Employees should use the products and services produced by the companies that employ them. They should be emphatic fans of their company’s products. Nothing less.

Great article, “How to Get People to Eat Dog Food” via AlleyWatch.

I remember when I first heard the question “are you dogfooding?” shortly after arriving at Microsoft in 2004. I was puzzled for a second about why anyone would not use their own company’s products, especially when they were on the product team building them.

Fast forward a few weeks to the mid-point of the Outlook and Exchange 2007 release, when our dogfood email environment would periodically go completely down for days at a time, and we would resort to using IM and our bug reporting system to exchange important messages. I remember that some of our execs were not in the dogfood environment, but when they heard about the issues we were having they asked to be moved into the pre-production environment with us. They wanted to see for themselves what was going on, and provide feedback. Want a quicker way to get your day-to-day product stability in shape? Inject a few executives and put their real email on the line, and you’ll get feedback ‘fo sure. 

My point here is not that we were in terrible shape in early Office 2007 engineering (we weren’t), nor that we weren’t dogfooding (we all were), or even that execs are the best way to do Q/A (they’re not). The point is that it’s easy to get stuck staring at the trees and to forget about the forest, and it’s something that happens more (I believe) as teams get bigger and more specialized. I would be heads down working on a specific and critical issue in Search (one of my features), and would assume that someone was seeing the reliability issues I was having with sending email. I remember bringing up one of those reliability issues to the team that owned Mail Transport and finding out that a specific issue with my setup of Outlook (having multiple POP accounts loaded into a profile) was causing an issue, and no one else on the team was seeing it. It was a critical bug because many of our customers had a setup similar to mine.

As teams get bigger and more specialized it’s critically important that everyone dogfoods their specific feature or product. It’s equally important, if not more so, to make sure you are always dogfooding end-to-end experiences outside of your area and across the entire breadth of products you build. We found that by adding the execs in during a time of difficult product stability during Outlook 2007 development, we were able to inject some “new eyes” into our day-to-day work and get some great objective feedback.

Here are Contactive, as our products get more complex and are our team grows, we continue to dogfood every day and have recently added in weekly team-wide bug bashes to help get fresh eyes on new areas of our code. We put up a whiteboard, crank the music (usually 80’s workout montages on Spotify), and everyone writes the bugs they find up on the board. We sometimes award “most interesting bug” and other fun topics – you’d be amazed by what you can find with that kind of intense focus. We have a “Bugs” email alias that gets traffic at all hours of the day as we’ve all adopted the habit of sending screenshots and bug reports the minute we see them. 

Our goal at Contactive is to be proud of our products and deliver amazing experiences to our customers. We believe pride comes from quality, and quality comes from eating your dogfood. Yum. 🙂 

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