Scope Creep
Is This the "Bug" That is Keeping Your Products From Going to Market?

They might not be the kinds of bugs you were watching out for when you set out to develop a product, but scope creep may be the biggest problem that stalls your release. What endless streams of requests, ideas, and unexpected twists are stalling your releases?

Scope creep is sometimes referred to as feature creep, functionality creep, or requirements creep. It includes functionality, features and requirements that go beyond your original specifications or design. Scope creep encompasses:

  • Functionality that is now required but was initially left out of the original specification or design.
  • New gotta-have features.
  • "Oops, we meant it's supposed to do that or it's NOT supposed to do that."
  • Last minute "fixes".

The Costs of Scope Creep

  • Money - the costs of longer than expected development efforts and lost market share.
  • Time / Productivity - the costs of pulling developers off of other important projects or delay of the starting another.
  • Morale - the stress of projects that demand overtime and rob engineers from their sense of accomplishment.

Controlling Scope Creep
Always keep an eye on your goal; a product that is elegantly simplistic, compact, stable and bug-free. Producing a quality, maintainable product developed in a timely fashion is the ultimate achievement. Evaluate each new feature, functionality, requirement, or software change. Do the suggested changes help you reach the goal?

A well-managed project will prevent scope creep. Here are some general rules to follow:

  • Start with a specification and design that is as complete and properly researched.
  • Set measurable milestones.
  • Set a priority or importance for each milestone.
  • Set a time schedule for milestones.
  • Establish the expectations of all parties involved (from marketing to engineers to the CEO). For example, you may want to set a fixed number a client can review a design.
  • Assign sign-off responsibility with a single point-of-contact on each end.
  • Follow an established change process. Use a tool such as Bugzilla to track change requests and set priorities.
  • Refuse to slip in last minute features no matter how simple. They jeopardize the completeness of the testing efforts.

Preventing Scope Creep
There are also some things you can do to solidify your initial specifications and design and prevent scope creep.

  • Prototype a new idea to prove the concept. If you are trying something out of the ordinary, make sure it works before you invest too much time.
  • Beta a product for early feedback. Once again, if the end-customer dislikes a particular feature, there is no sense in investing the time to develop it.
  • Control your emotions. Don't let the pursuit of perfection or the hot pursuit of your competitors become the focus. Does it REALLY affect your meeting your goal?
  • Develop a workable base product first. Put some features and functionality into future releases. Attempting to develop a product that is all things to all people can consume a project, delay time-to-market, and set it up for failure.

"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Expect a Little Scope Creep - Just be Sure You Can Manage It Too
It is quite typical that a project takes a different path than was originally planned. You could say that scope creep should be expected to some degree. And it makes good practical sense to plan for some unexpectedness.

Properly controlled and managed, project development can run smoothly.

Choose an Experienced Development Partner
Controlling scope creep often means control of that fine line between developing a full-featured product that’s bug-free, and delaying a release so long that sales are compromised. While you want to release a product in a timely fashion, you don't want to lose your buyer's trust by delivering a faulty one either.

Developing new products requires experienced project management skills and an established process to meet the end goal. It takes everyone involved to subscribe to the process. At RightHand, we help our client follow a development process that controls creep. Some clients have their own process while others choose to use ours. We review RightHand’s process every year based on customer input and improve upon it. Scope creep is one of many things we address.

In choosing a development partner, be sure to ask questions about the product development process. They should have an experienced answer for you - even if you require them to follow your outline.

Don't let your project succumb to scope creep because of poor project management.