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How To Defeat Feature Creep Before It Deafets You As A Product Manager?

Photo by Christian Lue on Unsplash

It was 7 PM, Friday evening. Maria had just finished her work and was ready to take over the weekend. She left the office, took her regular train, and got off at her regular stop. Right when she was walking on her way home, a random guy started following her. She did realize this but thought maybe the guy was going in the same direction and hence didn’t pay much attention. But it took her just a minute to realize that he was following her. Even though her home was just 100 meters away, this terrified her. She reached home safely, opened the door, and got inside. She immediately called her friend and narrated the story. The word she used to define the guy to her friend was “a creep”. Thankfully she reported this incident to the police and it turned out that the creep has been following other women as well in that neighborhood. He was caught red-handed a couple of days later.

Such creeps are around the world. Not only in our physical world but interestingly even in the digital/software world. Yes, you read it right. The creeps in the digital world are called feature creeps. This article will help you identify and tackle them.

What is feature creep?

Feature creep, more commonly known as scope creep or requirement creep, refers to when you add excessive features to a product that make it too complicated or difficult to use. These excessive features are similar to the creep that we talked about above, the one who followed Maria.

These excessive features can harm the product either in the short or the long run. They introduce complexity not only to the design but also to the architecture of the product. In turn, these features can diminish the usability of the product, which can directly impact the user experience and thus the sales.

There are multiple other terms used in the digital world to describe this phenomenon apart from feature creep such as -

  • Concept creep
  • Project creep
  • Project scope creep
  • Feature bloat
  • Featurism
  • Creeping Featurism
  • Featuritis

In the end, they all mean the same — designing for feature-led experiences instead of user-centered ones. It often leads to bloated software with low performance and takes up more time and resources to develop and maintain. It also affects the product’s usability — as feature bloat makes it harder for users to navigate the product and understand its intended uses.

A very good example is the following image of Microsoft word. It’s clear from the picture that multiple menus might not be necessary for the user to perform their task, but they are still there ultimately confusing and overwhelming the users. This is what we exactly call feature creep.

Example of Feature Creep (Source)

What causes feature creep?

Feature creep can happen because of multiple reasons. A few of them are listed below-:

  • Lack of strong product management leadership-: A lot of times internal stakeholders come up with features especially after the software development process has been started. Sometimes even the engineering, design, legal and other teams come up with requirements amidst the development process. The lack of strong product management leadership will allow these features to be added to the roadmap thereby affecting the entire product. This might impact the progress of the product development as well as the user experience negatively.
  • Lack of user discovery at the start-: Sometimes the user discovery isn’t strong enough for considering all the possible major and minor use-cases. These are discovered in the later part of the process, thereby resulting in feature creep. The PMs tend to incorporate their findings from the late discovery into the product without taking into consideration the previously addressed and developed cases.
  • Copying competitors’ features without a proper product strategy-: At times, some companies are so focused on the competitors, that they want to add features that probably might not positively affect their target users, but because the competitors have them, they would add them to their roadmap immediately. This severely affects the user experience and might be completely irrelevant to the users thereby causing feature creep.
  • Pressure from a decision-maker-: There are cases where the CEO or the higher management comes in and asks for a feature to be added quickly. While there might be reasoning behind this, this ultimately also leads to feature creep.
  • Pressure to capture new market segments-: This could lead a company to add features that appeal to users other than the original target persona. Adding these features can also make the product more clunky and confusing to its existing user base.
  • Lack of a clear strategic vision and value proposition-: A clear, shared understanding of the product’s mission will keep the team focused on its core purpose. But without this clear vision, a team can find itself adding features that don’t support or enhance this purpose.

Feature Creep — A Case Study

You work in a SaaS company. The UX design team came up with this particular form based on agreed-upon stakeholder requirements. The requirements were just to let the users share their details in case they have any questions/queries regarding the product. The idea was to let them add their Name, Email, and the message they would want to share.

Representation of the initial requirements of the form

During the development process, the sales team gets to know about this. They re-think and see this form as a mode of lead generation. The sales team now asks the PM to add a couple of other fields.

Representation of the form after the new sales team requirements

Now the Marketing team steps in and views the contact form as an opportunity to capture demographic information. More requirements are added, including gender and asking the user to allow the company to send promotional/marketing messages.

Representation of the form after the new marketing team requirements

Next, the legal team comes into the picture and asks for adding the “privacy policy” and “terms of use” checkboxes because they think this is an important part of the user content.

Representation of the form after the new legal team requirements

All this is happening, while the development process is still on. So what started as a simple form now is complicated. And it’s very easy to predict the results of all this. Not only will this impact the project timeline, but also severely impact the user experience.

How To Avoid Feature Creep?

Feature creep affects the business and the customers. It overcomplicates the design and development process and goes beyond what a product’s core function and propositions are. This in turn increases the cost, delays the project delivery, lowers the NPS (Net Promoter Score), and lastly, affects the revenue and the brand reputation. Hence, it’s extremely important to implement measures to avoid this phenomenon. Here are a few steps you and your product team can take to avoid feature creep and keep your product away from it -:

  • Align priorities right at the start of the product development process —: This is where strong product management comes into the picture. A PM with experience in stakeholder management will make sure that all the stakeholders are aligned at the start. In fact, the assertive PM will keep these stakeholders aligned also during the product development process with the current and the next priorities of the product. As you build your product roadmap, you’ll want to invite relevant stakeholders (development, executive staff, sales, marketing, etc.) to view it anytime and keep up to date on its progress. Doing so will help everyone on the team stay focused on your original strategic plan — and, ideally, remember why you’re keeping the feature set limited.
  • Ask “why” —: Before shutting down ideas that seem unrelated to your goals and vision, ask your team why they are needed. Innovations are often organic. For example, product managers may find their team impulsively adds scope during development sprints. Dig deeper, and you may find they’re incrementally trying to create something new that should be formally added to your roadmap.
  • Learn to say no to feature requests —: This is a huge responsibility on the product management team since all the requirements pass through a PM. It is one of the hardest things since this can spoil the relationship with the stakeholders, but the right PM will be able to say no, without affecting the relationship with the stakeholders. Also, the company culture plays an important role in this. Everyone needs to understand that feature creep can lead to a lot of negative impacts and hence not accepting a feature request is not personal, but more of a business decision.
  • Strong documentation —: All the product/ feature details should be very well documented. The scope of the feature must be well-defined and shared with all the stakeholders. This is to ensure that all stakeholders are aware of the scope and the risk of increasing the scope by adding more functionality midway during the development process.

Conclusion

Simplicity should be the key to the entire product development process. And anything that could make the process complicated should be dealt with with the utmost attention. As we learned, feature creep can surely make the product development process complicated. Also, with the growth of the organization, this monster is bound to grow. But in the end, the organizations that understand and realize the price and the negative impact of feature creep will come out as a winner. Keeping quality user experiences should be the ultimate goal of an organization, and this will indirectly or even directly help the organization to stay away from the horror of feature creep.

Have you experienced feature creep in your company? If yes, what was the impact and how did you tackle it? Please tell us in the comments section.

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Shehab Beram

Shehab Beram

Product Manager | UX Design & Product Consultant | I also write essays that help you get smarter at your product management game https://linktr.ee/shehabberam