Why do companies invest time and effort into employee beta tests? With so many company initiatives competing for limited resources, wouldn't our time be better spent doing something else? Dogfooding is a practice of having employees adopt new products and technology before they are released to market, but its benefits and ROI can be a mystery.
Let's take a closer look at why eating your own dog food is still considered a best practice by companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft.
1) Reduces bugs discovered after release
Employees test early hardware and software, they are likely to encounter bugs that the quality assurance team haven't discovered yet. Dogfooding extends the efforts of your QA team, getting the product in the wild and into use cases that would be encountered by customers. Dogfooding is also an essential internal sanity check that provides an opportunity to iterate on meaningful product feedback early and ensures the product team stays empathetic to external users.
2) Saves on development and support costs
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that when development teams resolve bugs before release, it saves time and money. Developers spend less time identifying the root cause of issues, they don't need to wait for the feedback via support channels, they can interact more closely with teams to gather relevant information to the issues. In addition to minimizing hours spent and saving money for dev teams, dogfooding can put support teams at ease by addressing product-related issues early on. By discovering and working through issues that would have demanded extensive customer support, they now have an opportunity to prepare before launch.
3) Nurtures a customer and product-centric culture
It’s important to foster a culture where the quality of the product is everyone's responsibility, especially when many workers are now remote. When more of the company gets involved in employee testing and providing feedback on a product, they generally produce higher quality work. As contributors, your employees invest more of themselves into the brand. A company culture that promotes a customer and product mindset gets team members excited about the products that they produce. When they get into the customers’ shoes, they better understand the larger mission they’ve set out to achieve.
4) Increases product knowledge and awareness
Companies that don’t adopt an approach to dogfooding typically require formal product training for departments outside of development. This means carving out time to provide a theoretical knowledge of a product to marketing, sales, or support teams about a new release. Taking a hands-on learning approach through dogfooding, however, offers your employees the chance to teach themselves how the product works and promotes product knowledge to every corner of the organization. Rather than hearing about it, they – and you – will be able to discover firsthand what they enjoy, what they’d improve, and how their preferences shape the product experience. Using the product themselves helps the team become more mindful of the customer's needs.
Bonus: catching bugs early on in the development process can give you a framework for better preparing your support teams with the types of feedback they can expect after launch.
5) Expertise from other teams and roles
Teams or departments that don’t work directly on product development or release can bring a wealth of knowledge into your product. By treating your colleagues as testers – or better yet, as customers – they can lend you an objective look into your product by leveraging their role and industry experience. Dogfooding provides a huge advantage to the marketing team when it comes time to promote a product launch - early feedback helps them prepare for more impactful go-to-market campaigns.
For example, Marketing team members from a different product line may be able to provide some interesting messaging insights. This is one of the biggest benefits of dogfooding: your employees’ continued feedback has the ability to continuously improve your product over time.
6) Optimizes your product roadmap
Building a product roadmap starts with strategy – it’s important to establish the product initiatives that your efforts will support from the get go. It’s crucial to have a clear overview of what you want to achieve and have an intentional plan for how your team will work together to reach your organizational goals. Even though dogfooding leverages employees, the customer is still at the top of the food chain. In that same spirit, treating employee feedback like customer feedback – weighted based on the number of people that share similar views – can easily help you prioritize the direction your product is heading. Dogfooding will provide useful insights to ensure you stay aligned with your product goals and continue putting your product plans in action as they evolve.
7) Promotes a collaborative work environment
Employees can feel like their feedback goes unheard or falls into a black hole - even more so in a remote work environment. They may feel insignificant or disconnected from the products you’re developing. By enabling collaboration and requesting feedback through dogfooding, you give your employees a forum to share their thoughts, opinions, and insights. Dogfooding is much more than testing your products for usability feedback, it allows employees to build ownership and trust in the product along the way. Leveraging your employees to collect helpful product feedback builds strong internal awareness and breaks down silos throughout your organization. Implementing dogfooding programs across your organization can help to create a more inclusive and collaborative work environment overall.
8) Scales test environments immensely
Lab environments can at times limit your Quality Assurance and Engineering teams, maybe there are a few types of phones, computers, or software that can be tested against, but nothing that would simulate the amount of environments the product will be in with customers. By leveraging employees as extensions to testing, you can dramatically scale their efforts to include employees’ natural technical environments and ecosystems. Dogfooding can work as a force multiplier, greatly increasing the number of people testing the product in various use cases across unique environments.
9) Showcases product usefulness and usability in market
Like the Alpo commercial that gave dogfooding its name and ambitious statements from Apple about proving the typewriter’s obsolescence internally, showing the market that your employees use your product can tangibly demonstrate its usefulness. It speaks to a belief in your products and the work you do. Dogfooding your own products before they launch shows that your team is engaged and knowledgeable about what they created, making it even more meaningful to the customer. It also represents solidarity with the customer experience.
What are the risks of dogfooding?
- Sometimes the context where you would use a product doesn’t lend itself to dogfooding. For example, oil or gas pipeline management tools need to leverage customer feedback rather than employee feedback because employees can’t manage a pipeline.
- Company culture can definitely hinder the adoption of a dogfooding program. If feedback isn’t accepted or seen as valuable, management won’t set it as a company initiative.
- Limited bandwidth or resources to undertake dogfooding efforts can stop a program from starting before it leaves the drawing board.
Learn about 3 Dogfooding Best Practices for Overcoming Employee Beta Challenges in our follow-up blog. If you want to see what you can do today to start bringing more value into your dogfooding program, download our e-book, Essential Tips for Dogfooding Success!