How a #WriteItDown culture bridges the gap between technical and non-technical roles

Expensify is a company of generalists with loosely organized teams. To support this, they have an internal value called #writeitdown that encourages everyone to create scalable and accessible knowledge trails for others - technical and non-technical. Join Lauren Reid and Stephanie Elliott from Expensify and Tanya Helin from Stack Overflow as they discuss the benefits of this type of culture and how Stack Overflow for Teams enables it.

Learn the benefits of this type of culture and how Stack Overflow for Teams enables it

Find out how creating scalable and accessible knowledge trails for others removes knowledge silos and lowers the barrier to entry for everyone.


Todd Anderson (00:15):

Good afternoon, everyone, or good morning, depending on the time zone that you might be dialing in from today. Welcome back to another session here at LendIt Fintech. My name is Todd Anderson. I'm the chief product officer at LendIt Fintech. We have a really great session ahead of us today, "How a write-it-down culture bridges the gap between technical and non-technical roles." Before I go ahead and turn it over to our panelists for introductions, just a reminder to the audience, we encourage questions. So if you have a question at any point during the conversation, five minutes in, 10 minutes in, 30 minutes in, just go ahead and throw it into the Q&A box. We'll move to those questions as we through the conversation.

Todd Anderson (00:57):

Don't be shy, throw any question that comes to mind in that. And we'll get to those questions as we move throughout the day here. Secondly, thank you to the Stack Overflow and Expensify teams for the support for the webinar. Without support for partners like you, we can't do sessions like this. We can't big events that we do. So we appreciate all the support that partners afford to us and the team. It's happy to have you here today. First, I want to kick it around the room to, Tanya, to introduce herself. Tanya Helin of Stack Overflow, take it away.

Tanya Helin, Stack Overflow for Teams (01:33):

Yeah, thanks so much, Todd. Appreciate it to all. My name's Tanya Helin, I run the enterprise business for Stack Overflow Teams, which is the enterprise offering of our public site. And over the years, my experience has mainly been in community oriented software. It's great to be here.

Todd Anderson (01:59):

Great. And Lauren, we'll go to you next.

Lauren Reid, Expensify (02:02):

Hi everyone. My name's Lauren Reid, based at Expensify. I live in the UK, but I'm originally from South Africa, if you are finding my accent hard to place. I've worked in mission-driven tech for the past seven years, but I joined Expensify years ago, as one of their first employees outside of the states. My portfolio here is largely focused on building frameworks to scale our customer support model. More recently, my focus has really shifted to identifying and executing on more of these opportunities for efficiency and scale across the business.

Todd Anderson (02:36):

All right. And Stephanie, we'll go to you next.

Stephanie Elliott, Expensify (02:45):

I'm Stephanie Elliott, also with Expensify. I work remotely from Baltimore, Maryland. I've been at Expensify for about four years now. My background is in the legal field and in operations. But now at Expensify, my focus is mainly around customer experience, product management, legal and compliance, and also in improving efficiency for our customer teams through documentation.

Todd Anderson (03:11):

All right. Well, I wanted to first kick off with the session title includes, write-it-down. And so I think it would be helpful for the audience to understand what is, write-it-down.

Lauren Reid, Expensify (03:24):

Yeah, sure. Absolutely. Write-it-down is really a core part of how we operate at Expensify and it's one of our really big internal values that we push here. And so what we mean by write-it-down is that, literally, wherever possible, you should be taking the time to write on your ideas and your knowledge and make them available to everyone. We consider the worst things that you can do are leave those ideas siloed in your brain where no one has access to them or even limiting access to a particular group of people. Ultimately, it doesn't matter who you are within your organization from the very newest hire to the CEO, everyone always has something new to learn and encouraging your team to write-it-down is the quickest and most efficient way of distributing and scaling that learning across your organization. These are some of the reasons why we hold it within such high regarded Expensify.

Todd Anderson (04:21):

At Expensify, you have a culture of generalists with loosely organized teams. You have this internal value of write-it-down. Can you pinpoint some of the specific, if there was a specific problem that prompted you to create the write-it-down culture?

Stephanie Elliott, Expensify (04:42):

Sure. Yeah. I can speak to that. In the last four to five years, Expensify's workforce became increasingly more globally distributed. Like Lauren said, she was one of our first employees outside the states. Since then, we've hired employees on nearly every continent. We're totally global now. And as our headcount became more distributed across time zones, we needed a way of safeguarding against like a single point of failure. So the wheels keep turning no matter your time zone. I think the write-it-down philosophy is really born out of a need for efficiency and flexibility. If all of Expensify's internal knowledge is documented and distributed, we can avoid situ where one individual is becoming a blocker.

Todd Anderson (05:30):

And so I want to know if you could talk a little bit about how this creates scalable and accessible knowledge trail so that others can follow?

