More than human, but not machines
Culture · 5 min read

More than human, but not machines

Caitlin Brett
Posted October 13, 2015

The rule of three dictates that everything is more satisfying in a set of three, from acts in a play, to visual design elements, to items in a list. (See what I did just there?) So when it came down to developing our operating principles at FullStory, we came to the table with our hearts set on three.

The first, empathy. Walking in another’s shoes, perceiving emotional states, understanding the motivation behind a stranger’s actions. (Heck, empathy is the reason we created FullStory. To help you empathize with your users.)

The second, we decided, should be clarity. Few problems can survive their thorough description.

But we struggled to articulate the third principle. We needed a word that meant we were able to accomplish more than thought humanly possible, but not through lifeless automation, drone-like work ethic, or performance-enhancing drugs like espresso (though we consume more than our fair share of it).

Human, but more than human.


What does bionic mean at FullStory?

From the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “bionic” means “having normal biological capability or performance enhanced by or as if by electronic or electromechanical devices.” We don’t have zoom-sighted mechanical eyes or impenetrable robotic exoskeletons, but we can all agree that our natural capability is enhanced by smart decision-making and the judicious application of technology.

But even though “bionic” means doing more through technology, it doesn’t mean offloading work entirely to robots. That’s automation, and bionic != automated. The human component is the heart of bionics, because of that all-important first principle: empathy. Being bionic helps us scale empathy. It allows us to be human with an ever-growing number of customers.

One thing we ask ourselves several times per week is, Is it bionic?

Bionicizing our workload has become a preoccupation as our customer base grows exponentially to the size of our company. “Is it bionic?” is shorthand for asking “Does it require a lot of man-hours? Would we still be able to accomplish this if we had 10 times the number of customers we do today? 100 times? What could we do instead that is bionic and satisfies the same intent?”

Our original organization system for tracking customer feature requests and known bugs was decidedly un-bionic: it was just a Trello list. Idea cards could be added, subtracted, edited, and re-ordered by anyone with access to the board, and we all had our own opinion about which tasks were most critical. Did it require a lot of effort to discuss, rank, and maintain the list? Yes. Was it scalable? Not if we wanted to keep our sanity, and not if we wanted to honor the wants and needs of our customers.

The next iteration of the ideas list took place in a tool called Aha!, which is pre-built with a clever upvoting system that allows colleagues to add their +1 to an idea, naturally elevating good, appealing ideas to the top of the list. But this, too, was un-bionic: not everyone reads every new idea, and the Venn diagram of Popular Ideas to Important Fixes didn’t overlap as much as we would have liked.

Making the system bionic, we knew, had to involve objectivity and consistency, the key factors dragging down the existing system. So we had our FullStory Sculptors develop a tool called Horizon: an idea-qualifying questionnaire system.

We now use Horizon every time we add a new feature request or bug to our task tracker, and the idea is assigned a place based on its impact on customers (or future customers) relative to its ease of implementation.

The amount of time required to determine the priority of a new idea is reduced to the 10 seconds it takes to complete the questionnaire, and the time an engineer spends picking their next task is even shorter: they simply choose the top item from the list. (Or, if they don’t happen to feel like working on the highest-scoring item for some reason, at least they can understand the relative importance of whatever they do choose to work on.)

While we’re still tweaking the questionnaire to produce the most optimal results, it’s already far more bionic than our older solutions. Does it require a lot of effort to maintain the list? No. Is it scalable? Yes, quite. Are we delivering customer love at scale? Well, that’s for our customers to say, but thanks to the new, more bionic process, we’re doing more than was previously thought possible.

Being bionic is not merely a state of having cutting-edge tools to help us increase productivity; it’s a process of rationalizing decisions with a view to reaching the most scalable solution possible — while still maintaining our humanity. Even if a bionic decision front-loads the company with more work, such as developing the above questionnaire system, the effect is always something that will help us cover more ground and service more customers over the long run. (And we are in this for the long run.)

If your company isn’t making bionic decisions, do your future self a favor and start now. You’ll thank yourself when you experience a surge in scale and you can handle it without sacrificing customer love thanks to your bionic processes.

Are you already looking at problems through the lens of bionics? What processes have you recently bionicized? Let us know on Twitter your company could be included in a future blog post on bionics.

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