Dogfooding 101: Use Your Product To Drive Internal Alignment
Although dogfooding is a simple concept, many companies are missing out on the benefits that come from using their own products and testing them internally.
Dogfooding drives internal alignment in your company by increasing each department’s knowledge of the product, centering the customer experience, and giving employees a say in product development. To gain the benefits of “eating your own dog food,” you need to know its purpose and the common problems product managers face during implementation.
What Is Dogfooding?
“Dogfooding” describes the use of your new product by your own team before releasing it to the public. It’s sometimes phrased as “eating your own dog food” or “employee product testing.” Internal use of your own product helps you resolve issues or bugs before launch, shorten the feedback loop, and create a shared product experience between your employees and customers.
The origins of the term dogfooding
The term “dogfooding” may have originated from an account of the president of Kal Kan, a pet food manufacturer, eating a can of the brand’s dog food during a shareholders’ meeting. Or it may have come from a 1976 Alpo commercial featuring actor Lorne Greene. In the television spot, Greene says he actually feeds his dog, Colonel, Alpo dog food—it’s not just a gimmick.
Regardless of whether the term should be attributed to Kal Kan or Lorne Greene, it became an industry term for internally trying out products before they hit shelves (or computer screens).
By feeding Alpo to his own dog in the commercial, it’s become the symbol (and the namesake) for trialing a product internally before it goes to market. Nearly 40 years later, “eating your own dog food” is a widely accepted practice inside most organizations.
In software development, “dogfooding” has become synonymous with using your own product by making it a staple of your tech stack or running a beta test with employees.
Companies like Microsoft, Salesforce, and DoorDash, for instance, use dogfooding to create customer-focused products. Microsoft, in particular, has been recommending dogfooding since (at least) 1988.
When employees use the same product they are selling, marketing, creating, or otherwise contributing to, they have a much more in-depth understanding of what their customers need and want than someone who doesn’t use the product. This level of empathy improves the product overall and creates a better customer experience.
Who Implements Dogfooding?
There are several departments that could own the dogfooding program at your company, including UX, IT/support, quality assurance/quality control, or product management. If you’re a startup, dogfooding may be part of your beta test.
To decide who should run your dogfooding program, consider which department has the time to invest in managing beta tests, understands the customer experience, and knows how changes will impact the user. Your choice also needs to be able to communicate needed changes in a way that departments with different specializations can understand.
User Experience (UX)
Your user experience team is a logical choice for managing your dogfooding program because they have a nuanced view of customer behaviors and product interactions that can help them interpret the feedback more effectively.
Since UX’s purpose is to identify customer needs and solve customer problems, they can apply these same skills to your product and the success of your dogfooding program overall. In turn, dogfooding will help your UX team members gather insights, design improvements, and collect data on user interactions.
Since running the dogfooding program for company use is also a time commitment, UX designers may need help prioritizing tasks.
If you put UX in charge of implementation, consider delegating problem-solving tasks to IT. This will eliminate any roadblocks to correcting code and fixing technical issues and allow the UX team to stay focused on customers.
Of course, your IT department can also be a useful home for your dogfooding program if you’re a tech company that offers a software product. Since IT will be involved in managing bugs and updates after your product is released to the public, it makes sense to involve them in beta testing early on. If IT are the ones facilitating the dogfooding program and organizing the feedback, they’ll have a wider understanding of the overall issues they need to address before launch, which helps them do a better job.
If you don’t involve IT in the development process, though, they may not have the context around the customer experience needed to spot non-technical problems with the product during dogfooding.
Quality Assurance/Quality Control
The quality control department is close enough to the product to know exactly how it is supposed to work and whether it functions properly. This makes them a great team to take on the dogfooding program at your company. Quality control is equipped to help you find bugs and code issues using their existing evaluation processes.
For tech-focused employees like quality assurance, customer-focused communication may be more difficult. If you use your company’s quality assurance department to manage your dogfooding program, they’ll need to be able to communicate about everyday usability issues as well as technical issues.
