Feature creep may seem to be the most harmless of all creeps. It happens when team members arbitrarily add extra features to the project deliverables because they think they know better or they just like them more than other things they are assigned to do.
Why does feature creep happen?
The key driver of feature creep is in the fundamental desire of most professionals to be proud of what we do. Most of us like to create perfect solutions and are happy to spend time and effort to showcase our skills and expand our horizons. If we like what we do, we use our enthusiasm and creativity to develop the best possible solutions while extending our personal interests and satisfying our curiosity.
Isn’t it good?
Most project managers encourage team enthusiasm and creativity and want team members to be proud of their work. I fully support this view. Without such encouragement, many unique and challenging projects would not reach a happy end. A passionate and caring team is pivotal to the success of many projects, however feature creep often comes with it, and it is important to recognise its potential dangers.
Project team that is excited about additional features is likely to neglect the less exciting mandatory tasks, diverting efforts from critical tasks and causing delays. We may face serious integration issues if new features have not been properly aligned with the rest of the project. Project customer may need to pay for expensive maintenance and upgrades due to non-standard product features. There is also a chance that by adding extra features for free we may be missing an opportunity to get paid for them through proper variation or even to sell it as a separate product.
What should we do if we experience feature creep?
In my view, the main problem with feature creep is not the addition of extra features, but the way how it is done. If our project team agreed from the start that we don’t want surprises, and all new information and ideas are promptly and openly discussed, then new features will not creep in. They will be properly considered and either added as formal variations or packaged into separate products or maybe integrated with other ideas for future consideration. A no surprises policy and clear innovation process should help nurture team creativity while channelling it towards real value realisation.
In the process of managing feature creep, it is important to emphasise the value of innovation and creativity in the project team, while maintaining clarity of project scope and performance measures. The team needs to remember that “the best” is often the main enemy of “good enough”. We don’t usually need a gold plated solution to be proud of project outcomes. We should be proud of delivering a good enough solution for the client within the time and budget constraints of the project.