The Dangers of Feature Creep


In my prior post, Beware, Feature Creep Has Downsides, I discussed the implications of feature creep that would be of concern to managers in relation to time and money expenditures.  I’m going to delve a little bit further here to discuss employee engagement and something to think about for managers out there.

Why Should I Stop, When It Feels So Good!

If the prior reasons aren’t enough to dissuade you from fully engaging in feature creep, here are a few more.  Employee engagement is something expected from engineers.  After all, they are professionals in their fields, have gone to college (generally), and have a good understanding of what needs to be done with a project.  Feature creep tends to push the boundaries of what is acceptable for the new system.  By this I mean that engineers design systems to perform their required features from the beginning.  I mentioned system robustness and design before, but the kicker is that engineers are conceptually putting a puzzle together.

Think about the times in your life that you’ve put together a puzzle.  Assuming the puzzle has more than thirty pieces, let’s imagine your sadistic friend looks you in the eye and says, “That’s not hard enough, let’s make it more challenging!”  He/she then proceeds to pull a different puzzle out from under the table, dumps a handful of pieces into the existing pile, and mixes them in.  This may be a bit dramatic for additional features, but I think the analogy has some merit.  Engineers are putting the puzzle together, and while doing so, they are contemplating the next task that needs to be done.  They organized their thoughts and work flows to get the majority of the features up first, followed by the secondary ones, and on down the line until they are polishing the product.  When a feature comes in later in the project, chaos ensues for at least a moment, where their thought process is entirely derailed.

In the event that this happens infrequently (that would be preferable), no major harm is done, but in many organizations, feature additions are becoming the norm.  As they increase in frequency, engineers begin to lose full ownership of their product.  They also start becoming angry with management for failing to do their job of adequately defining the scope of projects.  This is magnified when time schedules are not extended to accommodate for the new requirements.

But It Can Be Good, Right?

Of course it can!  As I mentioned before, keeping it down to the bare minimum is the key to not killing your engineers, or making them want to yank their hair out.

  1. Stick to the features that MUST be added.  If your customer won’t buy the product without a feature, obviously it’s critical that it gets in the system.
  2. Account for some small change requests in the original estimate.  If you don’t end up adding any after all, you get the project done early!  How cool is that?
  3. Don’t let customers steamroll you into adding things that don’t need to be added, or are far beyond the original scope of the project.

Do you have some other advice for managers in dealing with feature creep?  PLEASE leave your thoughts in the comments!

  • @Christian: Really nice blog. I liked your idea of distributing the same content through different channels. I am still thinking of video blog myself, but couldn’t start yet.

    Anyways, I think that your video is slightly longer. It would be nice to have a shorter video for your future blogs.

    Over all, really good work. Keep it up.

    • Christian Fey

      Hey Bhavin!

      Thank you for the kind words! I agree the video was a bit long, but it was encompassing two blog posts, so I figured this time it could be justified. In the future, they’ll likely be half as long and I’ll have a timer on my desk in a big font.

      Thanks again!