Your product management team has the clearest understanding of the customer’s pain points, the company’s goals, the existing workflows, and the product itself. Your product managers know what success for the product looks like, so they can help your company align the product with the user’s needs.
Additionally, because product managers work so closely with the app itself, the feedback loop is even shorter. PMs can usually manage the dogfooding process alongside their normal tasks.
A drawback to assigning dogfooding to your project management team is that they are already working at a fast pace and may not have time to commit to such a big project in a way that does it justice.
Test Your Product With Dogfooding
1. Decide How You’ll Collect Feedback
Dogfooding feedback can come from forms such as A/B testing, interviews, and usage data. The feedback collection method you choose should be one that will be intuitive for your team to use and one that gives you an analytic overview of your results.
For example, product feedback solutions like UserVoice Discovery can help you collect and organize customer and internal team feedback and quantify your results with analytics.
2. Define the Kinds of Feedback You’d Like to Collect and Set a Deadline
The feedback you collect should include as many details as possible. That way, you can spot patterns in the data. Ask employees to be specific about any bugs they find or any observations they have about product usage. If your company is doing an interal beta-test ahead of release, be sure to set a strict deadline for employees to return feedback.
3. Provide Customer Support to Your Employees
If you’re asking your employees or colleagues to “eat their own dog food,” they need the same level of support you’d give a real customer.
Attentiveness to your colleagues’ concerns around the dogfooding process can build team loyalty, increase employee satisfaction, and let employees know they are an integral part of product development.
4. Include Product Demos in Onboarding
A simple way to save time and money with dogfooding is to build it into your onboarding process. That way, you’re not only training employees to use your company’s product for the first time but also collecting feedback on the product at the same time. You’ll also help prevent your dogfooding program from getting off track if the company goes through restructuring or you have a high turnover rate.
5. Reevaluate Your Dogfooding Process With New Features or Software Updates
As your product changes, your feedback questions or prompts will need to be updated. Product update phases are also a great time to remind employees and beta testers about what kind of feedback is most helpful to you.
6. Quantify Employee Responses to Product
With concrete data, you have the leverage to convince stakeholders to follow your path to a solution—such as approving extra billable hours. For instance, if you receive 50 out of 200 responses that report a lag, you could potentially increase customer satisfaction by 25%.
How To Fix Problems During Dogfooding
As with any testing phase, problems can crop up during dogfooding. Your employees need resources and solutions for those problems, whether they’re on your implementation team or simply one of your users. Your best bet in most cases is to treat dogfooding challenges like you would any customer concern.
Bugs or End-user Issues
Send employee reports on your product through the same process you would send a customer complaint. You’ll most likely need help from software engineers, product developers, project managers, and even your marketing team, as the issues can range from tech to brand perception.
Even if you ask for specific feedback, you may not get the kind of feedback you want. Sometimes employees don’t understand what is expected of them and are too overwhelmed to ask. Remind your dogfooding participants at multiple stages of the program what your goals are and how that translates into feedback criteria.
Inconsistent Use of the Product or Lack of Employee Participation
Your colleagues need to know that it’s worth their time to provide in-depth feedback. Create a product roadmap that reflects the shared vision for the product that connects to the company’s goals rather than a department’s goals. If you can make the company’s product matter to your employees, you increase their chances of participating in your dogfooding program.
Your Company Culture Doesn’t Value Dogfooding
As one person, it’s difficult to change a company culture, but if you can start with a small group and slowly expand your efforts, you may have more of an impact than if you tried to convince the whole company at the same time. Start dogfooding with your own team or a team with a proactive leader. Then tally the results in a way that makes the value clear to the decision-makers at your company.
Validate Your Product With Dogfooding
Once you know how to “eat your own dog food,” the technique becomes an integral part of product validation. You can apply your team’s feedback in the same way you apply customer feedback to improve your company’s product. You’ll be able to think about your product’s strengths and weaknesses from your perspective without losing sight of the end-user and their needs. When you gather both internal and external feedback through dogfooding, you create a unified data collection for your company to make informed product decisions.
If you’d like to see how dogfooding could benefit your team, we’d love to chat about our feedback management software and analytic capabilities.