What is a Feature Factory?

Shelby Stachel & Amy Kleppinger
Publication Date
15 March 2023

What is a Feature Factory?

We’ve been hearing a lot about Feature Factories, but what exactly are they, what’s so bad about becoming one, and what steps should companies take to prevent falling into this trap?  

We sat down with Jeremy Hatfield, Sr Product Manager at Mobiquity to get his take. 


We’ve heard buzz about the dangers of becoming a Feature Factory, but we want to get beyond the jargon. What is a Feature Factory? 

Jeremy: When you hear people talk about a “Feature Factory” it’s shorthand for an inside-out operating model focused on delivering outputs and not outcomes. This type of company adds features to digital products without first considering what’s needed to improve customer satisfaction.  

 A Feature Factory produces a bloated product with every bell and whistle but is poorly adopted, experiences performance issues and does not provide meaningful value for its intended users. The product can have a lot of great features, but they don’t work in harmony with each other and don’t solve the right needs for a user. 

Feature Factories suffer from the misbelief that producing more features will deliver more value to the customer and company. The focus is often too heavily on internal measures and not on external measures like adoption, satisfaction, and loyalty.  


I’m sure most companies set out to develop the best products they can. How does a Feature Factory come about? 

 Jeremy: It’s easy to fall into the trap of creating a culture that spends its time and energy delivering new features but not moving closer to the right goals.  

 This can happen when leadership team members don’t set a clear direction or invest in making sure executional teams understand the goals. For example, in SAFe, it’s easy to obsess over a say / do ratio that is continually monitored before/after quarterly planning cycles. 

 Teams are hyper vigilant about delivering the outputs they commit to and think leadership will punish them when they miss their commitments. The focus on the customer and business value of the work they deliver can be easily lost in a high-volume delivery model if capacity is not allocated to research, analysis, and a plan to understand the ‘why’ behind the work. 

It can be hard to get out of the office and walk in customers’ shoes - to gain a deep understanding of their hearts and minds. If we think about software development companies, teams often work in silos and don’t share their knowledge with executional team members. Well intentioned employees are sometimes simply ill-informed of the bigger picture and focus on ‘the what’ - output and not ‘the why’ - outcomes.  


If someone is not sure, what are the signs that you are working in a Feature Factory?   

Jeremy: There are 3 key signs that come to mind. 

  1. Too much focus on execution 

The first one I’ll call cultural norms. If you start to see the key measures of success are primarily executional metrics and all you're hearing about is how well the team executed against some backlog or some sprint goals or quarterly goals, the culture is in serious danger of falling into Feature Factory territory. If you're not seeing others in your team or in the organization talking about how well a product is performing in market - that is a red alert. 

  1. Lack of individual understanding of success measurement 

If you are on a team where you don't know how your product is measured, how the work you're doing is measured, and how it helps improve the customer experience or drive the business, that's another red alert. 

  1. No research cycles 

If you're not spending time doing other things aside from just working backlogs and delivering sprint goals, that’s a problem. Some of your time needs to be allocated towards things like research or continuing education or getting out and doing workshops to help build a backlog or understand different parts of the business.   


What are the dangers of functioning like a Feature Factory?  

If you're producing a lot of features and you're not spending the time to understand if they meet the right needs, you run the risk of losing customers. And if your goal is getting new customers, they might just never even adopt your product because the individual parts you’ve launched don't come together in a way that solves the right problem for them. 

Another danger is team burn out. This is especially true if they're always patching issues and never fixing the root causes. In this situation, your best employees might just leave for other opportunities. 

Finally, if you haven’t designed the right product in the first place, you could be spending a disproportionate amount of time fixing issues and not addressing the root cause. This could lead to a product outage and all of the customer and profit issues that come with it.   


What steps can someone take if they are working in a Feature Factory?  

Jeremy: First, talk to leadership about assessing if the right goals are being set. 

If you’re in a Product Management role, you’ll need to reprioritize and recreate the product backlog to align to these goals. You have to continually ask 'what value does this provide’. It’s also important to make sure capacity is allocated to testing and/or analyzing that the work is aligned to the key value drivers.  

Continuing throughout the organization, there needs to be investment in educating teams on focusing on outcomes and incentives to reinforce their learning. When teams are not aware of product goals, they naturally focus on output. Teams must understand the value they can provide, have a pulse on the measurement, and be able to help achieve product goals. 

Finally, create new working norms that establish a shared understanding of desired outcomes of features in market and work in the pipeline. This includes a shared understanding of how you’ll measure progress along the way.  


Any closing thoughts you would like to share?  

Jeremy: My advice to product management professionals working in a Feature Factory is to make incremental changes within your company with a conscious effort to understand the ’why’ behind features prioritized in your backlog. Work across teams to make sure you have a backlog that considers the future and allocates necessary time to foundational improvements. 

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