A big concept in the software development world is eating your own dogfood — that is, using your own code as a customer would. (Places like 37signals will — justly — argue that this is of paramount importance.) A while ago we made an effort to use our own site for internal communication, and ended up fixing a couple long-standing bugs that never seemed important until we had to deal with them.
I wonder how often this happens in the real world. Do any executives at Kraft/Ritz ever eat Handi-Snacks bought from a store? If so, they would have noticed that, about 95% of the time, at least one cracker will break in half as you lift it out. Worse, the cracks are often incomplete, so you take it out and it’s in one piece, but you start applying cheese and then it snaps, invariably landing cheese-side-down on your lap. I bet a simple change in packaging or distribution could make smashed crackers a rarity. But I also bet that executives are oblivious to the problem, even though I’ve had this problem for about a decade.
And how about manufacturers of small electronics? Has the CEO of Sandisk ever gone into BestBuy, bought an SD card, and tried to open the freaking package to get his SD card out when he got home? You need industrial scissors or a machete to get through the plastic. And then when you’ve cut the top off, it isn’t enough, so you try to rip the package, and the SD card goes flying out and lands behind the couch or something. I’m envisioning this happening to the company president one day, and him going into work the next morning in a fury of rage. “Do you have any idea how horrible our packaging is?!” Yes, everyone else has known for years.
Has Bill Gates ever had his mother call his cell phone and ask how to change the border style of a table in Word? I have, and my answer was something like, “I have no idea without seeing it… Right-click on the table — not the whole table, but just the very outline of the table — and select something near the bottom, maybe Properties? And then some menu with like five tabs will come up, and it looks like the controls to a 747. And one of them will let you change it. I seem to recall that there’s something counter-intuitive about it, though, so you might have to play with it for a while.” The response was surely something along the lines of, “That doesn’t help me at all.”
Does the CEO of Verizon have FiOS at his house? Has he ever tried calling customer service and realized that some of the people do not speak English? I couldn’t understand them, and they couldn’t understand me. It went on like that for 30 minutes. If it were my company, I would have shot myself in the head upon realizing that this is what I had built. Do the executives on the AT&T/iPhone deal all carry iPhones with AT&T service? Do they get important text messages hours after the fact, with no apparent reason for the delay? Even though they’re sitting next to someone else who got the same message the second it was sent? How many times are they out driving when they realize that they have no service?
Has the president of AAA ever broken down on the side of the highway? Did he call the 800 number, give a barrage of information, and then wait 45 minutes for a tow truck? Does the editor of the Boston Globe ever visit boston.com without a popup blocker? Does the head of the MBTA take the commuter rail to work? Has he ever almost been knocked over when the train randomly lurched forward while it was stopped? Has he ever had to deal with a rude conductor? Did he ever get splashed with water from the air conditioner that was leaking onto hte seat through a light fixture? Did he sit in one of those two-person seats and then have a second person actually try to use the two-person seat, and realize that it only seats two if both people are anorexic, but that people do it anyway?
I’m convinced that the answer to every question in this post is “Certainly not.” Because otherwise, there is no way that these things would continue to be problems.