The Religion of Reuse

I've been reading Michael George's book on Fast Innovation. Chapter 6 reminded me about something I do all of the time: the religion of reuse. While Lean Six Sigma can speed up and mistake proof your existing processes, the religion of reuse can accelerate everything about your speed to market and response to customers.

What is Reuse?

When I worked for Bell Labs in the late 1970s, I was introduced to the UNIX operating system and the Shell programming language. It was a bunch of tiny applets that could be put together easily to make remarkably complex systems. This is where I learned the religion of reuse.

Our software development team was tasked with delivering a new information system on an incredibly short time table. We looked at the functionality and the time available and we all agreed that we couldn't do it unless we created reusable modules for almost everything.

In a six month window we built 40,000 lines of code that were the equivalent of 250,000 lines of custom code. We made our deadline and the code was much more reliable because it was used in so many places. Reuse gave us speed and quality.

George quotes one of my heros in software development, Fred Brooks, who said: "The most radical solution for constructing software is not to construct it at all. The reuse of software n times multiplies the productivity of developers by n." While this thought is over 30 years old, it's still true, but most software developers feel the need to redevelop rather than reuse existing code which is why so many software projects are late and short on functionality.

Reuse at Toyota

George reports that between 60-80% of Toyota's designs reuse existing materials, components, and assemblies which radically reduce their time to market. That means that only 20-40% of the new functionality needs to be designed and developed. Is it any wonder Toyota can bring a new car to market in half the time of the big three?

The Law of Lead Time
Lead time = (number of things in process)/(average completion rate)

If you can double the completion rate, you can cut lead times by 50%. Reuse can help you do this by reducing the number of custom parts required to produce a final product.

The 80-80-80 Rule
George says: "With reuse, the probability of meeting specs without a significant overrun is very high because you already know it has worked before."

If an innovation consists of 80% reuse, then lead time can be cut by 80% at 80% average utilization [of existing resources].

The Advantages of Reuse

George reminds me that with reuse you:

  1. Avoid long lead times.
  2. Reduce the challenge faced by your teams because they can focus on the vital few, not the reusable many.
  3. Reduce time to develop a new product or service by 50% or more.
  4. Use smaller teams which will be more agile and productive. In Fast Innovation, I especially like Buca's Law of "Gilligan's Island": Try not to have more people on a team than were on Gilligian's Island.

QI Macros Software Reuse

I reuse the QI Macros SPC templates all the time to create measurement dashboards for companies. I just create an input sheet and link the input data to the p chart or XmR template. It makes it easy to create dashboards and scorecards.

Writing Reuse

Many people ask me how I write so much. Truth be told, I write a little and reuse a lot. Small ideas go into the blog. Bigger ideas go into the ezine. The blogs and ezines provide the basis for articles and books. I try never to write anything that I can't eventually use somewhere else.

It's very expensive to sell once, do once. It's manual labor. But if you can do once and sell many times, then you start to get tremendous benefits from reuse.

Invest in Reuse

It takes a little more thought and a little more time to create things that can be reused, but the instant you can reuse it, the payoff is huge. And each time you reuse it the ROI increases.

Ask yourself:

  • What's common?
  • What could I reuse?
  • How can I take what seems unique and make it reusable?
  • What is truly unique and requires customization?

You'll be surprised by the reusable assets you can develop and the speed and quality with which you can serve your market.

Get the religion of reuse. It will help you grow your business, boost your bottom line and delight customers. And isn't that what it's all about?

Rights to reprint this article in company periodicals is freely given with the inclusion of the following tag line: "© 2008 Jay Arthur, the KnowWare® Man, (888) 468-1537,"

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