Last year DoorDash relaunched ‘WeDash’, their company-wide ‘dogfooding’ policy, and not all employees were happy. One engineer even made headlines for publicly blasting the requirement that non-delivery employees ‘dash’ at least one order per month. This controversy around ‘dogfooding’—or using your own product or service to better understand it from a customer perspective—raised a question for product teams: is this really necessary?
The answer may seem obvious—until you consider that product teams tend to work in silos. So while they know a lot about their specific part of the user flow, they often don’t understand the journey as a whole. This is where ‘dogfooding’ comes in.
The ‘New’ Trend That’s Not New
Companies using their own products isn’t a new concept, and many successful ones—from Oracle and Asana to Microsoft and Google—have made it policy. Last year, for example, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky shared a plan to live in Airbnbs and migrate from city to city every few weeks. Most recently, Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan announced that he would work a monthly barista shift to ‘stay close to [the company’s] culture and customers.’
Teams go to extremes to experience their own products firsthand, with good reason: it helps them understand customers better, identify pain points, and find ways to improve user experience.
In this way, dogfooding can be a crucial aspect of product development. It helps teams build products people love (and love to use), which drives greater engagement, loyalty, and even revenue.
Don’t Let the Name Distract You—This Stuff Works
Let’s state the elephant in the room: dogfooding is a terrible name. So by all means, call it something different—i.e., ‘Kool-Aiding’ (because everyone has to ‘drink the Kool-Aid’). But don’t let the name hold you back—because when done right, the practice packs a one-two punch for your product team. It serves up meaningful internal feedback that enables you to iterate faster, more efficiently, and more effectively—and ultimately build a better product.
More specifically, using your own product can help you:
- Empathize with users. When you take an inside look at users’ pain points and motivations, you get a better grasp of their behavior, too. The result? A more empathetic approach to product-building and a stronger connection to your target audience.
- Better understand your product. Experiencing your product’s features and functionality as a user—and getting down and dirty with potential issues—will give you valuable insights for product development and improvement.
- Improve your product marketing. Regular use will make you a more informed advocate for your product—and empower your team to identify unique selling points that differentiate it.
- Develop a mental model of product ownership. Using your product develops a sense of ownership and responsibility for its success. Establishing this mental model can lead to a more invested product team that’s committed to continuous improvement.
- Pre-test features. Internal product use doesn’t replace beta testing of new features and functionality—but it can help identify issues early on, save you valuable time and resources, and prevent headaches for your team down the road.
Why Using Your Product is So Powerful
Big-name tech companies aren’t the only ones who can benefit from in-house product use. At Irrational Labs, this practice plays a vital role in our client consultations by serving as a key component of our behavioral diagnosis. This is the process by which we examine the entire user journey from end to end, identify psychological barriers to desired behaviors, and uncover opportunities for behavior change. Using the product ourselves fully immerses us in the user experience and gives us the insights we need to design effective interventions.
4 Ways to Do Dogfooding Better, from Behavioral Science
When you spend countless hours immersing yourself in countless products, you learn a thing or two (or four!) along the way. The tips below can empower product teams to leverage the potential of dogfooding for maximum benefit—and drive meaningful behavior change within their organizations.
Tip #1: Do It From End to End
Using your own product means experiencing it as your users do. But to get the most out of this practice, you can’t just live part of the customer journey. You have to know all of it.
Teams are commonly responsible for one section of a flow, such as the checkout process or onboarding experience. This seems logical from an organizational perspective, but it can hinder the creation of a seamless customer experience. When different teams are responsible for different steps in the flow, they can’t see the big picture—or know what mindset users are bringing from the steps preceding their part of the journey.
The remedy? Dogfooding. Pro tip: use a behavioral diagnosis to label the psychologies that are in play at each step of the journey. This will help locate where users may experience cognitive fatigue or other barriers to engagement.
Tip #2: Do It for All User Types
When using your own product, you should experience it from the perspective of all user segments—especially those that drive growth. For example, most DoorDash employees have likely ordered food as a DoorDash customer. But how many of them lived the experience of food delivery as a Dasher before ‘WeDash’ required them to?
Yes, it’s harder and more time-consuming to be a Dasher. But to gain the most from dogfooding, teams must experience their product from every perspective. For DoorDash, this means experiencing the product as a Dasher. For Starbucks, it might mean working as a barista for the day. You get the idea.
Tip #3: Do It with an Eye for Detail
Every detail counts. And often the smallest details count the most. This is (at least partially) because we humans rely on heuristics, or mental shortcuts, to make quick and efficient decisions. These heuristics can be powerfully influenced by seemingly minor cues in the environment (think: the design of a website or the wording of a message).
For example, when we partnered with Livongo to drive health program enrollment among members, we designed an intervention that reframed program-related email messages from ‘Join the Program’ to ‘Claim Your Welcome Kit.’ This small change increased email open rates, click-through rates, and program registrations by 25%, 88%, and over 120%, respectively. Our dogfooding paid off.
So when using your own product, pay attention to every detail that could impact the user’s experience and behavior. This includes everything from the text you put on buttons to page design and how many steps it takes to complete a task. By considering all of these, product teams can make improvements that significantly change user behavior.
Tip #4: Make It Part of Your Process
To successfully implement in-house product use at your company, you’ll need buy-in from all the key players. One way to get it? Build dogfooding into your team’s day-to-day—and ensure that it is measured and rewarded in specific, concrete ways. In other words: it needs to be more than a check-box on employees’ annual reviews.
Instead, frame it as something the whole team does together. Then measure outcomes in employee reviews or 1:1’s with questions like, ‘How many ideas did you generate when using our product?’ and ‘What features did we launch as a result of this process?’ You could further engage and motivate your team by incentivizing the practice financially—i.e., with credits or something similar.
Above all else, remember that this isn’t a ‘one and done’ thing. It should be an ongoing part of product development, with regular check-ins and updates to keep your finger on the user pulse. Over time, regular internal product use will lead to a more invested team. And you’ll also be cultivating a customer-centric culture of iteration and continuous improvement.
Some Final ‘Dietary’ Advice
Companies using their own products is more than just an oddly named passing trend. It’s an essential tool for improving user experience, building better products, and driving behavior change. If you’re not experiencing your whole user journey, you’re leaving opportunities on the table. So, sorry, product teams—but until someone comes up with a better name for it, our best advice is: shut up and eat the dog food.