Lauren Reid, Expensify (05:45):

Yeah, absolutely. We use Stack Overflow for Teams to record information for literally everything at Expensify from our coding best practices to customer travel shooting guides, company policies, how to join a new team, like everything is in Stack Overflow. But within that also, we have a really democratic process around curating that knowledge because anyone can ask questions, anyone can answer questions and anyone can edit them. So we really do give free reigns, everybody in the organization to help us continue to curate this knowledge library. Over time, we've amassed this core playbook on how our company operates and it's all hosted as this one, massive living and constantly updated FAQ in Stack Overflow. These things are talking about no matter the time zone, in all the teams you work in, who else is online, everyone is ultimately able to consistently self-service this huge array of knowledge that we have on how to work effectively as an employee at Expensify, which is really, really critical for us.

Lauren Reid, Expensify (06:52):

And back of that, it's also really allowed us to create pathways for our employees to allow them to ramp up super quickly on completely new areas of knowledge and areas of interest to them. This helps us from a business organizational perspective. It maximizes our capacity for ensuring that the fundamental tasks that we need to have to keep by running always have coverage because everyone has easy access to understand how to do those things. And parallel to this, we really want to be constantly breaking down barriers for our employees for their own personal growth and development and knowledge sharing is just such a huge part of this. Yeah, by empowering our employees this way, they don't have to ever ask for permission to get started if they want to step into a new area of responsibility, they just need to self-service via the existing documentation or even better create new documentation if none exists and go from there.

Todd Anderson (07:52):

Tanya, I wanted to turn to you, you guys at Stack work with a variety of different FinTech clients. Does it depend client by client? How is the handling of this knowledge trail information and what is similar and different from what maybe Expensify has been doing?

Tanya Helin, Stack Overflow for Teams (08:17):

Yeah. If you really look at it, Todd, I think the way that both, Lauren, and Stephanie, both describe the Expensify environment, it seems to be a trend across the board. Most organizations are becoming globally distributed in terms of how they're building the teams and that's really to get the best talent that's possibly out there to build what they're looking to build. But what are they trying to safeguard against? What you don't want to do is you bring new talent on and you start to move folks within an organization, is you don't want a single point of failure. I think both, Lauren, and Stephanie, mentioned that. And so what we start to see a lot of organizations do is try to figure out how do I take the knowledge that exists within the environment, how [inaudible 00:09:00] to reuse that?

Tanya Helin, Stack Overflow for Teams (09:01):

How do I start to make or create an environment that allows my teams to work on projects and work on things without having to depend on someone in a different time zone or someone that could be in another meeting or within another project at that point in time. And they're trying to build a sense of community within their own internal ecosystem to share that knowledge or re-share that knowledge across the board. We do see a lot of organizations, both small and large in FinTech and in general, start to move into this whole mindset of creating a knowledge community. And I think a lot of that tends to be then what did they do? And that concept comes to write-it-down, but put it in a centralized place. And that's where we're getting engaged in many large organizations, especially those that tend to be regulated because they want to do it in a safe and secure manner. I think a lot of the trends that we're seeing with Expensify are global. They're happening across the board and I think the pandemic has only magnified some of that because they're really having rethink how they work.

Todd Anderson (10:16):

Do you see that non-tech or tech roles embracing this type of culture more? Do they embrace it equally? And then what is some of the difference there between non-tech and tech roles and the write-it-down culture?

Stephanie Elliott, Expensify (10:33):

For Expensify at least, I think it certainly started off with mostly those in more tech-oriented roles embracing write-it-down probably a little more than those in the non-tech roles. However, internally at Expensify, I think it's pretty quickly evened out and there's equal dedication across all teams that happened rather quickly. Write-it-down has been an Expensify philosophy for a really long time. But in my opinion, that commitment was really leaned into by everyone when we started a company wide push to generalize all of our repeatable tasks. Obviously, that's going to require a really solid, knowledge trails in a very accessible place. But once our team saw the freedom that came with generalizing all of the tasks that they were repeating every day via writing them down, I think that there was a lot of enthusiasm for building documentation and that commitment was definitely strong across all teams.

Lauren Reid, Expensify (11:50):

Yeah. From my perspective, I think technical roles have had a bit of a head start in understanding the efficiency behind write-it-down because the thing you learn on day one as a developer is how to write dry codes. That's literally don't repeat yourself. Just by virtue of having that hard, coded in their DNA, they set a great example for everyone else internally, because they'll always push you towards or write-it-down as the default when you are doing some sort of knowledge exchange. And then in parallel with that, I'd say customer support teams are also really amazing just by virtue of their roles at answering questions in user-friendly language and also maintaining documentation and knowledge bases.

Lauren Reid, Expensify (12:38):

When you put those two groups together, you've got this one pool of people who really like sharing knowledge and not repeating themselves. And this other pool of people who really love helping others learn through documentation and self service. It's a pretty powerful match. And I think for write-it-down to really work within an organization, it's down to identifying who your biggest potential champions are going to be and anticipating that they can come from completely different day to day roles across the technical and non-technical divide. But the end goal is always to democratize the knowledge for everyone across the business, irrespective of their technical or non-technical abilities.

Todd Anderson (13:21):

I had a side question, which is, I know we're talking about write-it-down a lot, but what about different types of people and how they consume information, whether it's video, audio? There's lots of different mediums out there and so is it only focused on writing things down and reading it, or is there aspects to this that allow for some of that other stuff to also come in for people that maybe are better at consuming information maybe via video?

