The phenomenon of feature creep has been plaguing product teams for decades – leading to products and services that are too unwieldy, over budget, and overtime.
However, many product managers misunderstand the causes of feature creep and even less know how to avoid it. Feature creep can lead to a loss of focus and vision, and even lead to a product that fails to meet the original aims and business objectives of the project.
What is feature creep? How does it come about? What are its costs and consequences? Why should SaaS companies avoid feature creep? How do you avoid creeping scope?
An important aspect of reducing feature creep in minimum viable products (MVP) and shipped products is to track feature adoption and your overall user engagement and retention. For this, June.so is the perfect product analytics tool for your SaaS company. In this article, we’ll explore what is feature creep, discuss some of the causes of concept creep and explain how to avoid it in your next SaaS product.
What is Feature Creep?
Feature creep is the gradual addition of new features to a product or service, ultimately making it too complex and bulky.
It often leads to bloated software with low performance and takes up more time and resources to develop and maintain. It also affects the product's usability - as feature bloat makes it harder for users to navigate the product and understand its intended uses.
Some other names for feature creep include:
- Scope creep
- Concept creep
- Project scope creep
- Concept bloat
- Feature bloat
Early-stage startups are most vulnerable to feature creep as they try to attract new users and investors. Developers often set out with good intentions, trying to add extra features to meet all the user needs they could possibly think of. However, what ends up happening is that the product loses purpose by trying to solve too many problems at once.
Is Scope Creep the same as Feature Creep?
Feature creep and scope creep are often used interchangeably – and yes – they broadly refer to the same thing. However, scope creep can encompass more than feature bloat, and can also refer to when a project spends too much time and resources on the same number of features as opposed to simply adding too many features to the product.
Feature creep leads to a product that exceeds the original scope of a project. To understand the costs of this, we first need to establish what a project scope actually is.
What is Scope?
In project management, a product scope is the set of features and needs a product needs to meet in order to be considered a success. It is the extent of the product. By contrast, project scope is the work needed to produce said product.
Both of these types of scopes can suffer from creep. Adding too many features to a product can lead to product scope creep. In the same vein, doing too much work to reach the product scope (via inefficient project planning) leads to project scope creep.
The result is the same: a project that costs too much, is taking too long to reach the market, and often doesn’t meet the original criteria as set out by a project manager or the client themselves.
What causes Feature Creep?
Feature creep – intuitively – results from a lack of planning and project management. This issue stems from the inefficient separation of decision-making. Feature creep would be far less likely if the client or executive management made every decision regarding which features to add.
However, in reality, this isn’t possible. However, as decisions get passed down the product development chain, the original focus becomes somewhat diluted. Project teams may wish to add as much “value” to products without considering the product’s usability as a whole.
Common causes for feature creep include:
- A poor or miscommunicated product strategy.
- An unclear or shallow specification document or product plan.
- Clients being able to directly contact product teams regarding project progress. This often leads to clients asking for new features without the oversight of a project manager.
- A “hands-off” project manager that doesn’t oversee feature development closely enough.
- Lack of foresight.
- A project that tries too hard to “stay relevant” to the changing market.
- Inadequate research into the market, target audience.
- Overzealous, overambitious promises made to clients or executive management.
- Poor team communication and rapport.
- An individualistic company culture.
Many “victims” of feature creep note that feature requests that are out of scope aren’t properly reviewed or too easily accepted.
How do you avoid Feature Creep?
Now that we know what feature creep is, and what commonly causes it, what can your SaaS company do to avoid scope creeping?
Here are four tried and tested strategies for solving feature creep:
Developing and sticking to your product strategy
For many product teams, a well-researched and developed product strategy is required to avoid feature creep.
How does a product strategy differ from a product plan? A product plan is often a list of features required and some deadlines that your team will need to meet. It ignores who you’re creating this product for and why they will want to use it.
A product strategy is a complete research plan of what’s needed to create a successful product. Here’s what your strategy will need to include:
Target audience research
Who are you developing this product for? Is there a product market for your new app? What problems exist for this target demographic? How will your product aim to fix these?
Identifying your product-market fit is important here. Many startups fail to consider how the feature set and value proposition will effectively meet the underserved needs of your customers. Then, when product teams realize that they aren’t meeting their product-market fit late into the game, they rush to add extra features – leading to feature creep.
