Sometimes you reach the end of a project and wonder, “How the hell did I get here?” And I’m not referring to a Drake “Started From The Bottom” type of experience.
I’m talking about the sort of experience where you started with an idea for an app, did research, started building your product, held countless brainstorm sessions, went through testing, arrived at the end… and somewhere along the way you realize you lost sight of the vision you had in mind at the beginning (insert exhale of frustration here).
Like many entrepreneurs before, you’re experiencing a case of feature creep. This is the addition of excessive features to a software or hardware that cause the product to become complicated and difficult to use. Rather than improving the product, the extra features end up diminishing usability and your product suddenly loses purpose.
It goes by many names: feature creep, feature fatigue, featuritis, and feature bloat. It’s the result of a growing wishlist, poor planning, or differing priorities. But whatever the cause, one thing is certain — you need to avoid it.
We both know these additional features were never intended to be a bad thing. You got distracted by shiny things, big ideas, more means better! After all, how could adding to an already good product lead to anything but an even better product? But too much of a good thing can be bad.
Before your product becomes overwhelmed with featuritis, I want you to consider these five steps to prevent feature creep from overtaking the development of your next app.
1. Plan, research, validate
First and foremost, planning ahead is vital to your project’s success. Let me say that again, vital to success. I know it sounds elementary, but never overlook this initial step. In the words of old Abe Lincoln, “spend two-thirds of your time sharpening your axe before cutting down a tree.” (In our case, tree=product, axe=execution.) Before you can begin execution, you need to build a roadmap. Or else you’re going to find your project taking a wrong turn.
Essential to building your roadmap is conducting thorough market research. Listen, I know, you probably live, breathe, and sleep your area of expertise,but never assume you know everything about your customer base.
In a 2013 article, Forbes contributor, Mark Evans highlighted the importance of becoming more intimately familiar with your market.
“At a high level, target audiences can be quickly defined. In most cases, however, there has to be a more granular approach to target audiences.”
You need to become a student of your market. Knowing your product isn’t enough.
The last essential component of planning is validating your idea. As you get to know your market, you will better understand the needs of your market. However, never assume those needs, especially when you’re about to put a lot of time and money into a project.
The simple task of proving the validity of your concept may save you from wasted hours and expense down the road (you’ll have plenty of opportunities to spend money down the road…don’t waste it here). After all, the whole reason you’re creating this product is to solve a problem, right? So make sure you’re solving the right problem.
As you get further into your project, product creep is often the result of poor planning. Before your idea becomes a product, I strongly encourage you to lay the groundwork that prevents these problems from becoming an issue later on.
2. Maintain simplicity
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” was the headline of Apple’s first marketing brochure in 1977. Known for his love of simplicity, Steve Jobs once said, “It takes a lot of hard work to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions.”
We all love simplicity. But why do we love simplicity? Because it’s uncomplicated. The same should be true of your product: endless features and additions to your core product won’t benefit your customer.
CB Insights lists a lack of usability as one of the top 20 reasons a new product fails. Additional features often result in an inferior product. Instead of improving the basic function of your app, they only complicate it. It can be difficult, but don’t be afraid to remove features. You may go through improvements and iterations, but if you develop a great product to begin with, you won’t need to add to it.
It can be tempting to fall prey to feature creep. One day, you think you’ve discovered the perfect feature that will increase your revenue. But the next day, you will likely find your project derailed and over budget.
3. Stick to the original product vision
Once you’ve created a plan and committed to developing a simple and superior product, you need to have a clear and concise vision. But this can’t stop with you. Everyone onboard must know the scope of your project as well. Your team should know it… the management should know it… the stakeholders should know it… and everyone else involved in the project should know it!
In case you missed it: make sure everyone knows your vision.
Before the project even begins, consider organizing a presentation to discuss the vision of your project. Not only will this create excitement within your team and hype about the project, but it will ensure everyone is aware of the vision and everyone is on the same page.
And discussing the scope of your project may not be a one and done meeting (don’t let this frustrate you). We all forget. You may need to provide a reminder throughout the duration of the project to refocus everyone involved.
4. Train your team to identify product changes
One of the best ways to prevent feature creep is to have an awareness of possible scope changes. Like looking down the road and anticipating roadblocks, unexpected turns, or bumps that may lay ahead.
Rather than reacting down the road, this will allow your team to proactively prevent needless feature additions. A simple change to the product’s basic function may not seem like a big deal. But a change that you think will only take an hour to implement could end up derailing the rest of the project.
SaaS copywriter Pawel Grabowski listed prolonged development as one of the top reasons new products fail. Your development calendar must be maintained until completion. An unexpected time-suck or financial strain is the last thing you need in the middle of your project. Adding simple features has often resulted in missed deadlines and blown budgets.
Make sure your team knows how to identify product changes, and make sure those changes are reviewed before any more resources are allocated to them. Do this, and you can be confident your team will keep the project on time and in budget.
5. Establish communication expectations
Finally, the success of any project depends upon communication. Brilliant ideas are brought to life through successful communication. Ultimately, if you’re going to reach the finish line with a successful product, it will only happen as the result of clear communication.
As a project manager, you need to ensure that communication is prioritized from the beginning. Invite your team to share ideas, air grievances, ask questions, and offer suggestions. Create a safe place for your team to discuss hot button issues and provide critique without feeling threatened.
The former CEO of URX, John Milinovich, credits much of their early success to an emphasis on open communication, “the best organizations are the ones that not only solicit constructive feedback, but actually do something with it.”
Open and engaged communication throughout your team will go a long way in ensuring your project stays on schedule and on the roadmap.
I get it: preventing feature creep can be difficult, especially when you don’t even realize it’s happening. Sometimes an additional feature seems to be the best and maybe even the only way to improve your product. But don’t forget, more often than not, additional features only add to the complexity of your product. And in turn this diminishes your user’s experience.
But if you commit to proactively planning your project, maintaining simplicity, preserving your vision, teaching your team to identify changes, and establishing communication, you can prevent feature creep from taking over your project. If you do, you can be assured it will result in a superior product and experience for your user.