Who Really Wants to Work in a Factory?

In a recent presentation I gave on the use of data in the product management/development process there was one slide that I ended up taking out. It didn’t fit the flow of the talk, but I think it’s still an important point.

Here’s the slide:


The presentation in question was arguing for the proper implementation of Lean Startup as a process for successfully building better products. But oftentimes when talking about Lean Startup (and generally when people speak about processes for product management), they use the “factory analogy.”

The factory analogy is there to help us understand that we should systematize things using a consistent process. In the “ideal scenario” you build product like a factory spits things out — there are consistent inputs, a linear process the product goes through to get built, and the same outputs come out every time. Blech.

Building products isn’t really like that. There’s always going to be too much chaos and uncertainty in the mix to have a perfect factory for building products. And let’s toss a bit of creativity and magic into the mix too! I don’t think any product gets built that really addresses people’s needs without a bit of creativity. We’re human after all. Not robots. Robots work great in factories, and are perfectly suited for building products in a controlled environment, but the world isn’t controlled. Your customers aren’t controlled. There are too many variables.

I understand why the factory analogy gets used…hell, I’m pretty sure I’ve used it before too! But in preparing for my keynote at CrunchConf I realized it was a dangerous and inaccurate analogy. In a room full of data scientists and analysts, I wanted to make it clear that there’s no perfect formula for success. There’s no single answer. There’s no guaranteed, unified, straightforward process that’ll result in quality product being output every single time. Nor should there be. That’s why the title of the presentation had the words “Data + Guts” — you need both. And as attractive as the factory analogy may be, it’s not the right one for really explaining how great products are built.