Identifying a key vision for the project
A vision can be defined as the reason you’re creating the product. Your vision should set out the long-term goals of the project. How will the product look and be used years into the future? Why will your customers care about the product moving forward?
Why do you need a product vision? It’s so anyone who works on the product knows exactly what the end goal is. How many times do you think you and your team members have done work and wondered: what’s the point?
By letting your team members know the long-term plan, they can better plan and develop features that stay within scope.
List of Desired Features Ranked by Importance
Your product strategy should list all the features you need to reach those long-term goals and how they relate to the target audience. For each feature, a strategy document should outline how it helps the product-market fit and how it is relevant to the product vision.
It’s useful to rank these features by relevance to the vision or importance to your target audience. This way your teams can prioritize those aspects that create the most product value. We’ll talk more about how to understand which features are most important to your product later on.
Limit and Focus on Core Features
The key to avoiding feature creep is to bring to market the minimum viable product (MVP) and leave extra features and scope expansion to later when you’re able to understand how your users engage with your product.
To do this, we need to focus on the core features that ensure you’re meeting your project’s requirements.
- During development, always link feature requests to how they will be relevant and useful to your target audience. Each feature needs to solve a problem that potential customers are experiencing. If it doesn’t, axe it!
- Listing your features by importance and relevance helps identify which to incorporate into the “core features” at launch and which to save for a future feature update.
- Separate the wants and needs of your target audience. Some features are “nice to have” but aren’t necessities that make or break a product.
- Researching key competition and how their features are being received by their userbase is a great way to “test the waters”. Be cautious, however. Your MVP is unique to your product, and direct competitors may be trying to solve different problems than you.
Identify and remove features that aren’t being adopted
Once you’ve shipped your MVP or full product, it’s important to track how features are being received and used by your customers. This is called feature adoption. With a SaaS product analytics tool like June.so, it’s easy to understand how well your users are engaging with new features.
If you find features have a low adoption rate, this can mean one of two things:
- Your feature is too hard to find or you haven’t marketed it well enough to your users. If your users don’t know the feature exists, how can you expect them to use it? If this is the case, you’ll need to invest more into getting the word out there. How about a note on your app’s splash screen or a push notification?
- Users aren’t finding your feature useful enough or don’t need it. If this is the case, it may be time to remove it. If you continue to maintain it, you risk sinking too much time and money into it – hence, feature bloat!
June.so has a template to easily get started analyzing your feature adoption. You can track how your feature is being used over time in daily, weekly, or even monthly resolutions.
On the other hand, if a feature is receiving high adoption (80% or more), it may be time to prioritize that to make them even more valuable.
To discover the adoption of one of your features all you have to do is:
- pick the event corresponding to the feature you want to analyze
- select an audience
You will then see how many users adopted that feature out of all the eligible users (since when the corresponding event was first triggered).
Turn down feature requests
Remember, product managers know best. Clients will want their product to meet every need possible, and may persist on adding features that don’t match the scope of the project. Trust your experience, research, and instincts. If you know it won’t work, say no!
Designers often want to keep all stakeholders happy. But, in reality, it’s impossible to make sure everyone is 100% happy. Stick to the needs of the target audience and keep the original business objectives in mind. If your product team has done their homework in the early stages, you should know which feature requests aren’t worth considering.
It’s important to provide detailed and relevant reasoning every time you turn down feature requests. With a defined product strategy, this is easy! Just explain how it doesn’t meet the needs of your target audience or offer an alternative that will be more useful to your project. It’s often the case that another feature already solves the problem that new feature requests are trying to meet.
Track your Feature Adoption and User Engagement with June.so
The best way to understand how users are engaging with features and to identify those features that create the most value, you’ll need a quality product analytics tool. This is because collecting data on feature adoption, engagement, and retention can be particularly difficult without an analytics tool.
June.so can automate this process so you can optimize what your team is focusing on and reduce feature creep.
You can automate feature engagement tracking by connecting your segment account to June. Acquired by Twilio, Segment is a platform for collating your customer usage data into one easy-to-access place. With Segment, you can automatically collect user metrics from hundreds of software tools like Google Analytics and Stripe. With June, you can easily generate attractive and functional engagement and retention graphs and reports on your feature adoption.
Get started today at June.so and access BS-free, accessible and beautiful product analytics for B2B SaaS companies.