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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Riccetto

Managing Scope Creep in Product Design

Nobody likes a creep – unless it’s the song by Radiohead. But in the world of product design and development, the “creep” we’re referring to is “scope creep”, and it’s an all-too-familiar challenge we encounter.

 

As a refresher for those that need it, scope creep refers to the gradual expansion of the project scope — additional features, functionalities, or requirements — that were not part of the initial plan.


Imagine a scenario where a new software tool, initially designed to perform three primary functions, evolves to include ten more requested features during development. While innovation is valuable, such changes can significantly affect project outcomes — and more isn’t always better.

 

 

WHY YOU NEED TO AVOID CREEPING

 

To be clear, expanding project scope isn’t a bad thing. When you’re in the thick of creating a new product and building a new company, opportunities often present themselves that lead to pivots that prove necessary and lucrative in the long run. These expansions and changes can lead to enhanced product innovation, and improved alignment with evolving market needs and customer expectations — if managed effectively.

 

But scope creep can present some very real challenges and setbacks, often very expensive ones. Scope creep can lead to significant budget overruns. Obviously, additional features will require additional resources, including labour costs, materials, and technology not included in original estimates. One seemingly small change might mean a complete overhaul of the product design because a new feature throws off the look and balance of the entire layout. Or maybe incorporating more electrical components might not fit into the existing enclosure; so, your product designers are back to square one trying to create an intuitive device with an appealing outward aesthetic.


This expansion also typically causes project delays by requiring extra planning, development, and testing — which can push back the project's completion and affect subsequent initiatives tied to product launch and ongoing operations. The increased scope can drain resources allocated to other projects or tasks, reduce organizational efficiency, and shift focus away from other critical priorities.

 

Remember, as more features and requirements are added, the complexity of the project – and its project management – grows along with it. This can lead to confusion among team members, inconsistency in implementation, and potential conflicts in project goals between stakeholders. Plus, the continuous addition of features can dilute focus, potentially compromising the quality of the final product.

 


In the "The Camel" episode of "Parks and Recreation," the Parks Department staff each submits a different design for a new mural, but they struggle to agree on a single concept. Ultimately, they combine elements from all their submissions into one disjointed mural pictured left.


Source: NBC Universal







MANAGING THE CREEP

 

While scope creep may seem inevitable, there are proactive steps that can be taken to mitigate its impact and keep projects on track while leaving room for when innovation strikes.

 

Start with Defining Clear Objectives and Requirements.

At Brash, we begin every project with clear and detailed documentation of the project scope. This serves as our benchmark for just about everything, including evaluating proposed changes. A good product design team will start by establishing clear project objectives and defining requirements in detail. This ensures that every member of your design and development team are able to guide decisions and recommendations based on what you're looking to achieve with your product — remain committed to your forest through the complexity of many trees. It also helps keep everyone aligned across functional departments and stakeholders as the process unfolds. It's easier than you think to lose sight of the original vision when the minutia and unexpected complications of reality start to take center stage. Minimize the ambiguity early on to save yourself major headaches later, thereby also reducing the likelihood of scope creep.

 

Use an Agile Methodology but Establish Change Control Processes.

The Brash team approach employs an agile development methodology. This allows for a "structured flexibility" through iterative product development cycles. Simply put, when hitting significant milestones in development, we incorporate feedback, assess progress, and adjust product scope incrementally as needed in order to adapt to new ideas and innovations.


This approach allows room for innovation but with guardrails against wild budget increases and delays. To successfully use an agile approach, this does also mean putting in place processes that allow for impact assessment and approvals before any deviations from the initial plan are put into effect. This ensures that all scope changes are carefully considered, and approved by relevant stakeholders before implementation. Think of it as the "sleep on it before making a decision" of the product design process.


Monitor Progress and Your Budget! There's a lot of moving pieces when creating something new, and lots of decisions needed to be made every day. Regularly monitoring progress in terms of delivering on the project scope, the timeline and the budget will not only identify any deviations or concerns early on, but it also provides a peace of mind and context for making related business and/or project-related decisions.

 

Communicate and Prioritize. It's essential to maintain clear communication in pretty much every aspect of life, product design is no different. It ensures everyone remains on the same page regarding project objectives and progress, helping to manage expectations and align visions. Also, the nature of any kind of project management will ALWAYS result in things not going according to plan, and building something new means that there are uncharted waters that will definitely bring up unforeseen circumstances. But with transparent and strategic communication, you and your team can adapt and make decisions that will focus efforts squarely on the most critical features first and strategically allocate resources to what truly matters — thereby anchoring the project’s scope firmly against the shifting sands of stakeholder whims and market pressures.  


 

THE RIGHT PARTNERS


In the high-stakes world of product development, scope creep is a formidable adversary that can undermine even the most well-conceived and exceptionally planned projects. By recognizing the signs of scope creep early on, establishing clear objectives and requirements, closely monitoring progress, and maintaining open communication, entrepreneurs and their teams can effectively mitigate its impact and keep projects on track for success. So, the next time you embark on a project journey, arm yourself with the knowledge and strategies, and the right partners.


A great partner who has been through the process goes a long way to help navigate the development landscape, and you can always reach out to our team at letsgo@brashinc.com at any point in your product development journey.


It's not just a product, it's our passion.

Be Brash.

 

 

 

 

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