Also called: Scope Creep, Requirement Creep, Function Creep, Kitchen Sink Syndrome, and Featuritis
Relevant metrics: Time to Market, Cost of Development, User Satisfaction, Quality of Product, and Return on Investment
What is Feature Creep?
Feature Creep is a term used to describe the gradual accumulation of additional features in a product over time. It is a phenomenon that occurs when a product is continually modified and updated with new features, often without a clear purpose or goal. This can lead to a product becoming bloated and difficult to use, as well as detracting from the overall user experience. Feature Creep can also lead to increased development costs and delays in product launch. It is important for product managers to be aware of Feature Creep and to take steps to prevent it from occurring.
How did the concept of Feature Creep come originate?
The term was first coined in the early 1980s by software engineer Barry Boehm, who used it to describe the tendency of software developers to add more and more features to a product or service, often without considering the impact on the overall design or usability. The term has since been adopted by the software industry and is now used to describe any situation where a product or service has become bloated with features that are not necessary or beneficial to the user.
Preventing feature creep
To prevent feature creep, designers must follow a set of guidelines that focus on the core features of the product. Feature creep usually results from poor planning, insufficient product strategy, and misaligned priorities. Often, requests for new features are added after the project has started, is out of scope, and the changes are not adequately reviewed.
Common causes of feature creep
Feature creep can be caused by a variety of factors, including customer requests, changes in technology, and a lack of clear requirements. It can also be caused by a lack of communication between stakeholders, a lack of understanding of the product, or a lack of discipline in the development process.
Adding features later can come after feedback from users and merchants is obtained. Common causes for feature creep include:
- Pressure to meet stakeholder demands. Sometimes product teams feel pressured to include features requested by stakeholders, even if they don’t align with the product vision or user needs.
- Fear of missing out. Product teams might worry that if they don’t add certain features, they’ll lose out on potential customers or revenue.
- Lack of prioritization. Without a clear understanding of which features are most important, it can be easy to add too many features.
- Scope creep. As the scope of the project expands, more features may be added to the product roadmap.
Addressing the root causes
The root cause of feature creep, however, is often a lack of focus on the product’s core value proposition. When product teams lose sight of the product’s core purpose, it becomes easy to justify adding more and more features, even if they don’t align with the product’s original vision or provide value for users. To prevent feature creep, it’s important to maintain a strong focus on the product’s core value proposition and ensure that all features align with that vision.
Focus on the core features
The golden rule of product design is to “ship the right features to the right people.” However, it can be challenging to achieve in practice. Identifying the core features of your product that provide the maximum value to your target audience is crucial.
As more tools are added to a Swiss Army knife, it becomes wider, heavier, less usable, and less valuable.
Focus is critical when defining a new product.
To focus your project on core features, you must:
- Start with user and market research to identify your target audience’s needs and wants, the problem you are solving, and for what user.
- Prioritize all features in your product according to the needs of your users, with a strong rationale for every feature you introduce to your product.
- Ensure that your target audience is willing to pay for the solution by doing some upfront research.
- Apply a Pareto analysis to determine the most valuable features, and get rid of features with low adoption rates.
Sunset features with low adoption rates
Removing a feature with a low adoption rate from a product is called “sunsetting.” It is crucial to send a message to users who actually use the feature before removing it from the user interface. The process of sunsetting a feature can take many forms, but it is crucial to offer an alternative feature or tool if possible. Otherwise, designers could face a large backlash from current users, resulting in a loss of trust.
Create a roadmap - and follow it
A common way to mitigate the risk of potential feature creep is strictly adhering to the initial plan. While this might be a good strategy to follow in larger enterprises, the success of this strategy depends on where in the product lifecycle your product is. If youu are still discovering what the right product-market fit is (or problem-solution fit), then your main objective is learning. Strictly following a plan like a roadmap and not allowing yourself from diversions will most likely hinder learning.
Yet - it is still a very effective way of managing scope. Here’s how to approach this strategy.
Formalize the scope
The first step in creating a successful roadmap is formalizing the scope of your project. Before your team begins working on a project, it is essential to have a written scope of work that has been approved by all stakeholders. This will serve as a foundation for your team to work from.
Identifying the major and minor milestones of the project and putting them on a timeline is a crucial step in creating a roadmap. Review milestones when scope changes are requested to ensure that the project will not suffer from delays. This will enable your team to track progress and ensure that the project stays on track.
Clear protocol for change implementation
Having a clear protocol for change implementation is another essential step in creating a roadmap. Define rules on how changes are reviewed, approved, or rejected. This will ensure that the project is not negatively affected by any changes that may be necessary during the development process.
Zero-sum game for incoming feature requests
As stakeholders request new features to be added to the project, it is essential to ensure that some features come out of the scope to meet the product design deadlines. This will enable your team to prioritize and reconsider the value of the requested features. It may also give the team an extension of time and project budget.
Impact vs. Effort Matrix
Lastly, creating an Impact vs. Effort Matrix is a useful tool that maps features against two factors: the potential value and the effort required to implement them. The matrix can serve as a reference point for your team, allowing them to review the history of product decisions and the rationale behind them.
