How we bang the gavel on the path to building FullStory
“I think you guys are just wrong. FullStory should accept signups from free, non-business email addresses like GMail,” Gio asserted, smiling but serious.
Giovanni Hobbins is a designer at FullStory, and he made this bold pronouncement only a few months after he started. He was challenging a tenet of our dogma that had been in place since FullStory launched a couple of years prior.
Gio was a newbie, though. Was it okay for him to be outspoken? If so, and especially if he was right, how could he actually achieve the change he was advocating?
We’ll come back to Gio and how his crusade turned out, but to do that we have to talk first about the relationship between FullStory Dogma and Prove-Its.
In a related post, The Suck Less Cycle, I talked over and over about “dogma” and how critical it is to be clear about the tenets that teams will use to add constructive constraints to make decisions and guide progress. Dogma is the cornerstone.
But how exactly do you make dogma a thing? How do you make it, you know, official? And later on in the Suck Less Cycle, when you start to think some tenet might be wrong, how exactly do you change your dogma in a way that everyone can understand and accept?
Everyone at FullStory knows the answer to that: you call for a Prove-It.
What is a Prove-It?
A Prove-It is just a meeting. That may sound anticlimactic, but it’s a very special kind of meeting that everyone takes particularly seriously. The purpose of a Prove-It is to make a crisp, binding, company-wide decision about a specific proposition that is being advocated.
Some examples of Prove-Its over the last year or so:
We will adopt the “Voltron” Security Program.
We will overhaul the FullStory onboarding experience.
We will offer a free version of FullStory.
And, of course, there’s Gio’s Prove-It:
We will allow people to sign up for FullStory using free email providers.
So, while it’s a “just” a meeting, everyone knows that when they see a Prove-It on the company-wide FullStory calendar, it’s a big deal. A meeting not to be missed if you have any interest in the subject.
The anatomy of a Prove-It
How do you actually undertake a Prove-It? It’s meant to be very simple and not-at-all bureaucratic. And, despite the seriousness of how it may look when described clinically below, it actually feels quite friendly and lighthearted in practice.
Prove-Its have 5 parts:
A Prove-It starts with a straightforward proposition–a single, clear sentence–stating what will become true if the Prove-It is approved. Getting this right is critical, because you want everyone to easily understand exactly what’s at stake. It’s also harder than you’d expect, because being starkly opinionated takes a lot of courage. And the clearer you are, the harder it is to dodge pointed critique.
A weak, squishy proposition might sound like this:
"“Let’s improve support availability.”"
Whereas a strong proposition will be unambiguous:
"“We will begin offering dedicated chat support on X date.”"
It’s hard to miss what is being proposed in that second variant, right?
You’ve got a proposition. Now who will actually make the case for it? You and fellow advocates. Typically one person leads the charge, but it’s really helpful to have multiple people who are willing to publicly promote the idea, too. The best advocates are people who can make the case in an objective way. Too much emotion tends to confuse the issue. Advocates should be prepared to steel man the status quo even as they point out why their proposed change would be better still.
A Prove-It must have an explicitly named set of approvers. These are the people whose unanimous, explicit agreement you need in order for something to be proved. The best slate of approvers should be those people who need to be fully bought-in so as to ensure the proposition is implemented successfully if approved. For example, when we have “This feature is ready to launch” Prove-Its, we always want to make sure trusted leaders from marketing and sales are approvers because they’re the ones who have to make sure they’re excited to talk to customers about what we’re proposing to launch. If they don’t understand a feature or don’t believe in its value, that’s bad.
We want approvers to give a public, explicit “Yes, I approved this and want to move forward.” It makes a big difference having them go on the record. For one thing, they pay a lot more attention to the presentation because their name will be attached. In addition, it sends a strong signal to their respective teams that the decision has been well-vetted.
Who actually decides who the approvers are? While different companies may have different approaches, at FullStory, we founders reserve the right to specify the set of approvers who must be included for any Prove-It. However, the advocates can choose to include additional approvers if there are other people whose active buy-in they wish to galvanize. Interesingly, although it might sound as if picking approvers could be contentious, in practice it’s never been even the slightest problem for us.
At FullStory, almost every Prove-It is completely open for anyone in the company to attend, and Prove-Its are published on our company-wide calendar. Openness is an important aspect of a Prove-It, so that even people who aren’t directly involved can at least see how decisions are made. Attendees will realize that they can contribute to the conversation if they want to. And, at a minimum, attendees will have no doubt that everything has been thought of, debated, and reasoned out. Even people who don’t choose to attend will have strong buy-in merely knowing that they could have attended if they had wanted to. Consequently, they’ll be more likely to accept whatever it is that’s been proved.
5. Meeting and decision
The meeting itself should be as short as possible, typically an hour and almost never longer than 90 minutes. Keeping the meeting short puts constructive back-pressure on the advocates to have their case prepared in a succinct, digestible form. A slide deck is ideal. It can make the case, with all the supporting data and arguments clearly articulated, is efficient and creates an artifact that you can keep around for the future so that new people (or forgetful future selves) can look back on the rationale for any of your current dogma.
"You end up with a crisp decision, which is always better than abiding ambivalence."
In the meeting, the advocates talk through the deck, clarifying any points that are confusing, and then hard questions and a discussion follow. When the end approaches, it becomes time for the approvers to make a decision. If it’s unanimous, the Prove It is adopted and change is ratified. If not, nothing changes. Based on the sentiment from the approvers, the advocates may choose to improve their case and try again later. Either way, you end up with a crisp decision, which is always better than abiding ambivalence.
What happened with Gio’s “free email signups” Prove-It?
"This was something we had done one way for years, yet a brand new person to FullStory was able to change that part of our dogma in a single meeting."
Circling back to Gio and the question of whether FullStory should allow non-business emails. Disallowing free email providers from use in our sign-up form had been our policy for a couple of years. Gio deeply disagreed with that so much that he put together a really thoughtful case. We all showed up, and he just blew us away with his reasoning, and in an hour, we changed our policy. This was something we had done one way for years, yet a brand new person to FullStory was able to change that part of our dogma in a single meeting. It’s cool that Prove Its make those sorts of changes possible. And it sends a message to everybody else that if you have an idea, it can really be heard, and it can really create change in the company.
And that’s perhaps my favorite thing about Prove-Its: anybody can drive them. They’re agnostic to seniority. It’s the antidote for drinking too much of your own Kool-Aid. Everyone has a voice, reasoned arguments rule the day, and you should want it that way.