Feature Factory

What is a Feature Factory?

Feature factory is a term that is used to describe a company that is more interested in pushing out features while caring less about solving real problems.

This term is not one that many people would delight in having anyone use when describing their organizations. When used to describe your company, it implies its interest is more in output and less in outcomes. You just want to keep pushing out features consistently, even when not needed.

Product Management evangelist John Cutler coined the term after observing that certain companies were more engrossed in completing more story points than finding out what users really desired. To him, these organizations were somewhat like factories where workers put products or features together almost mechanically.

Why Being a Feature Factory is Bad for You?

It is safe to say that no company sets out to become a feature factory. They just find themselves that way for failing to apply due thoughts to their actions. Different factors can lead to this phenomenon. Perhaps, the most prominent one is top executives wanting to see things being shipped regularly. You could also fall into this if you constantly give in to pressure from Sales to deliver new features.

Here are a few reasons why this is bad:

  • It leads you to deliver bloated products that are loaded with features that, rather than improve user experience, worsen it.
  • Being a feature factory could cause you to shed some of your market share when customers perceive that you don’t seem to care much about their problems or satisfaction.
  • It makes the product(s) you offer more likely to fail since they don’t adequately solve customers’ problems or add significant value to them.

Guarding Against Becoming a Feature Factory

The following are some tips that can help you avoid becoming a feature factory:

Practice Lean – Lean methodology emphasizes the reduction of waste by learning as quickly and efficiently as possible.  That means doing small iterative tests frequently and talking to customers as often as you can, in order to triangulate what’s needed before investing heavily in that direction. Staying true to the tenants of Lean along will have a significant impact on your ability to depart from feature factory practices.

Work in Agile – Encourage collaboration between teams and ensure everyone should be aligned around common goals, both strategically and in the approach to iterative product development (Agile). Adopt a gradual approach to work – don’t determine everything at the beginning thereby allowing for no change.

Define success criteria – You need to have a means of assessing whether your ideas worked. You should be able to measure the impact that your work has had. Have clear measures of success that are linked to explicit outcomes. You should connect initiatives to key business metrics and goals.

Choose value-based prioritization – Ensure that you prioritize your work based on the importance of achieving defined outcomes. Also, maintain some flexibility to be able to react promptly to changing trends – a reason Agile teams are critical.

Conduct retrospectives – It is a great thing to learn from what has happened. You should have regular retrospective sessions with your team members and other stakeholders. This enables you to assess the features you have shipped and identify what to do better. The sessions can help to weigh actual benefits against the expected.

Celebrate wins and failures – As Willow product lead Danny Henley-Martin points out, it is ideal to celebrate “the real wins,” if your data suggests that. This makes all efforts put in more worthwhile for all involved in the project. By “celebrating” failures, the idea is that you should see them as learnings that can help you to do better in the future.

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