The term feature factory refers to companies that churn out features for their software or product consistently. The term is generally used negatively to describe companies that have value quantity over quality. In trying to increase the number of things a product can do, the product eventually becomes unfocused and bloated. Features are only added to continually update and generate hype for the product rather than to add value to it.
Most developers should be able to spot when they are working for a feature factory. The definitive quality of these companies is that they do not measure the effectiveness of an added feature — they just go ahead and launch it anyway! There’s little to no data on whether or not a feature should be added. Instead, features are handed out like a list of chores to each developer.
Additionally, feature factories typically do not iterate on the features that they add. This means that after adding a feature to a product, it is never improved upon, redesigned, or updated to reflect changes in the app.
Feature factory is a term coined by John Cutler, an expert in the field of product management. He invented the term after listening to a developer friend complain about the way his software company operated. The friend remarked that he felt as if he were working on an assembly line at a factory — rather than at a software company.
Cutler used this term to point out the thoughtlessness that goes into the features that many software companies add. Rather than focusing on improving the product and matching customer needs, feature factories focus on rolling updates out.
Not only is this demoralizing for software developers, but it's a poor development strategy. Competing companies can easily outdo a feature factory by adding better, more robust features, as these are the features that actually help solve user needs.
There are semi-obvious surface-level problems that feature factories' experience. This includes poorly implemented features, buggy software updates, uninspired additions to a product, and a lack of understanding of the target audience. On their own, these problems can spell doom for a software company.
But these are far from the only problems that feature factories face. These software companies tend to mix up development teams constantly, which makes it difficult for rhythms and relationships to be established within the organization.
Since many feature factories try to implement multiple features at once, there is often limited oversight on the management of these features. Retrospectives are rare as well, which stunts communication, leads to repeating problems, and lowers the enthusiasm of your developers.
Importantly, feature factories also tend to ignore their metrics. This causes a divide between the company and its customers. The factory is chasing an unknown and unmeetable quota rather than listening to the wants and needs of its users.
Lastly, feature factories are easily surpassed by competing companies that use a design thinking approach. These competitors can attract more customers by creating a thoughtful, useful, and balanced product — rather than a bloated product with no clear specialties.