Ever since its inception in the 1980s, the practice of dogfooding has been steadily gaining in popularity. Today, it is no longer an obscure strategy used only by the most progressive companies and we can find many examples of dogfooding across industries.
Dogfooding is not a silver bullet and is certainly not a replacement for more traditional efforts like QA and beta testing. However, when done right, it can be a valuable tool that complements your testing efforts well and will positively influence the quality of your end product.
In this post, we will take a quick look at different cases of companies that eat their own dog food, or attempt to, and learn from their successes and failures.
The company that coined the phrase "eating our own dogfood" is naturally the first one on this list. Microsoft employees have been eating their own dog food for a long time, and throughout that time they’ve been iterating and improving their dogfooding program. Today, dogfooding is very much embedded into Microsoft’s culture and they have a sophisticated dogfooding process that is integrated into their release process.
To tackle the challenges presented by their scale and the breadth of product offerings, Microsoft created the Microsoft Elite program in 2014 which is similar to its beta testing oriented "Windows Insider" program. The program uses the same technical process in place before that but unifies and centralizes dogfooding efforts for all their products (including Xbox) under one platform. It aims to connect employees who are willing to dogfood with products that need dogfooding and incentivize them to do so. This is managed through the Elite app which allows employees to discover the products available for dogfooding and gives them points for downloading, using, and giving feedback on the products.
Participation in the Elite program is optional and members who want to participate need to opt-in for a yearly subscription that is only renewed if they contribute to the program. This prevents overloading members who might not have the time or desire to dogfood while also making sure that participants remain active. To encourage participation, Microsoft uses a system of points, badges, leaderboards, and unique rewards as incentives and to create a sense of friendly competition. The program is available to all Microsoft employees across verticals to ensure a diverse sample of dogfooders, and with more than 25,000 participants around the world, it is a resounding success.
Google is another giant that subscribes to the dogfooding dogma, making heavy use of their products. Like Microsoft, Google develops a lot of products that their team can use both internally and externally, and they make use of this opportunity to dogfood them. They also try experimenting with making their enterprise-focused teams dogfood consumer apps in order to see if they can be adapted for that scenario and what feature they might need to add before they’re suitable. According to Google’s CIO, Benjamin Fried in “CIOs at Work”, this is how many of Google Enterprise’s offerings ended up seeing the light.
Judging by several incidents where Google mistakenly released a dogfooding version of their products to a live environment, it would seem that their dogfooding program is more ad-hoc. However, although we might not know its exact process, it is quite advanced, including almost all of their products. For the few products whose target markets are too different from Googlers, they skip dogfooding altogether and rely on extensive beta testing to achieve a better result. Knowing which products just don't lend themselves to dogfooding is important to make sure you collect relevant feedback that won't steer your roadmap off course. Decisions like these are actually a sign that indicates a mature program that understands the nuances of dogfooding.
The company that both popularized and epitomized the "move fast and break things" motto is also a strong believer in dogfooding. In the beginning, when Facebook only had a web version, dogfooding came naturally since their employees were also users. As the company started offering more products and shifting to a mobile-first strategy, its dogfooding programs started to take shape.
Back in 2012, mostly anyone who used Facebook's Android app hated the slow, buggy experience. The app also lacked many features available on their web version. At the same time, their iOS app was highly praised for its performance and overall experience. This prompted Facebook to encourage and incentivize their employees (who were mostly iPhone users) to switch to Android so that they can properly dogfood the app. Additionally, they blocked their own website internally to force their employees to use the mobile versions of Facebook and really feel the pain of their users. As a result, Facebook's Android app underwent a dramatic transformation in regards to performance and overall quality of the app.
Since then, Facebook has expanded to many verticals and developed a lot of diverse products. Dogfooding is applied to all its products, from social media apps to VR hardware to programming languages and frameworks. They have even created a dedicated position called "dogfooding program specialist". Moreover, they have found other non-traditional uses for dogfooding like improving employee engagement and retention.
Lyft is a great of example of how you can use dogfooding to understand your users' experience. Unlike most dogfooding programs, their main aim is to empathize with their users, not uncover bugs or performance issues. The ride-hailing app has long been known as a friendly service that cares deeply about its users. And with the numerous scandals faced by its biggest competitor, that became one of their competitive advantages.
Sometimes on his way to work, Lyft CEO Logan Green logs into his own app and picks up riders along the way. Literally sitting down in the driver’s seat allows him to get in touch with what their driver partners experience when they use the app. And he does experience it all, including the compensation. “The other day I picked somebody up and made $20 on my way into work. Every dollar counts,” he said in 2015. While Green probably doesn’t need the extra money, the insight he gains by experiencing the app in action is probably worth a lot more than $20.
Lyft's dogfooding program requires all eligible employees, including their C-suite, to spend at least 4 hours as a Lyft driver every quarter to experience first-hand what it is like to be a Lyft driver. This practice makes Lyft employees in-tune with their drivers' needs and pain points and helps them keep their users at the center of their focus. As for preventing technical issues like bugs and performance, Lyft relies on their extensive beta testing program and a sophisticated release process.
When you wear the hat of your users and use your app for real-life scenarios as they would, you will start to discover issues and scenarios you might not have thought of. More importantly, you will get to understand your users more intimately by understanding the way they think when they use your app and how it makes them feel. However, keep in mind that it is not always possible for you to use your app in the same way your users would. There will almost always be a difference and it is important to recognize that difference, its degree, and how it can influence your experience. This is why dogfooding always yields better results when followed up by beta testing your app with a sample of your actual target market.