Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Eating your own dog food

Obviously if you make dog food you don't want to eat it - but you do want to make sure that your dogs eat it.


If you don't have any dogs, then maybe you are in the wrong business.


Why dog food? That's an old expression, which you can read about here.


If you have no idea how your product works in the real world, then you have no idea how people use it, what problems they have with it and which features they don't understand.


To overcome this you can run a beta-test program. Or you can invite people off the street to come and use it. Often the interaction is video-taped for future analysis.


An important step is to use the product yourself; you, your employees and their families. 


As strange as it sounds, many companies think that they are eating their own dog food, but they are not.


Having the techies use the product is a good start, but not sufficient. After all, they know all the tricks - what the magical shortcuts are and the hidden features.


They also know what not to use, since it is delicate or broken.


Watching the secretaries, accountants and office managers use the product is more enlightening.


You may discover that the non-techies have a hard time using the product. 


At Answers.com we were surprised to discover that some of the accountants could not figure out the Alt-click; something the techies took for granted. 


Make sure that they have a contact person they can call to help them. This person will want to document what the issues are - and Product Management will want to analyze what needs to be improved.


The Project Manager would do everybody a favor to run this experiment periodically, and to talk to each and every non-techie to see if they actually are using the product. Often a period of "no complaints" simply means that the product is not being used.


This in-house experiment will also test the upgrade-process: How to ensure that your user base is using the latest version of your product.


If you cannot eat your own dog food, you need to ask yourself if you're making the correct product, because of you can't use it, then why should anybody else?


Bon appétit!


- Danny Schoemann







1 comment:

  1. Hi Danny, nice post!

    Having Engineers and other members of the Dev team use the product is important, because sometimes only they will be able to suggest improvements, knowing both the outside and inside of the product. Also, forcing them to use the product will ensure that the annoying parts get fixed ;-).

    Having secretaries and non-technical staff use the product is also important, but is more usability testing than dogfooding, since they aren't the ones building it.

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