A business should believe in its own product or service enough to use it in-house – “Eat Your Own Dog Food”.
But Eating Your Own Dog Food must be part of a balanced diet.
Here are some tips to help you get it right.
Avoid the Limitations of a Restricted Diet
Drinking Your Own Kool Aid
You can develop tunnel vision and miss out on competitive factors if you do not try your competitors products. Maybe they have a great feature or an alternative approach that you should consider.
Apple recently fell victim to this problem when their mapping app, Apple Maps, failed spectacularly. The app was so bad it’s turn by turn instructions had drivers traversing an active airport runway to get to the terminal in Fairbanks Alaska. Apple thought they could do maps better than Google and they learned too late that this was a much more difficult task than they had imagined.
Sharing the Same Diet
If all of your dog fooders use your product in exactly the same way they can miss critical shortcomings in its design.
A recent example of this was the new Facebook Home Screen which lacked essential functionality for Android users. Apparently, the Facebookers who did the dog fooding carried iPhones so they did not realize the importance of widgets, docks and app folders for Android. This lack of “droidfooding” left Facebook scrambling to add features and suppressed the number of downloads of the new screen.
Asking people to dog food can backfire if the product is at an early stage or does not have essential features. Email systems have been notorious for this.
In 2001 when AOL merged with TIme Warner, all employees were required to use AOL mail which was known to be a problematic service. After many emails went missing and much productivity was lost the dog food experiment was discontinued.
In 2013 Yahoo tried to force its employees to use Yahoo mail. In a hostile memo from management, Yahooers were scolded for their unenthusiastic participation when only 25% of them had switched. In a recent blog post the lack of enthusiasm was explained. “ Yahoo mail is a calcified piece of shit…that nobody would use unless they had lost a bet.”
So take off your rose colored glasses and be honest about whether your product is ready for dog food and on what scale. Wishing things were different does not make them so.
Your Developers Know Too Much
Technical people have know how and familiarity with your product that customers don’t. When your Developers are dog fooding they may take short cuts or use work arounds that customers would not. Developers are not typical users.
Since your aim is to replicate the Customer experience it is important that your dog fooders use the product the way it was intended to be used.
Make sure you get technical and non-technical people to dog food for you. You should also get people who have different levels of familiarity with your product so you don’t do your dog fooding the same way all the time.
Eat Your Way to Success
Simulate Customer Experience
Using your own product allows you to see it from your Customers viewpoint.
I was recently using our product, Mondo Player, which offers users a new way to search for and watch internet video. I searched for pop music videos and I was surprised when I got a bunch of video interviews of pop musicians. It was not what I wanted and not what I expected.
Identify Hidden Bugs and Deficiencies
Bugs can be elusive no matter how much testing you do. If they are serious bugs you could lose Customers and wonder why.
Last week I discovered a serious problem with Mondo Player’s video playback that did not appear until I had watched hours of videos. Had I not done this I would have been oblivious to this bug.
Uncover Usability Issues
If something annoys you, chances are your Customers will be annoyed too.
Mondo Player allows users to upgrade to a Free Account for enhanced features. While we were using the upgrade process we found it tedious and realized it had too many steps. If we were reluctant to complete all the steps then our Customers would be too. So, we redesigned it and stripped out the unnecessary steps.
Develop Innovative Solutions
If you start to think like a Customer you will take action to avoid problems that could result in a bad experience with your product. You will identify the most serious threats and take action to solve them. Netflix did this in an innovative way.
Netflix realized that service outages could lose them customers and damage their reputation. So they created a project called Chaos Monkey that killed processes at random. This made their systems more robust and they learned how to gracefully recover instead of having a system crash.
I believe in the merits of Eating your Own Dog Food. But it is important to make sure that you take a balanced approach, be open to criticism and be willing to change.
What do you think?
Photo Credit: Benny Lin