Lauren Reid, Expensify (13:53):

Yeah. I think that's always an interesting in one, because video tends to age the quickest and is the hardest to edit out of everything. Whereas changing something, if a policy changes or information changes, the editing ability of that within the written format is just so much quicker. I appreciate across like the neuro diversity spectrum that defaulting to written communication isn't always as inclusive as it could be. But I think the key thing is to be considering inclusivity in how you present that information so that it's not just all dry text. And I think within, we do tend to air towards mostly text, but making sure that the articles that we're producing aren't huge opposites that become really, really hard for people to digest and trying to be sparing with images where we can, because technology literally UI changes all the time. So to maintain that makes it doubly as hard. Steph, I don't know if you have any thoughts there with your webinar background also.

Stephanie Elliott, Expensify (15:05):

Yeah. We have. This is a concern that's come up before internal and we have dabbled in videos, webinars, recordings, and at the end of the day, it always comes down to scalability. And at the rate at which things change at least internally for us, written word just ends up being the most scalable, easy to update solution. Over the years, we've really thinned out the means in which we create documentation. And it's really starting to lean towards text only just because that's become the most successful for us, I think.

Todd Anderson (15:55):

Yeah. Have you seen knowledge silos being broken down between different teams? And then can you maybe tell us a little bit about maybe a specific example that could highlight this?

Stephanie Elliott, Expensify (16:11):

Yeah, definitely. I think having a strong culture of creating knowledge trails, it's helped us to blur the boundaries between our teams in a really positive way. Since we're all generalists at Expensify, nearly everyone at the company in some capacity is spending time on both technical and non-technical tasks in some way. As for helping bridge teams, I think that one example is that we have several folks who started in pretty non-technical roles like customer support, and these people are now joining engineering focus teams. And that just would not have been possible without our engineering team having written really straightforward user friendly documentation that ultimately just lowered that barrier to entry.

Lauren Reid, Expensify (17:02):

Yeah, I think similar to that, the most recent example I could think of here is where this has really worked for us well, is that every single member of staff at Expensify has written and pushed a line of code on to our code base. And we rarely, rarely leveraged term, write-it-down here to empower everyone in the organization to do this highly technical task that maybe they weren't necessarily familiar or comfortable with in a highly technical tool like GitHub. It doesn't matter if your background is you're a developer, you're a marketing, sales, hiring, customer support all the teams we have here, but literally everyone at Expensify has now done this and written this line of code that they needed to. It was part of a specific internal project we ran around restructuring some of the ways we were distributing work and giving fairness of opportunity to everyone.

Lauren Reid, Expensify (17:57):

In order to implement this project and this new distribution system, everyone had to update a few lines of code associated with their entry on one of our GitHub repos. And similar to what Stephanie was saying there, everyone was really able to successfully do this without knowing anything about coding for a large portion of people, because our technical team shared great step by step instructions and Stack Overflow articles that allowed others to self-service this knowledge. And there are also some really pretty good long term ROIs we're seeing throughout the organization off the back of this, because you have some non-technical folks who are nervous about touching the code base to begin with, myself included.

Lauren Reid, Expensify (18:41):

And this has given us a massive confidence boost to use these traditionally technical tools like GitHub. And as Steph said there, we're seeing an uptake in folks in these non-technical roles, picking up more technical work, which is great. And on the flip side of that, folks in technical roles have also been pushed to communicate in less technical terms as a way of helping others catch up and making the whole system more accessible to everyone. This has really created a much more efficient communication system and cycle for us, where folks are taking time to break down technical jargon and just creating a much more accessible and inclusive environment for everyone off the back of this.

Todd Anderson (19:24):

I wanted to ask a similar question to you, Tanya, as someone that works with the various different clients, how have you seen the knowledge silos being broken down? Do you have any specific examples of it also?

Tanya Helin, Stack Overflow for Teams (19:40):

Yeah, there's a lot. The one Lauren just talked about is super impressive and probably something that we should duplicate here because I think that's just an amazing task that you guys we're able to do there. In regards to what we see across the industry, something we're seeing a lot of is organizations are looking to standardize the way that they roll out technology. And what we're seeing a lot of is new technology being brought into the enterprise as they have to modernize. And I'm going to use an example of something we see all the time, right? Which is Kubernetes is always a great example. Super complex technology that a lot of architecture and strategy teams and innovation teams are bringing into organizations and many companies are siloed in the way that they work.

Tanya Helin, Stack Overflow for Teams (20:29):

And I mean that from the perspective of, it could be different groups that do things in very different ways, whether it's a separate business unit or whether it is a separate team that could work on data science or analytics or whatever it might be, and they might have their own way of deploying technology. What we're seeing be really successful across the board is the standardization of ways to deploy things. The standard way to deploy Kuber X, Y, Z company, which is documented, which has its policies and procedures around it. And all of these other teams don't have to reinvent the wheel. They're going out, they're getting access to that and they're doing it the standard way, which makes it easier, more time efficient, more secure. And frankly, just less stressful for a lot of these subset groups, because they don't have to go out and many times hire new people to do it. They don't have to, the folks that don't have that experience can go easily gain access to it.

