How am I even supposed to feed the dog my software? Why should I feed my dog? How does it benefit me? Every time someone hears this term, they have the same question.
So, what is Dogfooding?
The origins of dogfooding can be traced back to the 1970s when actor Lorne Green helped dog food manufacturer Alpo generate marketing buzz and convinced consumers to buy their products because they themselves used them. Watch Alpo Dog Food Commercial (Lorne Greene, 1976) here. Every top executive in the software sector, including Paul Maritz, a Microsoft computer scientist, and the CEO of Apple, were drawn to the advertisement. Even though it seemed strange to read, it meant that you are so incredibly happy and confident with your product that you use it internally. It aids in your departure from dichotomy.
When Apple CEO sent an email to all employees halting the purchase of typewriters with immediate effect, the term "dogfooding" was first used in public. Everyone's attention was immediately drawn to this. Paul Maritz, a Microsoft executive, urged his team to use the things they had built. The concept was straightforward: why should anyone else pay for software that Microsoft employees weren't comfortable using?
Isn’t dogfooding the same as QA? “The QA team spends enough time using the product.”
Dogfooding can undoubtedly be included in the overall QA process, but the objectives are different. QA is carried out to find software bugs and breakdowns. Finding a product's usability and the utility of its features is the focus of dogfooding. Dogfooding is a test to see if a feature is usable and produces the desired results.
How did we start doing dogfooding at Zipy?
Given that Zipy is a deep-tech SaaS tool for developers, we knew we had internal customers. Therefore, at Zipy, we monitor errors in every line of code that developers write, and we are constantly adding thousands of new lines of code that our end users are using on a daily basis. We plugged in Zipy day one and began recording each frontend and network error that our end users encountered in real-time. The developers were able to witness the magic of their code both inside and outside the company because we also perform session replays. Since they could see everything that was happening in front of them, they were able to determine how critical the bug was. With the help of session replay, usage of Zipy extended beyond just the development team and allowed all the departments of the business to relate to their objectives.
- The product team was able to observe how users interact with the features, choose user flows, and identify key areas for improvement.
- Customer Success was successful in promoting the use of features. By simply observing where the users are stuck, they could write to customers immediately. As a result, the user experience was transparent and effortless. Customers could sense the individualised care they were receiving.
- The sales and marketing teams were successful in locating potential paying customers based on their usage
What were the incentives for dogfooding? How are we measuring it?
When we discovered that Zipy had brought us all on the same page in terms of prioritising bugs and new features from a usability perspective, we couldn't stop thinking about it. There was no longer a dichotomy. Bug fixing became simple. Additionally, the ability of the customer success and sales teams to work together helped in closing sales. Knowing that we were all on the same page made life much easier for us and kept us going. We eventually found that we ourselves were the superusers of Zipy as we came to know the adaptability of the tool. This instils much confidence across the team that we are building the right product which has a huge value add.
Why keep it limited to dogfooding and not make a whole platter?
Dogfooding clearly helps you to get ahead of the race but you need to be cautious of how much you are consuming in-house. While dogfooding is helping us stay on top of our customers we do go out constantly and collect feedback from our customers to validate our understanding and theories. For Zipy, we are just one customer while there are thousands of customers whom we should be able to serve at the end of the day.
Some other instances where dogfooding was announced publicly by companies:
- 1991 Windows NT from Microsoft Dave Cutler led his team to develop the largest software program Microsoft had seen to date with dogfooding to shake out the bugs.
- 1999 Project “Alpo“ Goes Live Hewlett-Packard and Mozilla create “Project Alpo“ to push employees to use their own products.
- 2000-Present It’s Pretty Much Adopted Now most companies (like e.g. google) run some kind of internal testing or “dogfooding“ program.