Several years back, when my then boss had asked me to evaluate a set of reusable 8051 micro-controller based assembly language routines developed by other programmer, I was very hesitant to spend my time on it and instead wanted to write those on my own. I was first introduced to NIH syndrome then. “Go and sit with the developer” was my supervisor’s command which I followed sincerely but was bodily present when the other developer was explaining to me those routines and ready to share those with me. I had asked few random questions and looked for excuses to come out of that discussion. Obviously I was not mature that time to see the value of “reusability” and associated benefits. Over the period of time things changed and I became (am still…) strong proponent of bringing in as much reusability as possible in any and every technical / non-technical activity of my organizational life.
Reusability of technical assets vary across raw concepts on paper to qualified architecture/ design artifacts, documents and actual codebase of solution accelerator, point solution, library, utility, framework, etc. Almost everybody understands benefit of reusing these assets but in most of the places reusability index is very low. I have been on both sides – creating assets to be used by others and using assets created by others for my benefits. And based on my experience, here are top 10 tips how we can get away from NIH syndrome and increase “reusability index” within the organizations.
Few of these tips are applicable to the ones who are creating reusable artifacts and others to those who want to adopt these artifacts.
#1 Reuse is cultural phenomena, not management mandate:
Reuse is organization culture than a mandate. How organizations build the culture is a relative aspect but most of the organizations where reusability index is high, invest in people, infrastructure, processes, practices and policies which will nourish and build conducive atmosphere around reusability. They define and follow policies which will help people produce and adopt reusable artifacts and they motivate and incentivize both creators and adopters as well. This phenomenon takes long time to be a reality within the organizations and stakeholders need to have patience and keep motivating people who are working brains and hand behind building such reusability culture.
#2 Reusable artifacts adoption journey:
Most of the reusable artifacts are extracted from the working models, documents and code bases. Very few efforts go in developing such artifacts with reusability intention from scratch. Identification, extraction, polishing and packaging of such artifacts happen in the corner of the organization and person or team behind this task has difficult task in front to make organization units adopt these assets.
Reusable assets adoption is a long journey with following major steps:
a. Awareness – People need to be aware of these assets specifics
b. Understanding – they need to have clear understanding how the assets would help them
c. Interest – they need to show interest in these assets
d. Interaction – and interact with asset owners
e. Evaluation – to evaluate on their own and see how assets can help them
f. Iteration – they can also have iterations to fine tune it for their specific requirements
g. Decision –and decide to either adopt it or not
h. Customization – in case they require appropriate customization they can do it on their own or they can request asset owners to do this customization
i. Adoption – finally they would adopt those
And obviously these steps take long time. Asset owners need to have patience and adopters need to do their best to expediting the overall process and keep asset owners informed.
#3 30% pride in creation of artifacts and 70% pride in seeing people adopting those:
Yes, developing / extracting and packaging reusable assets definitely take tremendous efforts and people should have lots of pride doing and owning that. But they should not carry 100% pride putting their efforts on only creating these assets. It’s just half job done. The real pride they should carry when they see many people adopting these assets. Due credit can come to the creators directly / indirectly (but sometime it may not come as well). The creators should carry pride in their efforts when they see their deliverables in being used in live actions.
#4 It’s collaboration, not sales and marketing:
Reusable assets creation and adoption should be a collaborative process and all stakeholders should be well informed in advance. Packaging reusable assets and taking those to the potential stakeholders without keeping them in loop becomes sales and marketing activity. This may or may not result into success. Many people fear informing others about their reusability assets efforts and wait till end. They put tremendous efforts instead of defining minimum viable offering and do not test it with potential adopters. Every reusable asset creation exercise should be collaborative where asset creators and adopters should interact, decide, define and develop such assets together.
#5 Evolving relationships between creators and adopters:
Even if the creators and adopters put their brains and efforts together, the relationships between these parties evolve over the period of time. Sometime there would be opinion difference, intellectual debates, criticism, push backs but those should be considered as constructive mind sharing for mutual benefits. Face to face interactions help address personal conflicts and point of views on how these assets would evolve. Once the people are on same page, adoption becomes easy process. It takes time and people should be open in sharing thoughts, ideas and opinions and other side should also take feedback and inputs in positive manner.
#6 Constructive criticisms for betterment of the offerings:
The feedback and suggestions mechanism on the assets and adoption processes should be taken as inputs for betterment of the offerings. The criticism should be on the offering and not the people behind it. Value feedback and criticism and do not take it personally. Filter the unnecessary attributes of the criticism as much as possible and discuss with the person than over e-mails. Face to face discussions are preferred but if not possible, call over phone would help. Have a standard feedback form in place with all critical attributes and subjective inputs. Let adopters know all features, known issues, work in progress as part of release note (as applicable) and have such information published on your KM portal. Do not forget to than people who are giving you critical feedback and let them know as soon as you act on their inputs and address the issues.
#7 Motivation and incentives:
Why would someone put efforts for building reusable assets or adopting those? “Not Invented Here (NIH)” syndrome is part of every personality and most of the organizational units. How to keep both the sides inspired, motivated and incentivized? Ideally self-inspiration for creating and adopting these assets is most critical attribute, but organization must keep them motivated through appropriate recognition, appreciation, better rating in appraisal cycle, and better hike in salaries and given right feedback to them on their accomplishments in right forums. Also adopters must be recognized and given due credits for improving productivity by using reusable assets. Management, supervisors, and peers play an important role in keeping both sides highly motivated.
#8 Reuse benefits tracking and reporting:
It is very critical and important to track adoption as well as benefits delivered through reusable assets. Closer tracking mechanism and reporting the benefits to central body would help define reusability index and achieved benefits. Benefits can be qualitative or quantitative in nature. Understanding of potential efforts saving, productivity improvements, quality improvements, resource optimized, etc. can help do right investments in these efforts.
#9 No need to fall in love with the reusable assets:
Sometimes so called reusable assets do not get adopted for some or other reason. It could be because offering does not cover required breadth or depth, technology obsolescence, 3rd party dependencies, etc. How long the asset creators keep perusing these assets? Ideally the reusable asset creators should be mentally detached from their offerings and if the offerings are not getting adopted after several sincere attempts, they should move on to something else. It is hard but practical approach for living corporate life.
#10 Trade-offs : Personal ego, politics, overconfidence VS potential reuse benefits:
Other important aspects with respect to NIH syndrome includes personal ego, politics, overconfidence on reinventing wheels instead of borrowing from others, over criticism, etc. People need to open heartedly do the trade-off analysis of these aspects against the benefits which they would achieve by reusing the assets.
Architects, Technologists have been doing best in open source communities. Open Source communities success is based on contributors efforts as well as people who have downloaded the offerings and adopting those in the enterprise applications. We do not bring personal ego, politics and overconfidence in adopting these assets then why not do our best to create and adopt the reusable assets within our organizations, get away from NIH syndrome and improve reusability index.
(Acknowledgement : Image is created by using wordle.net)