Tanya Helin, Stack Overflow for Teams (21:28):

We're starting to see a lot of teams, not just breakdown silos between groups, but we're starting to see a lot of organizations tell us that they're able to move faster, and they're able to deploy a lot of these new technologies or applications or whatever it might be much faster because they have every thing in a very standard approach to doing it, which a lot of times just makes things a lot more inclusive as well. Because they don't have to go and think about things in a way that could potentially be harmful. Everyone knows what they're doing, they're super comfortable in going to get it. And the write-it-down approach in terms of having it documented in text is much easier to consume across the board, because now people are starting to update it in a way that's very simple. And if a thing needs to be changed, people are comfortable doing it. They're not scared of doing things in a way that isn't the approach that will get them where they need to get.

Tanya Helin, Stack Overflow for Teams (22:28):

It's just a common thing that we see. There's other ways that we're seeing silos being broken down across business units. We're seeing this in a lot of tech organizations where you'll have silos that typically exist between like a customer success organization, a support organization, and engineering. That is an area where we're helping a lot of technology companies help bridge that gap and helping make it very easy to document how engineering has approached the way they built the technology so support can manage that in a very simple way and customer success and all of these different groups can come together and share information to get their customers the answers that they need in a very concise and short timeframe. Again, it's productivity, it's just simplicity at the end of the day.

Todd Anderson (23:18):

I saw a really interesting question come in from someone in the audience, which is, people from tech backgrounds often talk in acronyms and use lingo that's not necessarily commonplace and making it so difficult to keep the pace with discussion and making non-tech people feel inadequate. How do you bridge that gap? And is there rules in terms of, hey, if you use write-it-down, avoid acronyms or is there any guidelines like that might help avoid some of the situation that this person is asking about?

Tanya Helin, Stack Overflow for Teams (23:51):

I can answer some of that, and I'm sure, Lauren, and Stephanie, can throw something out there as well. But this is common because it typically, to the point of whoever had written that question, there's a lot of acronyms that are used. When you're growing out and building a community, there's different methodologies that you can use to simplify the way that you're communicating. I think once the organization is familiar that this is a way to bring different folks together and that we're doing this to provide a community for the entire enterprise, there's different ways that you can coach people in how to pose questions and how to pose answers so that it can be used across the board.

Tanya Helin, Stack Overflow for Teams (24:33):

We, as an organization, when we onboard customers, try to do as best as we can to coach in ways that leave the question to be as inclusive as possible. That will teach, you can write the acronym, describe the acronym and then that reuse can be taken to other points. But it's really about coaching everyone together that we need to make sure that everyone understands it. It is something that you continuously have to remind people of, but there's methodologies that we, as a company, love to work with our customers on to try to help that. Because all this really is about getting people involved, contributing, and then getting them to be part of it.

Lauren Reid, Expensify (25:18):

I think one of the things I always try and work with new hires at Expensify on is just being confident in asking questions. And what I always repeat is there's no such thing as a stupid question. The only thing that's stupid is not asking the question. And the minute you identify something that's a barrier to entry to your knowledge, it's perfectly okay to ask that. And as someone who's been at the organization a lot longer than some of the new hires, I try and constantly set an example by that where it's kind of not just assuming that everyone knows everything and getting into those very jog and heavy conversations that exclude people. I think it comes from the people who have more experience in the organization remembering to help others along the journey with them and being very conscious of the way that they do speak in open environments.

Lauren Reid, Expensify (26:17):

And also just on a practical level when it comes to things like learning acronyms well, it's almost, what's the word, like a mushroom effect, because if someone's asking a question that needs another question, we're just distributing your new knowledge because it's like, if there are acronyms that people are using in these technical ways and often acronyms are there as an efficiency. People aren't necessarily using them to be obtuse or arrogant, it's just creating an efficiency to not have to repeat themselves over and over, which is a core part of all of this. I'd say one of the first things there is also just, don't be afraid to ask the question about what the acronyms are to begin with.

Stephanie Elliott, Expensify (26:59):

One other thing to add to that is, not just in Stack Overflow, but actually across all of our internal documentation, we actually do keep templates for those that are maybe newer. That is like we have documentation on our documentation, basically, what makes a good Stack Overflow question. And so I found at least from working with newer folks that that can help to guide, create good habits and guide how they create documentation going forward so that it remains accessible to everybody.

Todd Anderson (27:33):

I think a good follow up to that is, what are some of the key things that you did to make sure that you had this adoption of write-it-down and the engagement that you wanted on the platform?

Stephanie Elliott, Expensify (27:52):

Yeah. I can definitely speak to that. Our technical teams, our engineering team had adopted Stack Overflow a lot earlier than the rest of the company. They actually made for some very early champions and it was proposed. There's a formal proposal to make Stack Overflow Expensify single source of truth for all of our internal documentation. And seeing as our engineering team had already been using it, we actually had a great working model that the rest of the company could use to visualize how that might work at scale. That obviously made for an easy... It was an easy way to make for the team to make an informed decision on that. But aside, after you've got that initial buy-in, the engagement then becomes really important because you need to keep that momentum.

