How does your dogfood taste?
Whether you are an internal resource, a consultant, or working for a product company, you are likely shipping a product to your end users on a regular basis. The size and shape of that shipment may change. From large software packages to simple workflow updates, we are all shipping some sort of product, but do we know how that product is performing in the wild? Do we know the pain points that end users are experiencing?
In many cases, we may not. The tried-and-true way to get to know the product better and gain end-user adoption is to "eat your own dog food.? Use the product yourself, in real production scenarios, and see what happens. Here are a few things that you can focus on while dogfooding.
Experience the user experience. As developers, we can all quote the best practices for user experiences. We want them to be self-evident, responsive, performant, etc. Great amounts of detail are put into the UX design and development. Even with all of that investment in UX, we still sometimes miss the mark. Dogfooding is the only way to find issues in the UX. You likely are not going to make broad changes as a result of dogfooding, but you may choose to prepopulate a field, add a date picker, or remove a field entirely.
Dogfood in the open. As much as possible, let other users in on your dogfooding. This achieves two goals. Primarily, it allows you to interact with other users and understand their feedback as part of the dogfooding process. User feedback is the most useful type of input when working on enhancing a product. Users will be far more likely to share feedback with you if they see you interacting with the product.
Secondarily, it shows confidence in the product. If you are confident enough in your product to put it through a production workload, your customers will be more confident in it as well.
Stick with it. Dogfooding is not a one-time process. In fact, a failure to continue dogfooding can cause more damage than not dogfooding at all. If you are using a SharePoint wiki as an IT knowledgebase, keep it up to date. If you are using a SharePoint blog to publish IT announcements to the company, set a cadence for publishing new content. If you decide to stop dogfooding, make it clear that it was a decision and let all involved know what the reasoning behind the decision was. If you don't communicate the end effectively, the user confidence you gained by dogfooding can dip below where it started.
Dogfooding can be a rewarding experience. At the end of the process, you will have a complete understanding of the end-user experience, you will have minor changes to make that vastly improve user experience, and you will likely have a better relationship with your end users that allows for a more open conversation about the state of the product.
Brian Prigge is a SharePoint Architect with RAMP, where he leads the implementation of RAMP's suite of video hosting, search and discovery solutions into custom SharePoint integrations.