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Don't Repeat Yourself, Share Instead

Over the last decade, DevResults has invested time and resources into learning what best practices enable us to be a lean company while still supporting some of the biggest government agencies, implementing partners, and non-profits in the international development and humanitarian sector. Recently, my colleague released a blog post on how we have as a company have created a remote work culture that has been going strong for ten years. While we have specific tools that help us stay connected in a digital work environment, we also believe in implementing principles that encourage efficiency and ensure productivity.

In programming it is common to hear people mention the DRY principle, “Don't Repeat Yourself”. This concept is a reminder that if you need to use some piece of code in more than one place that you shouldn't just copy and paste, but instead extract it out into a reusable module, which can be referenced where necessary. At DevResults, we strongly believe in the DRY principle because it greatly aligns with our desire to operate efficiently. By not repeating ourselves in our code we can minimize the amount of wasted time and effort required to maintain duplicate code. It also provides consistency in the way we perform particular actions, producing a predictable result every time. As a team, we’ve collectively taken the DRY principle beyond our code and we strive for efficient and scalable communications internally and externally with our partners and customers. If you have ever received a help link to one of our knowledge base articles, you've seen DRY at work!

We've made it a habit to try to leave tangible artifacts of our solutions and discoveries with the hope of preventing duplicate effort and also to share our knowledge with others. This comes in many forms including knowledge base articles, blog posts, and wiki pages. If you find yourself providing instructions for something or giving a detailed answer to a question, we would bet that there are good odds that this situation will arise again and someone, possibly even you, will be re-iterating, or even worse, once again searching for these answers. It can be well worth taking a few extra minutes to publish your work somewhere for future reference. It has been said that "an email helps one person, an article can help thousands." We find this to be very true and we hope that you'll also take it to heart.

What's that you say? This sounds like it's going to be difficult, and possibly expensive? It certainly doesn't need to be and there isn’t a sales pitch coming. It is true that it takes some effort to establish systems for storing the information, and the habits to keep using those systems, but it doesn't have to cost you anything. You're probably already using tools that could be leveraged to start building a library of information that will save you and your organization a ton of time down the road.

Let's explore a few types of things you might want to share:

Guides and How-To's

These are probably one of the best things to put in your library. You know, that report you have to run at the end of every quarter but always spend an extra 20 minutes trying to remember exactly what you did last time? Just take a few moments as you go to write down what you're doing and once you're done doing the thing you'll have a handy guide for next time. Bonus points for including screenshots of your process!

Some things we have guides for at DevResults:

  • How to connect to the VPN
  • How to install [software package X, Y, or Z]
  • How to refresh the training site each month

Checklists and Templates

Sometimes it's just nice when things are consistent. Whether it's structuring meetings the same way, making sure a task is performed properly, or even letting your teammates know what you got done this week, there's a lot of value in having predictable output. Checklists and templates are a great thing to share with your team to make sure no matter who does the thing, it always includes the same bits you'd expect it to.

Some examples:

  • Weekly all hands meeting template
  • New employee onboarding checklist
  • Packing list for the conference booth (never forget the swag again!)

Knowledge Is Power

Regardless of the tools you choose to use or how you get started, we think that having shared access to knowledge is a wonderful thing. As you grow the habits of collecting and using information you'll find that everyone becomes empowered and there's a lot less time spent (re-)explaining things. So next time you're about to hit send on that email full of instructions on how to do that thing no one can remember how to do, please consider writing it down somewhere that people can find it and sharing the link instead.