets, design files, images, analysis and briefs which go a long way in helping quickly execute new campaigns and programs. Efficient product development departments have organized and searchable design files, use case and requirements documents, and test results, to use as a base for new products and services. And, well-oiled operation teams have libraries of standard operating procedures to help create new SOPs.
What are reuse best practices?
Organizations that invest in reuse typically see a rapid return on their investment. Whether it is driving reuse in operations, product development, IT, or sales and marketing, the reuse best practices include:
1. Modularizing items
2. Documenting them
3. Storing and accessing them in a library
4. Processes to first look at reuse before other options
5. Training stakeholders on reuse, libraries, and processes
1. Modularize items
Modularity is separating items so they can be reused and recombined with other items. Whether in IT, product development, operations, or sales and marketing, modularizing items so they can easily be reused and recombined is core to effective reuse strategies. IT groups embody modularization in object-oriented programming, service-oriented architecture, and APIs (application programming interfaces). In product development modularization is in compartmentalizing designs to a fairly low level, and in standardizing components across products and product families. In marketing, modularization involves creating generic creative assets (e.g., photos, fonts, icons, copy, illustrations, presentations) that can be used in a multitude of campaigns and advertisements. And, in operations, it is properly defining processes in a way that changes to other processes or new processes, are still interoperable with the processes.
2. Document and tag items
To be able to quickly locate items to reuse they need to have strong metadata and tags. Think about a search engine that can find relevant websites quickly because each website has various tags and metadata in the content of the website. So whether they are design files, images, or code, there should be a strong naming and tagging convention for reuse items so others across an organization can easily find the items. Furthermore, it is important, especially with technical items that there is strong documentation outlining important attributes and notes related to the item, including the creator of the item. Strong documentation allows users who didn’t create the item to easily reuse the item in a different context.
3. Library items
Every good reuse strategy has a library or platform in the middle of it, facilitating the creation, search, and use of reusable items. And, often there is a set of KPIs tied to the library to ensure it is being used and managed. As an example, strategy consulting firms encourage consultants to codify much of the non-proprietary knowledge (e.g., project approaches, independent surveys, new analytic methodologies) and upload it to a knowledge portal for others to be able to search and leverage for new proposals or projects. The knowledge portals are extremely effective in generating new ideas and approaches to a problem, and to network with others who have solved similar problems.
4. Reuse processes
Organizations with high reuse have strong reuse processes and governance. With reuse, there are both the supply and demand processes. Supply processes ensure everything that can and should be reused in the future is created in a way, codified, and uploaded to a library for future reuse. There are also typically approvals and sign-offs to ensure the items are up to the standards, documentation, and value to be reused in the future. While demand processes ensure items are reused in every possible relevant situation. Strong project and investment governance typically exhaust the reuse option before moving to build or purchase options.
5. Reuse training
Training is often about equipping people with the tools they need to be effective and efficient, so it makes sense to train on reuse since it is the largest driver of productivity. Reuse training typically happens during onboarding and large changes with reuse platforms or tools. It is also important to provide constant education and internal marketing on both the creation of supply and utilization of reuse items.