What is Feature Creep?
Feature creep happens when a product team continues adding features to the point that they undermine the product’s value. Users complain that the product is becoming too complicated or confusing or can’t find the functionality they need.
The defining characteristic of feature creep is that the newer features go beyond the company’s original product vision. These new features get added slowly, over time, and the process unfolds gradually enough that the product team doesn’t realize their product suffers from feature creep.
What is an Example of Feature Creep?
Feature creep on TV: the cable-news information overload.
Have you seen any of those business news shows on cable TV lately? You know, the ones where the hosts talk about stock prices and the economy? These shows give us a perfect example of feature creep.
They started using the typical cable talk-show format: anchors and panelists discussing a business topic. But instead of having breaking-news text scrolling along the bottom of the screen, they had a ticker showing movements in the stock market. That was the producers’ original vision.
Here comes feature creep
The producers decided to add more stock data on the screen at some point. They must have reasoned that if viewers wanted live market updates, they’d be even happier with more market updates. So, they began stealing screen real estate to display information about overseas stock exchanges like the DAX in Germany, Japan’s Nikkei, and the FSTE 100 in England.
Uh oh. The feature creep escalates
Later, the producers decided to carve out more of the screen’s real estate to show additional data. They displayed weather updates. Producers flash commodities spot prices updating in real-time. They even started showing news headlines along the bottom of the screen—moving in the opposite direction with the stock updates scrolling below them.
Eventually, the anchors and their guests speaking shrunk to a small box onscreen. The rest of the screen was filled with enormous amounts of data flashing, pulsing, and scrolling in all directions.
What started as a great idea—financial experts discussing the day’s economic issues—became a complicated mess of information overload. That’s feature creep.
What Causes Feature Creep?
Feature creep can happen for many reasons. The UX Collective lists several of the most common causes of feature creep:
- Pressure to capture new market segments. This could lead a company to add features that appeal to users other than the original target persona. Adding these features can also make the product more clunky and confusing to its existing user base.
- Lack of a clear strategic vision and value proposition. A clear, shared understanding of the product’s mission will keep the team focused on its core purpose. But without this clear vision, a team can find itself adding features that don’t support or enhance this purpose.
- Pressure from a decision-maker to deviate from the original product vision. As the UX Collective notes, feature creep can also result from an executive or other decision-maker demanding the product team add new functionality to the product.
How Do You Prevent Feature Creep?
There are several ways to safeguard your products against feature creep. The key is careful, strategic product planning from the beginning. Here are a few examples of building feature-creep protection into your planning process.
1. Develop your product with simplicity in mind
As Fast Company explains in an article on Steve Jobs’s design philosophy, one of Jobs’s priorities was making Apple’s products easy to use. In most cases, that meant limiting the number of features in each product. The more features, the more complicated and nonintuitive the product became.
You’ll want to begin your product roadmapping process with this goal in mind. If you’re ready to start roadmapping, you should have already spoken with your target personas and learned which few tasks they are most interested in from your product.
Focus on developing and continually improving that functionality—not adding more.
2. Earn buy-in across the company for your limited-feature vision
Preventing feature creep requires a companywide effort. As The UX Collective argued, non-core features often get added to products when an authority figure in the company demands them.
It is a best practice to gain alignment across your organization for the idea that your product should become excellent at addressing only a core set of customer needs. It should not become an ever-expanding feature list.
If you have trouble convincing your executives of this truth, tell them to read the Steve Jobs bio. They won’t argue with Jobs, will they?
3. Share your product roadmap with all key stakeholders
Finally, as you build your product roadmap, you’ll want to invite relevant stakeholders (development, executive staff, sales, marketing, etc.) to view it anytime and keep up to date on its progress. Doing so will help everyone on the team stay focused on your original strategic plan—and, ideally, remember why you’re keeping the feature set limited.
Aligning on a strategic plan is yet another reason (as if you needed one) to use a purpose-built roadmap app. It will allow you to share access to the product roadmap with all relevant parties. It will also ensure everyone is always looking at the current version instead of passing static roadmap documents back and forth and possibly working from an outdated draft.