Stephanie Elliott, Expensify (28:47):

And so we found that actually one of the best ways, one of the most successful ways we found to drive engagement was to actually integrate Stack Overflow with our Slack workspace. We had an integration, it was bidirectional and it worked two ways. First of all, if you've got question is being asked in Slack out of habit, this integration would push the question to Stack Overflow and create a draft. The question was getting ported over to Stack Overflow with a message that says, somebody thinks this would be a good question to ask in Stack Overflow. That ensures we're continually capturing new questions in Stack Overflow.

Stephanie Elliott, Expensify (29:31):

But the other side of that integration is that we relied heavily on tags in Stack Overflow as an organization. And we have tags connected to specific Slack channels. As these questions are being asked in Stack Overflow, they're also being ported to the relevant Slack channel. This worked really well, not only does it populate Stack Overflow, but it's basically serving as a constant reminder to everyone all the time, hey, this should would be, or this is documented in Stack Overflow. It cements those habits and it really helped us to drive engagement a ton in Stack Overflow.

Lauren Reid, Expensify (30:14):

Yeah, it's really not uncommon in a Slack environment to see someone asking a question and someone to responding with a Stack Overflow link. If that answer has been already captured before just reinforcing that as a constant loop. The relationship between those two systems I'd say is super, super important for us in successful rollout.

Todd Anderson (30:34):

On the opposite side of the question of what are some of the key things you did to make sure you had adoption. And Tanya, maybe this is a better question for, is there a key impediment at some firms that would stop adoption? Like some executives don't think they need to use it and it's for lower level employees. Is there some things when you're talking with clients it's, hey if you don't have wide scale adoption across the firm, is not going to work if you just think it's for a certain level of employee?

Tanya Helin, Stack Overflow for Teams (31:07):

Yeah. This happens all the time. I think Stack Overflow [inaudible 00:31:11] heavily used within the engineering and development community that just general awareness around other groups sometimes doesn't exist. And so the way that we typically make recommendations to work with us is actually opening it up to the organization. When we start within groups that are very comfortable with us, start to demonstrate success within that and help our customers visualize that in a lot of different ways. What we've noticed is that once an engineering groups able to show success and visualize that and show that in different formats, whether it's exporting it to a dashboard through an API, or whether it's that just demonstrating it in another way, it starts to get consumed. And then you start sharing information that's relevant to those other groups. At the end of the day, there does need to be a lead leader that truly believes in it within the organization that helps champion that.

Tanya Helin, Stack Overflow for Teams (32:09):

And many times, that starts within engineering, but we see that spread into other parts of the organization as well. When we don't see it work is when it's actually utilizing a very, very small portion of the organization. And why is that? Is because the more knowledge, the more power. When you have a really small group of a subset of a handful or so of people using something, you don't have access to a lot of that knowledge. And as we all know, when there isn't a lot of something there, you tend not to go back and use it. There are strategies in how you actually seed content and seed data before you actually open it up to the entire organization. You have to be able to get some content in there that you know people are going to actually find valuable.

Tanya Helin, Stack Overflow for Teams (32:59):

And this is something that we've actually taken on internally at the company as well, which is, we now have, as a sales organization with new folks coming on, we're growing really quickly as a company. At first, sales people really didn't engage in it, but now that of content that's valuable to them as they start to come on and look for information, the first place for sending everyone is Stack Overflow. You see the entire organization engage. And it's actually really nice because you're always comfortable going there because you know that even if you don't have the answer there, someone's going to be able to get you the answer and that's where you want to get to. But you always have to have an executive champion that's there and helping continue to demonstrate that knowledge.

Todd Anderson (33:50):

However, we've talked a lot about implementation, about using Stack Overflow, how do you measure ultimately the impact that it has on the company? And so I'll go to either, Lauren, or Stephanie on this, but how do you measure that overall impact of using a tool like this?

Lauren Reid, Expensify (34:12):

Yeah. I was looking at some stats in prep of this chat today, and I realized that we actually now have a library of around 4,000 posts and that's been in Stack Overflow in our teams and that's been accumulated over the past three years. That's probably around 100 new posts a month. And some of our most popular questions on there have actually all been viewed over 1000 times each. Starting to think about that in time efficiency terms, if something's been viewed 1000 times, that means there were at least 1000 times when employees didn't interrupt each other's workflows during the day to ask the same questions. Each of those questions is worth at least 1000 minutes of productivity alone, not lost to this repetition.

Lauren Reid, Expensify (35:03):

And so if we zoom out here and look at the total amounts of those 4,000 articles and think about how they've all been collectively viewed over the past three or so years, my very bad napkin math here, estimates that we're probably talking about at least 500 hours or more time that we've probably saved as a business by empowering employees to self serve in Stack Overflow using write-it-down and avoiding repetition. Just sort of repurposing, what's the word, that black hole of repetition really, and putting that towards the parts of our business that we're going to find more productive useful.

