Want to future-proof your company? Try Dogfooding Your Work Treats

In 1980, Michael Scott, then-CEO of Apple, circulated an eight-sentence memo to his employees:

effective immediately!! There are no more typewriters to be bought, leased, etc., etc. Apple is an innovative company. We must believe and lead in all spheres. If word processing is so neat, let’s all use it! Target: By [Jan 1, 1981], Apple doesn’t have a typewriter… We believe the typewriter is obsolete. Before we try and convince our customers, let’s prove it from the inside.

Scott’s memo was a rallying call for his employees to eat their own “dogfood”—to fully adopt the products they’re developing internally—before selling them to customers. Today, dogfooding is standard practice at Google, Microsoft, Oracle, and many other tech giants.

But dogfooding shouldn’t just be applied to product development. Companies can also benefit from dogfooding their work practices – such as how they conduct meetings, how they design performance reviews, and even how they structure the 9-to-5 workday. Huh.

Unfortunately, companies do not rigorously test the habits, activities, and practices that employees perform on a day-to-day basis. Instead, they stick to these practices—like security blankets—even though they collect cobwebs and lose effectiveness over time.

At Asana Labs, where I work, we dogfood various work practices and understand how they should be updated for the future of work. We’ve come up with different ways to organize meetings, prioritize goals, and even “have fun” at work. Our approach is such that you too can apply.

Here are three ingredients to success:

1. Start small.

Dogfooding doesn’t require a wholesale change in the way it works. It can be highly effective to pilot small pilots before expanding their knowledge more widely.

This was our approach to “Meeting Doomsday,” an experiment I led with my colleague, Josh Zerkel. The goal of Meeting Doomsday was to rethink meetings and new approaches to make dogfood more valuable.

As part of Meeting Doomsday, participants were asked to do a full calendar cleanse by removing their recurring meetings from their calendars for 48 hours. After 48 hours, participants were invited to reopen their calendars – but only with meetings that were worth their precious time. As participants added meetings to their calendars, they redesigned them to be more productive—such as by turning 60-minute meetings into 45-minute meetings and weekly meetings into monthly meetings.

By organizing a doomsday with one team, we proved that taking a radical approach to solving bloat worked on a small scale. On average, each pilot participant saved 11 hours per month by reducing meetings that became less valuable over time. When we demonstrated success on a small scale, we set our goal to expand the perspective to hundreds of people.

2. Iterate and learn.

One advantage of starting small is that as you scale, you can iterate faster. When dogfooding your work methods, you should follow the same approach as dogfooding software. The aim should be – and then squash – to discover bugs and sub-user experience.

The Meeting Doomsday pilot taught us that people wanted more prescriptive guidance on how to assess the value of their meetings. So, we based this on reiterating our approach and worked with Stanford professor and management guru, Bob Sutton, to implement a new rating plan to assess the value of meetings. This new way of assessing meeting value – which involves participants rating meetings according to both impact and effort – enabled us to more systematically assess what contributes to high-value versus low-value meetings. Gave.

By iterating and learning from our analysis of over 1,100 meeting examples, we were able to get an in-depth understanding of what makes a meeting worth people’s time and what makes them a timesink.

3. Co-create with your employees.

There is no shortage of work practices that can be made more effective through dog food. But it can be hard to decide what to do first.

One of the most effective ways to design your dogfooding strategy is to co-create it with your employees. Employees have the relevant knowledge to understand which work practices are broken down and may be prime candidates for dog food. We have a portal for anyone in the company to submit a “pitch” for which work practices need to be reconsidered, rebuilt and redesigned.

As you dogfood your work practices through experimentation or other channels, you should involve your employees as active partners. Don’t Redesign Work Practices For Redesign Your Employee-Work Practices with your staff.

Dogfood for the future.

Today’s leaders are moving into unfamiliar territory as they strive to future-proof their companies for new dynamic ways of working. There is no blueprint for success. That’s why dogfooding your way of working is critically important. This is your moment to become Customer 0 of the work practices that will define the next era of work.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.