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The Factory Is The Product

Getting better at making the thing makes the thing better.

April 21, 2021

This is one of the fundamental perspectives that first-time entrepreneurs, and especially people who’ve never manufactured (created) a product, get wrong.

They might assume it’s all about the product. How can we get people to like the product more? Should we add all the other features our competitor has? Conversion funnels, social media followers, content, the whole gamut.

And with that perspective, they focus on the features and performance of other products. “Product X has this, so we should too.” “People like this about product Y so we should make that a priority.”

This outward appearance based approach to creating products is backwards. It seems like it matters, but in the end it results in copycats, lack of vision, and competition that can do the exact same thing.

The thing about appearance is, if you make something look better than it actually is, then users will find out it’s not as good as it seems. That’s not a good place to be in, and users will look elsewhere.

So, if this isn’t the way to create value for others, what is? How can someone make a great product without focusing on how it appears to other people?

By focusing on what actually matters: the factory.

The factory determines the product. The factory determines the culture. The factory determines the speed, execution, iteration, stability, and vision of a product.

Anyone can copy designs, anyone can copy public-facing features, but no one can copy a factory. At the core it’s internal. It’s hidden. It’s behind the scenes.

And, what a factory produces is always unique from other factories, because it’s crafted by people who are different. People who have different perspectives, different goals, different lifestyles, different abilities.

Because the factory determines the product, the factory is the product.

Iterate in your factory, and you’ll iterate on your output (product). Innovate in the factory, and you’ll innovate on your output. Improve the factory, and you’ll improve the output.

Getting better at making the thing makes the thing better.

You are a factory

I keep talking about factories, and you might feel a bit like this doesn’t apply to you since you’re not manufacturing anything.

I don’t know you, but chances are you’re a developer or a writer like me. And even if you’re not, this still applies to you.

Whether you like it or not, you are a factory. You consume, you produce, you create, and you have internal processes that are running constantly to make it all happen.

Obviously this isn’t primarily about traditional manufacturing, though it does apply. It’s a mental construct that allows you to have a comprehensive view of your role in creating value for others.

In its most simple state, a factory is something that takes raw materials and energy and creates something brand new. You are not much different as a human being - you eat, you learn and apply skills, and you create new value in the world.

If you’re not creating value in the world, then you’re just consuming energy and have raw materials laying around (which is economically unproductive, but clearly people as individuals have value no matter their economic output!).

All people have different raw materials. Some people have better (more, or cheaper) energy sources. But everyone can take energy and skills and create something.

If you switch out your raw materials you can make different things. If you increase your energy input you can create more things.

I’m taking the time to elaborate on this because I want you to see the similarities of people and factories. And it makes sense, factories are designed by people (not much smarter than you or me).

And just like a factory, you have internal systems that are running constantly to ensure that necessary things happen in the correct order. You’re converting food into energy, you have habits and routines that operate like assembly lines, you have a product innovation center that thinks and learns and acquires new knowledge.

Now, these internal systems can be productive and unproductive. A person who is distracted all the time does not have good systems in place to consistently output. A person who consumes the wrong food, the wrong information, and doesn’t focus on using their factory to help others will end up in ruin.

Conversely, a well run, efficient, knowledgeable and productive person (factory) can serve others and become incredibly successful over time.

In life, you either produce or die. If you don’t produce, you’ll never be able to sustain a lifestyle the supports you needs and wants. If your factory isn’t running, you’re not going to live very long.

Similarly, if you’re unhealthy you can’t produce effectively. If your relationships/marriage is falling apart, you can’t produce effectively. If you’re constantly stressed you can’t produce effectively. If your kids are a burden because you didn’t raise them properly, you can’t produce effectively.

Improve your factory (what’s going on inside), and improve your output (what’s going on outside).

The factory principle for developers

Coding is manufacturing. Code can be infrastructure (internal) or product (external).

When you see coding as manufacturing, it instantly becomes a commodity. It’s something that could be outsourced, or done in house. Something that can almost be automated with the right processes and procedures.

I think this is a healthy approach to coding, because if you get caught up in the magic of coding, then you start to think that coding is the most important thing.

Coding is the easy part. Marketing, distribution, and sales is the difficult part of any venture. However, all of those facets of the business are part of the factory. They all have internal processes, they can all be optimized and scaled, and they all drive output of the factory.

When focusing on the factory as a whole, rather than just continuing to code for the sake of coding, then you have a more balanced approach to building a real business and providing real value to other people.

Internal processes and automations rule everything

It doesn’t matter how things appear on the outside, if things are fundamentally broken on the inside then it’s only a matter of time before things fall apart.

This applies to business, your personal life, relationships, family, etc. How things appear on the outside almost never directly reflect what’s going on inside.

This principle can work in your favor, or work directly against you. For instance, on the outside you could appear like you’re not 100% there. When in reality, you’re laser focused on a mission that will bring you success in the future.

On the other hand, you can seem like you have it all together on the outside, and in reality you’re stressed out of your mind and can’t focus on anything valuable.

How people perceive you is not what you should be thinking about. What you should be thinking about is how to improve your internal (processes, automations, life, thoughts, feelings, etc.) such that your life and work trend in the right direction.

In fact, ultimately your life is a reflection of what you do when no one is watching.

You are what you do when no one is watching.

That’s the emphasis. That’s the goal. People on the outside of the factory don’t know what’s going on in the factory. It could be falling apart or flourishing.

In the end, the factory is what’s in your control. It’s up to you to do the work to make it the best performing and most efficient factory you can.

Factory vision is more important than product vision

It doesn’t matter what’s possible if you don’t have the means to make it happen.

Don’t get me wrong, ideas are great, and they have a very important place in the lifecycle of business and progress. However, they’re worthless if they can’t be acted upon.

If you don’t have the right tools, processes, automations, and internal focus to deliver an idea from start to finish, then you’re not in a position to make progress.

If you are in a position to deliver, you’re in the sweet spot. Ideas can be a dime-a-dozen, and you get to pick and choose exactly what you want to take action on. It allows you to iterate, make mistakes, output the wrong things in hopes of eventually outputting the right thing.

Continuous improvement of output has a direct correlation to internal skills and capabilities. If you’re not getting better, the output cannot be better.

Vision for how you’re going to improve your internal processes is what allows great ideas to flourish. Therefore, factory vision is more important than product vision.

Conclusion

I think I beat this analogy to death, so I’ll stop here. Hopefully it helps people understand that what goes on inside is more important than what is shown on the outside.

Iterating on internal processes, skills, automations, etc. will directly result in better output.

Better factory, better product.

You are a factory, and you can get better, which allows you to produce better.