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How To Transition From A Feature Factory To Customer & Business Impact

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One of the most dangerous roads a company can go down is to become a feature factory, churning out endless features and updates without pausing to think whether doing so is actually achieving business goals. This can be highly damaging to a business, wasting resources and turning away customers as your product becomes ever more bloated and devalued.

Luckily, it’s not impossible to recover from a slide into feature factory thinking. With the right approach to development, your business can instead pivot to focus on tangible business and customer impacts instead, laying the groundwork for a more successful future.

What Is A Feature Factory?

In simple terms, a feature factory is a company that has become obsessed with creating new features for its products regardless of whether they actually add value to a product or fulfil business goals or customer needs.

Other tell-tale characteristics of a feature factory include measuring success by how often features are shipped rather than the value they provide to customers and the business and the misguided belief that adding features to a product will always equal enhanced value. Feature factories will also often rush ahead with ideas without testing them beforehand and fail to effectively measure their impact upon and after release.

How Do Companies Become Feature Factories?

Companies can become feature factories for a number of reasons, largely stemming from an inability to look at the bigger picture beyond pushing out updates to products. For instance, leadership teams may become obsessed with using the frequency of updates as a metric for success at the expense of other KPIs.

On the other hand, feature factories may emerge as cross-department pressure rather than top-down initiatives. For example, sales teams may push developers to add new features to add to their list of USPs and secure new leads – effectively focusing on acquiring new customers rather than retaining existing customers by listening to their needs.

The Dangers Of Feature Factory Thinking

The primary danger of becoming a feature factory is that your overheads will suffer – features cost time and money to develop, and if they don’t actually deliver value, all of that is wasted spend.

Another issue is that feature factories allow themselves to be easily outmanoeuvred by competitors. While your developers blindly push out feature after feature without paying attention to actual customer demand, other companies have the opportunity to fulfil customer needs more effectively with targeted updates of their own. This runs the risk of losing customers to your close competitors.

Your products themselves are also likely to suffer in a feature factory. Adding too many features will simply bloat a product, impacting its usability and driving even more customers away.

Finally, there’s a simple fact that feature factories lose their overall focus – it’s hard to work towards specific business objectives when your only focus is how many features you can roll out.

How To Transition From Feature Factory Thinking To Customer & Business Impact

Fortunately for those companies that do slip into a feature factory mindset, there is a way out. The first step is to recognise when there’s a problem, as detailed above. The next step is to take assertive action to rethink how your company approaches new features and updates, centring everything on tangible value to customers.

Switch To A Value Mindset

Switching from feature factory thinking to a value mindset involves creating new processes to ensure your feature ideas actually add value rather than simply adding functions. This starts with a more measured approach to idea generation. 

Any idea for new features should be accompanied by proposals based on what specific issues or customer needs it would address and how the feature would therefore add value to a product. If this can’t be argued convincingly, then the idea should be dropped until it can be designed with a more specific value in mind.

Valid ideas should then be assessed by teams from across your company to gain a broad perspective on how they can provide value to different groups. The most valuable ideas should be prioritised for further testing; only once their value has been proven should they be fully developed and rolled out to users.

Use Better Technology

Another way to transition from a feature factory to a business and customer impact focus is to improve the tools you use. Product dashboards, communication tools, and data analysis software can all go a long way to developing a more impact-focused mindset by granting a better view of the big picture.

Product management solutions like ProductBoard are a great example of this. ProductBoard enables the collation of customer feedback from across multiple sources into a single space, allowing specific feature requests to be highlighted more easily. This allows your company to select the most valuable feature ideas based on customer needs and prioritise their development, thereby maximising business and customer impact.

Measure Impact

Business and customer impact thinking is centred around measurable impacts – so if you aren’t collecting the data needed to measure these impacts, you’re likely to stay in the feature factory rut. Your company needs to collect as much data as it can from customers on the impact of new features, allowing you to focus on refining features that need improvement to add true value.

Impact should also be measured in business terms. Analysing feature releases against customer acquisition and retention is vital to ensure that the features your development team is working on are actually delivering value to your business. Actions speak louder than words – customers may say they love new features, but their true feelings are reflected in your bottom line.

Don’t Be Afraid To Get Outside Help

Feature factories often form as a result of a company’s culture, so it can be difficult to expect that same culture to lift it out of this mindset. In many instances, it can be helpful to shake things up by introducing a fresh perspective from outside your company.

This could mean internal personnel shakeups or greater cross-departmental communication and cooperation to ensure a holistic business approach to development. It could also mean consulting external product management experts like the Product Consultants at Product Rocket, utilising external expertise to shift your mindset away from feature factory thinking towards the tangible customer and business impacts.

Conclusion

While feature factories are often the result of entrenched, misguided thinking around feature development, shaking off this mindset doesn’t have to be difficult. By encouraging a value-based approach to development that centres features on specific needs and introducing measures to track and analyse impacts more effectively, your business can transition from dangerous feature factory thinking to a more effective, impact-based mindset.

Gavin Rae

Gavin Rae

Co-Founder/Managing Director at Product Rocket. We are a consulting company in Digital Product Management and Product Design. We help our customers hone their Product Maturity by working on Product Strategy and Product Organisation along with in-house assignments and training.

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