Todd Anderson (35:45):

And so I wanted to ask the question to you, Tanya. Thinking of clients, kind of a follow-on to what, Lauren, was just saying, how have the various clients you work with been measuring impact for teams? Has it been in a similar way like, hey, we've saved X amount of man hours or X amount of hours overall for the team? Is there any other ways that you measure the success of using this powerful tool?

Tanya Helin, Stack Overflow for Teams (36:17):

Initially, I think a lot of organizations are looking at it exactly that way. And sometimes, it's not the way they think they're going to realize it, because they don't understand in many cases that knowledge is something that isn't self-service in the company right now. It isn't something that Lauren just mentioned. Something's been viewed 1000 times. And so I think they're pleasantly surprised as they start to work through the platform. And they look at statistics like that to realize, wow, there is a lot of time and productivity that's being time saved and productivity being gained that they're actually assigning to other objectives and initiatives. And we have customers, and there's one specific customer that we work with who is struggling with deploying some of their mission critical apps to the cloud. And the reason was most of their subject matter experts that were actually architecting that pattern to do that were continuously helping onboard new cloud engineers.

Tanya Helin, Stack Overflow for Teams (37:19):

And so they weren't necessarily focused on that. And when they dug down and realized why, their time was being spent in the wrong places with repeated efforts and repeated things. Right? It's, how do you stop repeated effort? And a lot of that is in documentation. And where are you going to document it where people are comfortable? We were able to help this specific organization through that manner. And then they actually, funny enough, helped us build a calculator around that time and productivity savings. Another really interesting one is we have a partner or customer of ours who was having challenges around ticketing. What they were seeing was that the support organization in this group and their internal support organization was having to deal with a lot of repeated questions with some of their new infrastructure organization.

Tanya Helin, Stack Overflow for Teams (38:18):

And so what they were able to do is reduce their ticket times and reduce their ticket costs because they had a cost associated to every ticket. If they were able to prevent a new employee or someone from having to go and create a new ticket to get that assistance, they were able to save some significant costs. This specific company's number is staggering. It's kind of one of these that were, wow! Really? They're a large organization, but just in ticket times, they were able to save 10 million just by that factor. There is some pretty substantial stats that we're seeing companies save. I think every organization is really different in how they do it and how they actually look at that metric. But when it comes down to, it's a productivity thing. It's a time factor. And time always leads to money in one way, shape or form, whether it's that, it's speeds to market, whether it is time to other projects, whether it's reducing support tickets, but it is a productivity matter.

Todd Anderson (39:18):

We've had a bunch of audience questions come in here. We've answered one or two along the way, but how do you manage your knowledge? And this is from, Amy Canavan. How do you manage your knowledge base between actual processes, notes from meeting, domain knowledge, memos, and general thoughts/ideas?

Stephanie Elliott, Expensify (39:43):

I think one way we do that is through pretty liberal use of tags. At Expensify, what's the word I'm looking for, we have a pretty good web of tags. And so we're able to manage these different topics by simply applying different tags to them. Like I said earlier, those tags are going to populate into different channels, but it also really helps narrow down what type of content you're going to find based on the tags that you're looking for. Of course, that also requires though that everybody in the company has to be pretty diligent about applying those tags.

Todd Anderson (40:27):


Stephanie Elliott, Expensify (40:27):

But when they are, we find that it works really well for us.

Todd Anderson (40:30):

And I guess, do people say if they were searching for something, are they searching it based on tech or are they searching it based upon anything in a post? Does that functionality exist and is possible or is it more, hey, I'm going to search on this one tag and all these things will pop up for me?

Stephanie Elliott, Expensify (40:54):

Sure. That actually works. The search feature in Stack Overflow is actually pretty robust. And so you're searching by keywords and then you can further narrow down that search by just including the tags that you're looking for.

Lauren Reid, Expensify (41:07):

And the Stack Overflow search functionality is pretty good. By just through keyword search also, will bring up all the other relevant posts. Pretty impressive.

Todd Anderson (41:22):

Another question here, one challenge in knowledge management is in capturing organizational knowledge and a write-it-down approach is good for this, but after some time an organization faces different issue, finding current and relevant content and discarding outdated info. What is Expensify doing to help curate data so users aren't left sifting through old, out of date information?

Lauren Reid, Expensify (41:51):

I think we have two approaches to that, really. One is also just common sense amongst our employees that if you are looking at something and the post is like three years old, the odds are, you might want to check in and see that, that's still up to date and add a comment to it. But for the most part, it's an organic process that we go through where if one process or piece of information makes another one obsolete, we close our posts as we go as part of the process and leave a data trail between those. We have had a few projects, I think, Steph, maybe you, each of this one a little bit more where we did do a pruning exercise probably maybe a year ago. Is that correct? Yeah. But maybe you want to speak to that one.

