Feature creep is the tendency for anything complicated to become even more complicated because people keep saying ‘wouldn’t it be nice, wouldn’t it be even better if it had this feature too…’.

Also known as is a tendency for a project’s requirements to increase during development, leading to features that weren’t originally planned and resulting in a risk to product quality or schedule.

Feature creep may be driven by a client’s growing ‘wish list’ or, and I know because I’ve been guilty of this myself, by spotting an opportunity to improve the product (“We need to write a new section to cover…”).

Here’s how to avoid feature creep happening to your project:

1.   Ask yourself

If we add this feature will most of our users notice a significant improvement in the product in everyday use? Only add the features that your target audience use. Yes, a web page might be nice to have but if you’re target audience has sporadic net access stick to print.

If in doubt, think of the bottom line. Will this feature lead to increased sales?

OK it might generate sales but what will it cost to design, implement and test?

2.   Stand firm. Resist the temptation

At some point during the project life cycle there will be meetings with egos, expressed as ‘we could have a helpline…’ and so on. Go back to point 1. Consider what benefit this feature will add – is it worth the additional resources (who will man the helpline? Who will train the people manning the helpline?). Will the response justify the additional expense (either in time, money or people)?

Sure, try out new features. If you decide to add a feature in, think about which feature you can drop. The more features, the more resources the project will take. And the higher the risk of missing the delivery date. It’s like a monster, growing bloated with features.

3.  When someone suggests a great new feature say:

“It’s a great idea and we will add it to the list of ideas for the next version of the product.” Publications get re-printed, websites get refreshed. When the product is launched users may even request that very feature, proving there is demand.

4.   When the schedule starts to slip dump features

Think at the start – what features could be removed without anyone noticing?

5.   Avoid feature creep in the future

Be vigilant. Be on your guard. A project will grow arms and legs unless you keep an eye out for ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have…’ and nip them in the bud.