Beat the Feature Factory — With Biz Chops

Buy the CFO lunch …

John Cutler
Nov 23, 2016 · 2 min read

I’ll probably ending up writing a couple of posts focused on beating the feature factory (see my post 12 Signs You’re Working in a Feature Factory).

Yes, software product development teams (UX, Engineering, Product) need to get out of the building. Equally important, is for everyone to walk up to the second floor (or wherever “the business” hangs out).

Arrange a meeting with your company’s CFO and/or CEO (I recommend the CFO because they tend to be less biased). Have them explain the moving parts in the business model, and the assumptions that underpin forecasts and growth targets. How do you really make money, and what must remain true for you to continue to make money? What costs matter now? Why are sales goals what they are? Where does product performance fit into the big picture?

To defeat the feature factory, the front-line must learn to speak the language of the business as well as the language of their craft. It’s the game you’re playing. Resist all efforts to “protect and insulate” you from this information. Be wary when told that the team “just needs to execute”. For a great fictional example of how/why this works, read The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, George Spafford, and Kevin Behr .

I’m always amused when middle-manager business types are somehow surprised (and even threatened) by the critical thinking skills of UX and software developers. You can’t really blame them. Their worldview hinges on owning this. But pushing back with vague discomfort and pleas for craft will fall on deaf ears. You’ll need to talk the language of the business. For example …

  • “If we continue to iterate on this existing feature we can achieve that goal without having to fork the product. It’s worth our focus.”
  • “The work we’re doing is barely making a dent in that metrics.”
  • “If we accumulate this technical debt, we wont be able to meet those goals for new product development. I’ve observed the following leading indicators …”
  • “Churn will increase beyond your threshold if we don’t double-down on nipping this expectation mismatch in the bud.”
  • “We can still meet these sales goals if we choose to be more selective. Building feature on demand is a distraction, and I’ll show you why ….”

So set up an innocent meeting with your CFO. She’ll probably love the fact that you’re going to be her second pair of eyes on the front-lines. Learn everything you can, and then start looking for ways to drive outcomes and commerce with craft. The two do intersect … you just need to understand the landscape.

John Cutler

Written by

Multiple hat-wearer. Prod dev nut. I love wrangling complex problems and answering the why with qual/quant data. @johncutlefish on Twitter.

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