The software industry is full of acronyms and slang – ‘Bootstrapping’, ‘The Ballmer Peak’, ‘CRUD’. If you’re not in with the lingo, developers are impossible to understand.I’ve spent months listening to them talk shop in their foreign tongues. I last about ten minutes before my brain starts giving up on deciphering the gibberish it’s hearing. But one day, someone said we should start ‘eating our own dog food’ – which was, as I’m sure you can imagine, more than enough to prick my ears back up.Now, before I go any further, it’s probably best if I clarify early on that we’re not actually tucking into our own brand of Rex chum. In this context, ‘dog food’ refers to your own product – not kibble or jellied meat. That was quite a relief.
So what does it mean? What other meaning could you possibly construe from something like that? From what we know, the saying supposedly originated at Microsoft in 1988. Executive Paul Maritz, needing as many eyes as possible on a new product to iron out the kinks, apparently told employees “we’re going to have to eat our own dog food and test the product ourselves”. Everyone promptly adopted the beta software for internal use and pointed out any issues they found - speeding up the troubleshooting process out of sight.As a matter of fact, it was so effective that everyone from Apple to Atari have started doing the same. Besides - if you saw Steve Jobs pull an Android phone out of his pocket, for example, you probably wouldn’t be too impressed. Seeing companies use their product means you can be sure that they’re not polluting the water supply – no-one in their right mind would do that upstream of themselves.We figured we’d better start doing the same – keeping Rex usable is one of our top priorities. But there was a catch: we’re not real estate agents. Unlike other software companies, such as Microsoft or Apple, there’s no real application for Rex in our office. But we kind of needed to find one if we wanted the kind of continuous, thorough testing dog-fooding offers.So, we put our heads together and had a good hard think about it.
Using Rex at Rex
Rex as it was wouldn’t have been much good to us. But a slightly refined version of Rex?Like real estate agents, our salespeople are, well, salespeople. They might not sell houses – but they need a CRM. It was feasible they could use Rex themselves if we gave the system a quick nip and tuck. Besides, our Sales department had been fighting with Salesforce for as long as we could remember – this was a perfect two-birds-with-one-stone opportunity.So we customised a new version: ‘Rex Internal’. Basically, it’s Rex stripped of the Property and Listing modules. It’s a featherweight, contact management edition. Rex Summer-ready.The beauty is that Rex is modular: Properties, Listings and Contacts all work in pretty much the same way. Thankfully, for this reason, we were able to chop entire modules out of Rex, while still retaining a reasonably full Rex experience.If you’re filtering your contacts down to specific criteria, for example, you’re following a workflow that’s identical across the board. In fact, when the sales department got back to us about filtering, we introduced Saved Filters – so our dog-fooding has already proven to be beneficial. We’ve started making some big changes to the way you can manipulate and filter data within the system – and there’s only more to come.
No replacement for client feedback
One last thing. In case you’re wondering whether this means we’ll be giving your user voice suggestions less attention – we won’t be. Once the sales team had suggested Saved Filters, we ran a prototype in Rex Internal and got them to test it so we could be sure everything was working as it should. They found a few issues that we fixed, but even so - while we do get a reasonably full Rex experience – it’s far from a complete one.Besides – our sales team still aren’t real estate agents. You guys know what’s best for the system.Dog-fooding is no replacement for client feedback in the same way that salt and pepper is no replacement for a dinner. It’s a condiment. A complimentary mint atop a King-sized down mattress. We’ll still be looking towards User Voice, Rexperts and our other client feedback avenues for your suggestions.