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The importance of dogfooding - Why product managers should use their product as much as their users

Sep 13, 2021

Product testing is essential, but your testing won’t always pick up the small sources of friction which build up over time and frustrate your users. This is where ‘dogfooding’ comes in - regularly using your product to get the full picture and build empathy with your users.

How empathy improves prioritization

It’s logical to deprioritize a “small UX bug” when you have big strategic new features to implement - but the only way to ensure that “small UX bug” doesn’t lead to high churn for your product is to put yourself in your users’ shoes. Doing this over time leads to better feature prioritization and more effective product decisions.

Dogfooding puts you in the right context

You might be the product manager for a product that isn’t designed to be used in your office. After all, I used to build mobile apps for people who replaced railway tracks in the middle of the night. Lab testing will still surface problems with your product - but they might lack context. Nothing beats dogfooding a product under real world conditions - if you’re out on the railway at 2am, you’re likely to have a vastly different product experience to a PM using it in their office during daytime. Setting aside 30 mins every day or a few times a week to test a product “in the field” is significantly more valuable than using it in isolation somewhere else.

I prefer to set myself challenges to achieve with the product that I’ve not tried before. This keeps dogfooding interesting and puts you in the position of someone who’s pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and more likely to come across something frustrating.

How to encourage your team to dogfood your product

Every team member should be dogfooding the product - not just the product manager. This improves your collective autonomy when it comes to prioritizing which features to build.

To get the team into dogfooding, set up regular team dogfooding sessions and “bug bashes” to collaboratively find issues with the product. Also, set challenges that will require the team to use the product in creative ways - this will ensure they’re getting deep into the minds of your users.

Avoid over-empathizing

If you use the product every day, you might subconsciously tend towards perfectionism. It’s important to explain problems objectively - i.e. why they would be frustrating or churning users - but don’t file a bug report for every tiny annoyance you see. Rather, seek out the issues that are likely to compound over time and prioritize fixing those ones and preventing them from cropping up in future. Trying to fix every micro-frustration will likely waste of your limited resources.

Always be dogfooding

Retention is a strong indicator of whether or not your users are getting frustrated with your product. If they’re using the product less over time, it's a sign you should probably dogfood your product more to determine why they're not returning.

PostHog offers all the tools you need to identify issues with your retention and plan your dogfooding initiatives. Deploy PostHog today.

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