Thursday, November 19, 2009

i-TFTD #229: Dogfooding

i-TFTD #229: Dogfooding

Eating one's own dog food (Dogfooding)

To say that a company "eats its own dog food" means that it uses the products that it makes. For example, Microsoft emphasizes the use of its own software products inside the company. Dogfooding improves software quality, because the developers best able to fix bugs are likely to be personally confronted with them. It's also a means of conveying the company's confidence in their products: imagine the public relations nightmare if it were to emerge that Apple's iPod team all owned Zunes, or if the Yahoo! Search team used for their personal surfing.

The term is a variation of the marketing slang term "...but will the dog eat the dog food?" which is a shorthand way of saying that the product may look good and have many positive qualities, but the most fundamental point is whether the consumer actually likes it. The slogan refers to the early days of television, when programming and commercials were live, and things did not always go as planned, particularly if one of the actors was a dog. Dog food commercials frequently ended with a dog actually not eating the product. Thus, no matter how good the food looks on camera, or how good its story sounds, the commercial is not a success until the dog actually eats the dog food. This term became popular in the technology industry during the dot-com craze as many services seemed to be developed because they could be developed, rather than because consumers wanted them. The metaphor of a company "eating its own dog food" takes this idea one step further to say that the company has not merely considered the value of the product for consumers (that is, whether the dog will eat the dog food), but actually is a consumer of the product. When properly executed, this can add a new level of sincerity to advertising and customer relations, as well as helping to shape the product.

The phrase entered the industry in the following way. In the late 1980s Brian Valentine was test manager for a product at Microsoft called Microsoft LAN Manager. His manager, Paul Maritz, challenged him in an email, titled "Eating our own Dogfood", to increase internal usage of the product. Paul Maritz had in turn got this phrase from a past manager and colleague of his, James Harris, who had served in the military and often used colorful language, and who was fond of challenging technical types in review meetings by asking, "But will the dogs eat the dogfood?" As a result of this exchange, Bri! an Valentine set up an internal test server at Microsoft called "Dogfood". From this initial usage the term spread through Microsoft, to the point where reaching the "Dogfood" stage (i.e. good enough to use it yourself) became an important step. From there it spread to the wider industry.

Using one's own products has four primary benefits:

-The product's developers are familiar with using the products they develop.
-The company's members have direct knowledge and experience with its products.
-Users see that the company has confidence in its own products.
-Technically savvy users in the company, with perhaps a very wide set of business requirements and deployments, are able to discover and report bugs in the products before they are released to the general public.

(Thanks to Shuja Rehman for sharing this.)

In a way, without intending to, this is what my company did long ago with a timesheet, defect tracking and project management tool. What started as a small internal automation project became a revenue-generating product that also helped establish our organization as a process pioneer and thought leader in quality management processes. Some banks have a Staff Testing phase a! fter UAT and before go-live of an important new facility like ! Internet banking. This is done separately or as part of a Friendly User Testing phase.

A few months ago, before launching a strengths coaching initiative, we dogfooded it by rolling it out to our HR and Training team.

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