Stephanie Elliott, Expensify (42:48):

Yeah. We have done a couple, like Lauren said, pruning exercises to kind of review and clean up our documentation. And I think that that was mostly a symptom of... It was a little bit of a growing pain, right? Because in the beginning, we're still getting our footing, we're creating this knowledge base as we go, and we're not quite sure how we needed to look in the end. I think it was really helpful for us once we really fully got into the swing of things and started to understand what was helpful and what wasn't helpful to put in a place like Stack Overflow. For us, we did do a couple of cleanup exercises, which helped us to get our documentation up to par. But think now at this point, this has been so ingrained, the habit of creating good documentation, that it's a well-oiled machine at this point. Again, I feel like I keep repeating myself, but I think it's really, really the diligence of everybody that's contributing that makes that successful.

Lauren Reid, Expensify (44:00):

Yeah. And I think also when you're doing those type of sweeping exercises, there's a bit of common sense to be applied there because if you're looking at an article or post that's been viewed five times in the past year, realistically, it's not as much a priority to look at versus something that's been viewed 450 times. It's really identifying the key pieces of information within the database, which are the ones you really want to make sure are up to the second update versus the others that will just organically fade away in the background anyway, just because it's no use putting effort into those if no one's using them anyway.

Tanya Helin, Stack Overflow for Teams (44:38):

Todd, the point is valid. This is definitely something that happens at a lot of organizations. How do you keep up with it? It becomes a lot of content. It becomes difficult to manage. We have a lot of customers that have asked us with help with that. And so this might actually be new to, Lauren, and Stephanie, too, but we're coming up in adding a functionality that helps with understanding the freshness of content. So which content is most up to date, which is relevant and which should be updated based on number of different criteria? Because we have recognized this, it's very difficult. We want to make it as less least of a manual process as possible. Whoever ask that question, it's definitely a point that we, as a company, understand, as you start to try to aggregate knowledge and keep it up to date. And so we're trying to do as best as can to make sure the freshness of that data is as fresh as possible. It's definitely a good question. The way that the folks at Expensify are doing it is definitely the way at this point we would recommend. It's [inaudible 00:45:45].

Todd Anderson (45:47):

A related question, and Tanya, this one might be better for you. How do you control access to everything that is written down and what they think they really mean here is? Do you give everyone across the company ability to write stuff in or is there different levels of, hey, all right, executives managers have write-it-down Xs, this lower level employees have read only, or is there a way or a method that has worked better? I assume it's the everyone has access, but have you seen it used in different ways by different clients?

Tanya Helin, Stack Overflow for Teams (46:25):

Yeah, we have. In general, the way you always want to expose the entire platform to as many people as possible again. The concept of knowledge reuse is really what you want to aim for. And the more that you write down, the more access people have to things, the more value you get out. However, we do deal with a lot of highly regulated companies in which some data is not something that you want to expose to the entire company. And I'm not really talking about PII or anything like that, I'm just saying there's some conversation that you want kept within a certain group.

Tanya Helin, Stack Overflow for Teams (46:57):

There are the ways within our platform to create communities or teams within a community. We're certainly able to do that. There are ways that you want to do that. So you make sure that you do get engagement and value out of it. Again, there are methodologies around how you do it. But generally, you want to provide access to the entire company. But as data becomes more sensitive, and as you want to create groups, we do have the capability to do that as well. And you really just have to look at each company independently and figure out what the best strategy is. And we'd always work with someone on that, but you have the ability to do whatever you would need to do, Todd, within our system.

Todd Anderson (47:36):

How has write-it-down changed the methodology for new feature releases to ensure teams are always aligned, feature delivery, creation of FAQs, etc? And that's another one from, Amy Canvan.

Lauren Reid, Expensify (47:49):

Yeah. We have this embedded within our project and product delivery process. In our template we use internally, there's a specific section about how is this going to be communicated internally and externally? Have you written the Stack Overflow articles that will distribute this knowledge? I think it's one of these things where we have tried to embed it within our overall processes, so that there's a natural prompt for people to be able to remember to write these things down and also to the point where a project isn't considered delivered within the organization, unless that knowledge has actually been written down. And there is a clear documentation trail of what happened at the end, what happens next?

Todd Anderson (48:45):

Here's a couple of more from the audience. And to the audience, if you have any more questions, please do ask them, we have a few minutes left here. How have you coached your more technical... Actually, we answered that one in a different way earlier in terms of the technical folks and non-technical folks. Here's another one. Does your sales organization also have the same culture? And how do they organize educational material? And I think a wider question is, if there's different teams with different cultures within a large organization, how does that play potentially with write-it-down? I know we talked a bit about knowledge silos earlier, but do you see different silos taking place? Maybe this is a better one for, Tanya, within large organizations that cause maybe them to rethink how they might use Stack Overflow?

Tanya Helin, Stack Overflow for Teams (49:52):

Yeah. I think I can take some of that, and Stephanie, and Lauren, can feel free to jump in. Just in terms of our sales organization, this is something that I think a lot of sales people, as they came into Stack Overflow, wasn't something they were comfortable with or knew how to utilize. And again we, as a company, it's our standard. It is where we put and share information and where all our knowledge exists. It has actually helped break down a lot of silos for us because it's a much easier way to communicate with product management, with product marketing. Those folks have to spend time creating their own product and content, and there's different priorities that they have. And this gives us the ability to not have, or gives us the capability to not bother them and let them go build the product and let them create content.

