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What is feature creep, and how can you avoid it?

Last updated

17 April 2024

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Mary Mikhail

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Product development can be exciting but challenging. Adding as many features as you and your team can conceive may be tempting, piling update upon update to enhance the user experience.

This phenomenon is known as feature creep and can be detrimental to customers and your team. Also known as scope creep, it regularly plagues product developers, especially when introducing a new product or service.

Read on to understand the effect feature creep can have and how you can safeguard against it.

What is feature creep (or scope creep)?

Feature creep happens when the planned list of features for a product extends beyond the work that's necessary for a successful release.

Feature creep is common in product development and design because many people assume that the more features a product has, the better. This is not the case. Feature creep can make a product too complicated and create a lot of extra work for you and your team.

What causes feature creep?

Many things can cause feature creep. A common cause is trying to build one product that suits every customer's needs. Attempting to satisfy every possible use case can lead you to add a laundry list of features. This will likely put you into a cycle of endless development, making it harder to produce a product your target customer will want to use.

Feature creep can also be caused by poor planning. When you don't plan ahead of time and outline key features for success, you'll open up your project to scope creep. Poor or insufficient planning also makes it more likely your end product won’t meet the original specifications.

Misaligned priorities can cause scope creep, especially if many stakeholders are involved in the early stages of product development. Every stakeholder will have their own opinion about what features the product should have, and if they aren't aware of the implications of feature creep, it could be harmful to the project.

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Why is feature creep bad?

Feature creep can be a product development nightmare. Primarily, it is a waste of your team's time. Every product feature requires time and resources to develop, whether or not the features are quality ones. This is dedicated time from members of your team that could be better spent on other tasks or projects.

Feature creep can also cause your team to be spread too thinly. This is a particular problem in smaller organizations. Excessive work on one project could mean your team doesn't have time to work on other important projects, which could lead to employee burnout and dissatisfaction.

Another reason to avoid feature creep is that it carries a higher risk of bugs. Every feature of your product or solution has a risk of bugs, even if it receives intensive development and testing. The more features you add, the higher the risk of problems. This will lower user satisfaction and frustrate your team, especially since the more features you have, the harder it becomes to troubleshoot and fix those problems.

Feature fatigue is a very real risk with scope creep. Feature fatigue occurs when customers or users steer clear of products or applications because they are intimidated or annoyed by the sheer number of features.

Customers might also be distrustful of products with a host of features, fearing poor performance or software problems. Once feature fatigue sets in, it is notoriously difficult to retract.

How does feature creep affect the user experience?

While it stands to reason that users appreciate thoughtful features designed to improve their experience of a product, when they’re bombarded with a host of unhelpful or loud features, they could pull back altogether.

For example, if you visit a website that is covered with popups, ads, and requests for personal information, you'll likely become overwhelmed and leave. It's the same with users discovering feature creep.

Most product developers and company stakeholders have good intentions when outlining potential new tools and features. However, if these ideas aren't accompanied by thoughtful planning and informed decision-making, excessive new features can hurt the user experience.

How to avoid feature creep

It's easy to understand the negative effects of feature creep. It isn't always so easy to steer clear of it, especially if you're developing a big new product. Here are a few ways to safeguard against scope creep.

Understand your target audience

Knowing your users and how they interact with your product will guide you in understanding peak functionality. When you understand your target audience's wants and needs, you'll know what features are necessary and which ones can be discarded.

Every business can benefit from a better understanding of their target audience. Conduct user research, including surveys and polls if necessary, as well as market research, to get a finger on the pulse of your customers.

Decline unreasonable requests

If you have a lot of project stakeholders or team members providing insights and suggestions, you’ll probably end up with a long list of requests.

Learn to say no and decline unreasonable requests. Provide context to stakeholders and give feedback on why a feature isn't feasible, rather than rejecting the idea outright.

Focus on core features

Every product has a set of core features that define it. Keeping the product vision in mind can help you and your team stay on task and on the same page.

The product's core features are its selling point and what keeps your users coming back to your company. Get buy-in from stakeholders as you outline these key features. This will minimize conflict down the line, especially during the active development phase.

Document and share project updates

Planning and communication are vital for the success of every company initiative. Document and share product updates as you go and keep careful notes in every meeting where product features are discussed.

Share these notes after the meeting ends so everyone can stay on task. This also gives team members a chance to voice concerns or share misunderstandings.

3 examples of feature creep

It can be hard to recognize feature creep. These examples highlight how easy it is to experience feature creep, even in established, well-known companies.

  • Adobe Photoshop: Any product that requires users to work through a lengthy tutorial before use can be intimidating. Adobe Photoshop is an example of a product that suffers from scope creep, with excessive features and regular updates that could pose a challenge to even experienced designers, much less customers who want to use basic photo-editing software.

  • Excel: Excel is another product that, while widely used, requires a steep learning curve. Most users need to go through tutorials before using Excel, especially if they don't have experience with spreadsheets or charts.

  • Smart refrigerators: For years, smart refrigerators were heavily promoted as the most efficient, cutting-edge way to store groceries and upgrade your kitchen. Smart refrigerators are equipped with dozens of features, many more than a standard appliance. While this appeals to a segment of the population, they have fallen in popularity due to the inconvenience of the overall design.

These products are good examples of how more features don't necessarily mean an improved product.

Keep your core features and product vision in mind, communicating frequently and saying no to unnecessary features along the way, and you'll be well-prepared to avoid scope creep in your next product development venture.

FAQs

What is feature bloat?

Feature bloat is when a product has too many features added to it, affecting the product's core functionality. While the terms feature bloat and feature creep are often used interchangeably, feature bloat can also happen well after feature creep sets in.

Why is feature creep a problem?

Feature creep happens when developers add excessive features to a product. Too many features can negatively affect the user experience and cause your team to be spread too thinly. Feature creep can be avoided by careful planning, saying no to unnecessary features, and gaining a solid understanding of your target customers.

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