Feature Factories - how to survive working in them


Feature Factories - how to survive working in them

What is a Feature Factory?

For those that don’t know, “Feature Factory” is a derogatory term used to describe a business that is more concerned about shipping features than it is about delivering value.

How do you know if you’ve worked in a Feature Factory?

Typically feature factories have the following characteristics:

  • They don’t measure very much — Features are released and their value isn’t verified and shared. Typically, product teams won’t know if the delivered feature actually worked.
  • They don’t focus on the team — Teams are built around features, and often disbanded when the feature is released. They’re the “New Calendar Integration” team one month and then the “Payment Integrators” the next.
  • They roadmap features — January we’re building the new sign up process, February we’re onto upgrades, and then March we’re building partner APIs.
  • They move on quickly — We’ve delivered the renewal reminder process and now we’re on to the next feature, rather than assessing the performance of the reminder process and fine tuning it whilst it is what’s important.

5 lessons from working in a Feature Factory?

In reality, most organizations fall into the trap of churning out features every now and again. So much so that Melissa Perri has written a very successful book all about how you can escape this trap.

But for what it’s worth, here are some of my key lessons learned:

Lesson 1 — It’s all just a mindset

The difference between a FF and a value focused organization is a change in mindset.

There’s a reason why in January we want to revisit the Sign Up Process, it’s because the sign up process isn’t optimized in some way.

Someone somewhere has identified an issue, but we’re choosing to describe our actions in terms of the feature that is being worked on, rather than the value we’ll be delivering from the work.

In a non-FF world, we’ll be reducing online sign up drop offs by 10%, or speeding up the sign up process by 25%, or increasing new sign up revenue by 20%.

The work is on the online sign up process, but we’re focused on aspects that will deliver against a measurable goal. Just change your mindset.

Action:

  • Redefine your roadmap in terms of problems to be solved and outcomes
  • Change your acceptance criteria to look at a measurable result

Lesson 2 — It’s hard to convince people in the business not to focus on features

Being value led is an organizational state, not a product management state, and it can be difficult to get others to change the way they think.

Many people think the act of delivering a feature solves a problem, but it’s just a step in the journey, and it’s in the middle of the journey NOT at the end.

Action:

  • Get your business to define measurable success criteria
  • Review the criteria and hold people to account for these criteria

Lesson 3 — Organizations should just slow down

Businesses move so fast these days there is a tendency for people to want to move on to the next thing, because they have a million things to do and they want to check them off the list.

The winners don’t tick off the most things. They tick off the things that move them forward towards their goals.

Action:

  • Get your stakeholders to commit to a maximum of three primary goals
  • Only focus on developing these goals and ignore everything else

Lesson 4 — Competitor feature parity is not essential

I’ve worked in organizations where the software was purchased by large corporates, who put vendors through an arduous pitch process. You can bet your bottom dollar that if you don’t win a pitch, that the next week the Sales Director will be in the product managers office telling them all the features that we don’t have that the pitch winner did and asking when can they have them delivered.

Action:

  • Ask what value this will bring to your customers
  • Insist on measuring these features against the other values your working toward

Lesson 5 — Teams should be involved in defining the work

How many times as a product manager have you written up a user story for a feature, and handed it to the engineers and (effectively) said “build this”. The engineers then don’t engage their brain, deliver what’s written, get it released and move on.

They’re a step in the production line in your feature factory, not working as a team to deliver value.

Action:

  • Meet your team regularly and give them challenges to solve
  • Ensure all user stories have measurable criteria against them that the team can see
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