Tanya Helin, Stack Overflow for Teams (50:44):

It's really been able to, in our organization, help break down a lot of silos. And we've seen the very same thing at many of our customers. We actually have a number of customers whose HR organizations are starting to look at how Stack has helped with collaboration across the board and how it's helped not just necessarily break down the concept of silos, but help people work better together. Because again, there's efficiency in that and there's efficiency in bringing different ideas and concepts together. And different perspectives and different groups is always a better way to produce better product, to produce better content and whatever it might be. We do see a lot of organizations start to do that, help with that. And Lauren, and Stephanie, if you have anything to add to either of that. Yeah.

Todd Anderson (51:36):

I like this question that came in. And so do you need rewards or gamification to encourage staff to write-it-down? In my experience staff, especially senior members having viewed time spent documenting knowledge to be positive in terms of a career advancement. That's an interesting one.

Lauren Reid, Expensify (51:57):

Yeah. I could speak to that within the specific environments of Expensify, which I feel we also probably didn't preface right at the beginning. We are an extremely flat organization. We do try and avoid hierarchy at all costs. We avoid job titles where possible too, so this idea of senior staff members and junior staff members is a little bit more blurry here. But within that context, this concept I mentioned of write-it-down as being part of our core value. It actually sits under, we have two rules at Expensify. And rule number one is get shit done. So just be as productive as you can when you are working. And rule number two is don't ruin it for everyone else. And write-it-down is really nested under this, don't ruin it for everyone else with the active idea that by building up knowledge silos and not taking the time to teach and help others learn and grow and develop them, you are not earning your leadership and your place at the table within the organization.

Lauren Reid, Expensify (53:07):

And it is just so neatly tied in with the foundation of our culture here, that it's pretty taboo not to follow those, just by our own social contract with each other. And I think granted a lot of the people on the top list of users within the organization do air towards the technical roles. But I think our CEO, David Barrett, he's number eight on our user board of like 140 users. We have this example setting with a lot of folks in our organization who have been here for that longer period because they understand that the most value that they can be providing to the organization is by freeing themselves of being a specialist in one particular area and continuing to force multiply that knowledge to our others because the company's not going to scale without that.

Tanya Helin, Stack Overflow for Teams (54:01):

Todd, there's the opposite angle of that too, which, whoever ask that question, really common thing that we get asked, which is a lot of people who have been doing things for a long period of time, aren't necessarily accustomed with sharing. The career advantage is the knowledge is mine and that is how I advance my career. And what we've actually noticed is that those people are about recognition, right? I want to be the one that's recognized for knowing these things. And gamification, the aspect of rewarding people is how we've seen a lot of organizations take advantage of feeding into that portion of how people think to get them to be part of it, whether they were using it as part of, not just gamification or rewards within the platform, but through taking that in terms of how they look at reviews. We see a lot of different strategies companies are using in that. One is reviews. Two are bonuses.

Tanya Helin, Stack Overflow for Teams (55:01):

There's a lot of ways you can tie things because not every company can do what Expensify has done. That's our culture. It's, we got stuff done, we help each other. That's it. But if you are a large bank with hundreds of thousands of [inaudible 00:55:16], that's different. You've got to think about doing it in other ways. We've got a conversation going on now. And really, all of it revolves around getting folks who don't typically contribute to contribute. And the way that they're seeing it being done is taking their contribution on Stack Overflow and making it part of how they're reviewed on yearly basis. There's different ways to do it. I certainly prefer the Expensify way of, let's all get together.

Todd Anderson (55:50):

Ultimately, I think the simplest way is, if you and your colleagues are using it on a daily basis, it's going to feed through the organization versus someone using it once every few weeks, because then it's less of an example being set. But we have just a couple of minutes, I don't know if you have any final thoughts, Tanya, Lauren or Stephanie?

Lauren Reid, Expensify (56:16):

I think the one thing that just comes to mind in building on then also is within the example I gave, it's not to be dismissive of organizational change because I know that's incredibly hard to instigate change on any level. But it's that idea of pushing through and starting to see the concepts of the FAQ or knowledge management base system as being just a normal part of your business tool set. It's just as like we are all the way we use email or the way we use messaging tools, whether that is you're on Skype or Slack or whatnot or video calls, that Stack Overflow is just another one of those tools in the toolkit to enable that day to day functionality. And it's getting people to the place where it's just a normal place to be in the same way as you would check your email, you checking your Stack Overflow.

Todd Anderson (57:10):

And with that, we're going to leave it there. Tanya, Lauren, Stephanie, thank you very much for joining us. Thank you to the Stack Overflow and Expensify teams for the support in joining us here today. Thank you again to the audience for coming back for another session. Keep an eye out for for additional things that are coming up. And in September, we have our first in-person event, Nexus Dealmakers Summit. Just go to, you can find more info about that event there. Thank you very much everyone for joining us. Thanks again, panel. Enjoy the rest of your day.

Lauren Reid, Expensify (57:53):

[crosstalk 00:57:53] Thank you. Bye-bye.

Stephanie Elliott, Expensify (57:53):

Thank you.