Having a clear roadmap with a clear scope is an effective strategy to prevent feature creep and ensuring that your team remains focused on the original scope of work. By formalizing the scope, identifying milestones, defining clear protocols for change implementation, prioritizing incoming feature requests, and using an Impact vs. Effort Matrix, your team can create a successful roadmap that will lead to the successful completion of your project.
Avoid Gold Plating
Gold plating is a perilous habit of product teams where they tend to overindulge in their efforts and add more features than necessary. This act not only consumes extra time and resources, but also might not be well-received by stakeholders as it introduces an unwarranted complexity. Therefore, be cautious and resist the temptation to succumb to this tendency.
The power of “No”
One of the most crucial skills a project manager should possess is the ability to decline certain requests. Saying “no” is hard, but it is essential to prevent the gradual expansion of a project’s scope. Often, product designers tend to assume that to keep stakeholders content, all of their requests should be fulfilled. However, this attitude is detrimental to the product roadmap as it introduces features that are not entirely necessary.
“Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” - Steve Jobs
It is natural to hesitate when refusing to comply with the demands of colleagues or higher-ups, but it is necessary to acquire this skill. When refusing a request, always remember to provide good reasoning that backs your decision. Evaluate the potential feature in terms of the product vision, value for users and businesses, and the resources required to build it. Explain the reasoning behind the refusal to the stakeholders and convey the costs associated with incorporating it.
“Incorporating any and every feature requested by stakeholders is not necessarily the best way to create a better product. Quality always trumps quantity.”
Resist gold plating, learn to say “no” to certain requests, and always provide solid reasoning behind your decisions. These tips will help you create a product roadmap that aligns with the product vision and yields a high-quality output.
Validating design ideas: Establish a quick Build-Measure-Learn cycle
In carpentry, there’s an age-old adage that goes, “Measure thrice, check twice, and cut once.” Similarly, in product design, it’s vital to validate your ideas before investing time and effort into building them. It’s always good practice to test new features with real users and ensure that they address the users’ needs and deliver value to your target audience.
Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, emphasizes the importance of validating design ideas, stating, “What if we found ourselves building something that nobody wanted? In that case, what did it matter if we did it on time and on budget?” A simple validation of your design ideas may save your team wasted hours and expenses down the road.
Jeff Gothelf, author of Lean UX, discusses how to apply lean principles to improve user experience. Lean UX design is both a mindset and a process that embraces lean-agile methods. Teams that follow Lean UX implement functionality in minimum viable increments and determine success by measuring the results with their users.
The Lean UX philosophy advocates for a quick build-measure-learn cycle, where teams rapidly iterate and improve their product based on user feedback. This approach requires a shift in thinking that prioritizes learning over delivering polished features. When teams prioritize learning, they can quickly adapt to their users’ needs and make product decisions based on data rather than assumptions.
Establishing a quick build-measure-learn cycle is essential to validating design ideas and creating a product that delivers value to your users. Adopting Lean UX principles and embracing a learning mindset will enable your team to iterate quickly, measure results, and make data-driven decisions. Ultimately, this approach will lead to a product that users love and that meets your business goals.
Keep it simple, stupid
Product teams often have good intentions when they add features to their products, with the aim of turning a good product into a great one. However, the addition of more features often leads to bad user experience (UX). It results in overly complex products that can be expensive, delayed, or not meet users’ needs. The relationship between features and user happiness is demonstrated by the featuritis curve, which shows that user happiness peaks early on after the key features are added, but before users need to consult a manual.
To prevent feature creep, proactive defense mechanisms can be embedded in product ideation and building processes. The primary goal of these mechanisms should be to maintain product simplicity, following the KISS principle (“keep it simple, stupid”). Simple solutions have better usability, and users prefer them as they don’t require a lot of time to learn how to use them. Thus, designing a product with a limited number of features is the best approach in most cases, carefully selecting the features that work exceptionally well to provide value for users.
The company has been known to add features to its products that are not necessarily needed, such as the Apple Pencil for the iPad Pro. This has caused the product to become more expensive and complex, which can be a turnoff for some customers.
The company has added features to its Windows operating system that are not necessarily needed, such as the Cortana virtual assistant. This has caused the operating system to become more complex and bloated, which can be a turnoff for some users.
- Is this feature necessary for the product to function?
- Is this feature within the scope of the project?
- Is this feature going to add value to the product?
- Is this feature going to add complexity to the product?
- Is this feature going to add cost to the project?
- Is this feature going to add time to the project?
- Is this feature going to be used by the majority of users?
- Is this feature going to be supported by the team?
- Is this feature going to be maintainable in the long run?
- Is this feature going to be tested adequately?
- Living with Complexity by Donald A. Norman (2010)
- Managing the Dynamics of Innovation by Richard L. Nolan (2011)
- Balancing Agility and Discipline: A Guide for the Perplexed by Barry Boehm (2004)
- Waltzing with Bears: Managing Risk on Software Projects by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister (2003)
- Controlling Software Projects: Management, Measurement, and Estimation by Tom DeMarco (1982)
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