- Justin Hunter
Marketing doesn't know how the product works. Sales just sells blindly. Engineering takes tasks and builds but never understands why. Product managers only understand their functional area.
You've likely heard these complaints if you've worked for a software company of any size that has found product market fit. As the company grows, it becomes harder for every member of the organization to understand the product offering end-to-end. The complaints and frustration don't stem from an unwillingness to learn the product. The problem doesn't arise from apathy. Instead, the struggles happen because—quite frankly—there are not enough hours in the day to do the job and to learn the product deeply. Some companies try to solve this problem through training sessions. But how many training sessions does it take for someone to master a product? And what happens if you're a fast-moving startup shipping features every couple of weeks? Those training sessions go stale pretty quickly. Fortunately, if you're creative, there's a better way to help the entire organization understand your product better.
The concept of dogfooding isn't new. I wrote about it in 2019. Others have written about it before that. What often gets missed, though, is the how. How do you dogfood your product? How do you do it when the product isn't a natural fit for use internally?
At my current company, ClickUp, using our own product feels natural. ClickUp is a productivity tool. We run the entire company on our software. However, at my previous startup, it wasn't so simple. At Pinata, we built media distribution software for web3 companies. Getting the company to use its own software internally was much harder. Not because people didn't want to do it, but because they didn't know how. At least, not naturally.
Some people naturally found ways to use the product internally. Others did not. For those who could not find a natural use case, the solution to getting them to adopt our app in their day-to-day started with an innocuous question.
How can you use our product in your personal life today?
The question wasn't about work. It was disarming. The answers to this question opened the minds of those who may not have found an obvious way of using the app at work. However, the transition from talking about creative use cases to actually using the product internally didn't happen immediately. It happened in waves.
Voice of the customer updates were recorded and distributed via our platform internally. Documents to be shared with customers and prospective employees were stored and shared through our platform later. Soon, most of the organization was using the product daily. And when this happens, you build product empathy and customer empathy. You also improve your feedback pipeline significantly.
If your organization doesn't use your product, even if the product isn't a natural fit for internal usage, there are creative ways to introduce dogfooding to your company. Start with a question, highlight examples of people using the product internally, and celebrate feedback. Besides talking with customers, using your own product is the second most powerful product development tool in your tool belt.
tl;dr - reduce the fear of trying to figure out how to adopt the product internally, encourage creativity, talk about usage frequently, and celebrate feedback.
Your co-workers will be better at every part of their job if they are using the product that they selling, building, designing, marketing, and hiring for.