Feature Creep, Definition, Causes, Prevention & Management
Feature creep, featuritis, scope creep or feature bloat is when founders and product managers constantly add features to a software product that makes the product extremely complex to use and drives it completely off-course of the original product vision.
You remember those old jigsaw puzzles that we all loved solving as kids. If you are doing one with your friend, they were quite easier to solve and your friend definitely added value.
But when two more friends joined, it instead became hectic to fill out the puzzle, and if you brought on more friends you’re now instead butting heads and can’t actually get the puzzle finished.
Therefore, the more friends you added, the complex fixing the puzzle actually became.
This is what happens when you throw several features at a product too.
What causes feature creep?
Within an internal team:
Feature creep/scope creep actually comes from the founders desire to really improve the product for the user. Usually, users will then start to demand for new features that could be built, as well as ideas and features that are generated internally.
Day in and day out our clients ask for extra features that they want to add that they thought of overnight, or that their mother suggested over dinner.
A conversation with their sales team, and product managers are being coerced into adding features because the company is losing sales because of lack of certain features.
If these ideas are just pumped out, and released without any initial audits and planning, eventually the product becomes too complex, loses usability and the new features don’t necessarily add any value to your product.
When clients realise that your product is way too complex to navigate, it instead leads to a higher churn rate.
When working with an external agency:
The reasons for feature/project scope are different, here are some of them:
- The client is trying to get extra work done cheaper. Sometimes the clients dont mention certain features that they would want developed and they expect to drop the bomb on the development partner they’re working with in hopes that they would get the work done for less.
- There is often lack of clarity in the requirements sheet that the client and the agency agree upon. Therefore at a later stage, new features get added which delays and hampers the entire project.
- Often times, there is no clarity in what the product is actually intended to do. For example: “ I want to build an app similar to eBay”. This does not help at all! If you do not define the exact value the web or mobile application is intended to bring to users and the features that need to be developed then you’re in for project/feature creep later in the product’s lifecycle.
- Some agencies/freelance developers suggest extra features to the client as an opportunity to charge them extra money in the long run.
How to prevent feature creep?
Not all that glitters is gold, learn to say NO
According to Steve Jobs, “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.” [[quote must be in image format]]
When the Nike CEO Steve Parker asked Steve Jobs for some advice, Jobs told him to get rid of the crappy stuff.
“Well, just one thing,” said Jobs. “Nike makes some of the best products in the world. Products that you lust after. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.”
In your lifetime as a product manager or a founder of a company, you will hear loads of ideas, from your team, customers or even self generated ideas.
Before you consider developing any of them, first thing that should come to mind: “Do they align with our product vision?”.
Not all ideas are good ideas, even though your customers or investors love them. Learn to say NO!
Opportunities are all great, but we often forget that their is a huge commitment that goes into all these opportunities in the form of time, energy and money that could have been spent elsewhere.
Plan, plan and plan some more..
“If you don’t know exactly where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?”
― Steve Maraboli [[Quote]]
Planning is the most essential part when it comes to creating great products and avoiding feature creep.
You should understand the exact value that your product brings to the user, and jot down the core functionalities that the product should have.
You should then go in-depth and list down the exact features that the product would have to fulfill that value exceptionally well.
These features must already have had a validation from the majority of your target audience before they are passed on to the development team.
Once you have established the requirements sheet, and passed it onto the project manager, avoid changing it and trust the team’s process on getting that feature done and dusted.
Define the product vision and stick to it as a team
Once you have a new idea of a product, make sure you communicate the vision of the product to the entire team, from sales, to marketing, investors and the development team.
The product vision is why the company or the product exists in the first place, it is the essence of the product and it sets the path to where the product is headed and what it will deliver for customers in the future.
In Google’s case, its actual mission statement is: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
They are quite clear in what they are trying to achieve, and this drives the features added and removed from google’s search engine; and all the other google products i.e gmail, chrome, drive etc.
Anything beyond organising the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful, does not tend to do well e.g e.g Google plus, Orkut, Google video (just kidding, it’s google).
But you get the idea….
In general, you can craft the product’s vision by answering these two questions:
Who the target customer is?
What needs the product will address (specifically answering the most crucial ones)
Once this vision is communicated throughout the company, you should try not to go against regardless of what a few customers suggest, investors etc.
Add new features into the “Features basket”
It is not bad to come up with great features, but just have a wish list where you keep all these great features and look to implement them in the next versions.
Plan them and have the entire team from marketing, sales, development, and management as well as some customers discuss them to see if they are commercially and logistically feasible ot develop.
You can also carry out a cost-benefit analysis on each of those features in your wish list but do not just allow them to simply crop into the current project scope and specification.
How to manage feature creep i.e reversing the damage
So let’s assume you have already fallen in the ditch of feature creep and are wondering how to reverse the damage without pissing everyone off.
You will need to kill some features from the product to get it back on track. Determining whether a feature has to be killed can be both qualitative and quantitative since products and features fail to get adoption for several reasons.
The most obvious sign that you will need to kill off a feature is if you removed it, no one would notice that it was removed since no one hardly ever used it in the first place.
Perhaps people used it extremely hated it. It could have been the terrible user experience, or the bugs it had. Either way it could be a sign that feature probably needs to be killed.
You can list down on the features and rate them from a scale of 1 to 100, and find out what percentage of your user base used them in the last 60 days.
But this has one caveat, some features are actually built for just a tiny number of users and this would not necessarily mean that they should be killed too.
The slow feature death, how to kill your feature:
Before putting the sinking the feature down the graveyard, check with your customer support, sales team, and account managers to make sure no one’s going to be surprised by the cut and that there won’t be any unforeseen complications.
Image Source : TIGForums
“How well your major feature cull goes down will depend on how you communicate the changes,” says ProductCamp London founder Janna Bastow.
Send out an email campaign or communicate with your customers what feature is getting the axe and why you believe it should be cut and allow them time to prepare for the adjustment.
Learn from it!
You should not worry about angering a few satisfied customers that were happy with the feature while sacrificing the happiness of all the majority that thought that your product was becoming way too complex.
We can certainly help you develop your product, or provide development talent that you can tap into anytime. Have a chat us with by filling in the enquiry form below!