What is Scope Creep?
Scope creep is the phenomenon in which a team’s initial plan—the scope of work it agreed to complete—slowly grows to include more goals, tasks, or requirements. Teams should always be mindful of the threat of scope creep and remain vigilant against it. Any plan can be undermined or even derailed by scope creep, from an architectural firm’s scope of work for a new shopping mall, to the agenda for a sales meeting.
In product management, scope creep can distract the team and waste resources needed to achieve the product’s strategic objectives. If the team experiences a severe amount of scope creep, it can lead to a bloated or unfocused product that fails to solve the market problems it was supposed to address.
How Does Scope Creep Work?
Imagine you and your product team have agreed to add a small piece of functionality, a widget, to your software app. The team gets together in a conference room, displays the app on a monitor, and people start making suggestions about where to place this new tool. At this point, everyone is staying focused on the task at hand. So far, so good.
Scope of work: Meet to discuss where to place a new widget in our app.
But as the group reviews screen after screen of the app, team members begin making suggestions about changing design elements, rearranging how the app presents various features, etc. At this point, the meeting has slipped into scope creep.
Scope creep: Distracted from the meeting’s stated purpose, the team begins brainstorming unrelated ideas and suggestions for the product.
Why is Scope Creep so Common in Product Management?
As we stated earlier, scope creep can threaten any business initiative. But the phenomenon is particularly prevalent in product management. Here’s one key reason.
Product ideas come from everywhere.
Building products is a creative endeavor. Product managers are continually receiving ideas, suggestions, and requests for their products—and for new ones altogether. Because they’re often thinking about solving problems for their markets and user personas, effective product managers come up with many new product ideas themselves.
With all of these new ideas surfacing from so many places—sales reps, executives, developers, customers, competitors—product teams can find it difficult to avoid the temptation to divert time and resources from the original plan to work on these ideas. In other words, PMs need to work against the pitfall of scope creep proactively.
How Can Product Managers Avoid Scope Creep?
We’ve written a blog on how product managers can reduce scope creep. Here are a few of the tips from that post.
1. Build alignment around your product roadmap.
Product teams face a higher risk of scope creep when their members don’t have a thorough understanding of the original scope of work. As a product manager, you can convey that scope of work—the product’s strategic goals and plans—with a clear and compelling product roadmap.
2. Encourage your team to refer to the roadmap often.
Once you’ve developed your roadmap and shared it with all relevant stakeholders, you’ll want to make it easy for them to check back in with the roadmap regularly. It’s a great way to help members of your cross-functional team make sure their day-to-day work is moving them in the right direction—toward your product’s strategic goals and plans.
Note: To make it simple for your team to find and review the current version of your product roadmap, you’ll want to use web-based roadmap software instead of a spreadsheet or other type of static file. A native roadmap app allows you to update your roadmap quickly and as frequently as you need, and it eliminates the version-control issues you’ll have with emailing static files to the whole team whenever you make a change.
3. Create a suggestion box or parking lot for the team’s ideas.
Another way to discourage scope creep is to make it easy for your team to park their great ideas in a place they trust that the team will eventually review them.
One reason for scope creep is that people think if they don’t take action on an idea immediately, they’ll forget it, and it will never come to anything. But if you build an idea-parking-lot strategy into your product team’s culture, your team can feel as though they’re leaving their insights and suggestions in a safe place—and then they can get back to focusing on the team’s agreed-upon scope of work.