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Does the term ‘dogfooding’ make you think of testing a software product you’re developing on your own employees, before it goes to market? If you don’t make that connection, it’s understandable.
What is Dogfooding?
Software engineers adopted the term to describe acting as your own customer during software development. The label stayed in use, and today in the SaaS era, dogfooding is relevant and valuable. Here at Frontegg, we’ve used dogfooding since our company’s inception, and never regretted it. The practice of dogfooding has paid steady dividends, helping to strengthen our product and company.
Dogfooding provides test users—your own business—months before early beta and reference customers. At Frontegg, dogfooding has been an important aspect of our shift-left practices, and our experience might provide helpful lessons. Below, we give seven good reasons to dogfood, plus some practical Do & Don’t advice based on how dogfooding has worked here at Frontegg.
How Dogfooding Works?
Our founding team, along with other colleagues and me, had leveraged dogfooding before Frontegg. We understood its advantages, and were already sold on it. We made it part of our approach to business. That would be true even if we were in a different industry. If we ran a clothing store, our team would wear the actual merchandise and provide feedback. At Frontegg, to build the best software product possible, we set out to optimize our use of dogfooding. We knew that getting it right would improve the results and make for happier customers.
For starters, Frontegg closely resembles many of our customers; like them, we deliver a SaaS product. We treat Frontegg as we treat all other customers. That’s baked into our company culture. Users within Frontegg see exactly what any customer sees, and use the same integration and features. To ensure this, we invested resources to separate the customer side of the Frontegg platform from the infrastructure side. Our internal users have no back door to look behind the UI and see the Frontegg code, so they have the same experience as real customers.
Pretty quickly, most Frontegg departments become active users, including Product Marketing, Sales and Customer Success. Our employees deliver a consistent daily flow of feedback about the product, via a dedicated Slack channel where everyone can chime in.
7 Reasons You Should Dogfood
Engineering and product companies in particular can take advantage of dogfooding. Here are seven reasons that support your business case for the practice:
There are several considerations to keep in mind when analyzing the findings that your dogfood contributors—internal users—share with you.
Internal users might not recognize how important a specific capability is for the broader target market. At Frontegg, we have an advantage; we are developers, and our target customers are developers. We closely resemble our real-world customers. But what if your customer is not like you? If your product serves healthcare companies, focus on how they–not you–would use the system. Strong opinions from your employees could unintentionally nudge the product to match your internal use cases, rather than healthcare firms.
Dogfooding is not a fit for every organization. It might not make sense for your company if you develop software to operate oil rigs, unless you have internal users who actually are rig operators.
In this kind of situation, software developers can collaborate with a strong design partner to get end-user perspective. In early stages of product development, the design partner comes closer to being an internal user than any alternative.
I should point out that dogfooding is a continuous, ongoing evaluation of your software, not a one-time event. We regularly reevaluate, adapt, and align the Frontegg roadmap—frequently using feedback from our users.
We encourage feedback, but dogfooding is not always obligatory. Some features may not be important enough outside Frontegg for us to insist on feedback. The goal is to deliver the best software, not to be champion dogfooders.
Carried out properly, dogfooding leads to happier customers, better products, reduced costs, and fewer development risks. Our team finds it fits in naturally with modern approaches to SaaS development that include continuous delivery and early testing. Like most software developers, we are eager for fast feedback, not just by synthetic testing, but from a real customer. And often the most available, candid, and committed real customer that you can access is YOU.
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