Starting an enterprise can be a deeply personal experience. Whether you do it alone, or as part of a team, the process is the same; it begins with an idea, that becomes (hopefully) a successful company.
This involves undergoing an arduous journey of developing and protecting the concept. Investors and new team members come on board and slowly, the concept evolves and changes, until finally it comes to put let out on the market. However, after all the work that has gone into bringing the concept to this stage, the team begins to add more features, looking to launch the best possible version of the product. This is feature creep, and it’s the vehicle that will indulge the entrepreneur's worst fears and ultimately damage any hope of success.
For anybody familiar with the lean start-up (most of you probably are, and we would encourage anyone who is not to read it here), there is a particular emphasis placed on market validation. Think of it like the golden rule; your idea must be grounded in customer need. Feature creep is like a road block that prevents this from happening. We have summarised the issues below;
a. Feature creep involves continually adding new features to the product pre-launch. The reasons for it are largely quite logical; we want to put out a strong product to get strong early customer acquisition, we want our product to feature strongly on any comparative list, etc. This is all nonsense. The number one concern for the enterprise should be to get market feedback as soon as possible. This is where the concept of the minimum viable product comes into play. The product that goes to launch should be able to work, just about. When it’s launched, the market reaction will outline the faults, and identify the core areas where the product needs to improve.
The difficult part is to keep pace with these criticisms. As the negative reviews come through, address them and keep driving forward. So long as you are gaining more customers than you lose, you will succeed, and more importantly you gain invaluable market feedback.
a. One of the most difficult things that the enterprise has to recognise is the opportunity for a pivot. If the feedback coming from the market pre-launch is that the product requires a number of additional features to provide a viable value proposition, then it’s highly probable that the initial idea is lacking. Don’t confuse adding value, with a value added activity. If the basic value proposition isn’t enough, more features won’t fill the gap, they will only pull limited capital into never ending R&D.
a. The basic principle behind feature creep, is that the entrepreneur is trying to anticipate what features the market will most appreciate. This is a dangerous precedent and the longer it goes on the more difficult it becomes to actually launch. The enterprise ends up striving for the best version of the product, and nothing else will suffice.
The Google example describes this really well. When they were launching GoogleNews, they had the opportunity to implement another feature, either “sort by date” or “sort by location”. There was disagreement among the team of programmers over which was more suitable. In the end they did neither, and shortly after the release they got flooded with emails and requests to add a “sort by date” feature. Your customers are best placed to tell you what they want, don’t try and anticipate it.
Ultimately, it’s a very uncomfortable process as you are expected to launch, knowing that your product is lacking in some way. Our advice is to let the customer tell you what that it is. Below, we outline the benefits and methods of avoiding feature creep;
a. Here at Scriba, we’re not entirely convinced of the merits of brainstorming, but it undoubtedly has some value. The best way to avoid feature creep, is to appoint somebody the role of bad cop from the beginning. Give somebody the role of calling out any suggestions for additional features and testing them strongly on their merits. This can help to counteract the logical arguments that are inherent with feature creep, and acts as a slap in the face to the whole team. It really helped us focus on our core value proposition.
a. As stated above, it is important to launch early and get market feedback. This iteration loop is one of the strongest tools that the enterprise has at its disposal. We advise launching really early. People will buy your product, use your product, and try to return your product. Subscriptions will be cancelled, refunds will be sought, but the benefit will far outweigh any negative. The feedback you get at this stage is incalculable and it will focus your attention on what matters most. As long as you gain customers at a higher rate than you’re losing them, you’re onto a winner.
a. Another major benefit of getting that feedback is that you have market validation. You know people are willing to buy what you’re selling, if only in some form not yet fully realised. This is crucial when it comes time to look for investment. Check out our article on proof of concept for more information on how to use proof of concept as a means for investment.
Ultimately, feature creep although seemingly innocuous, can have devastating results for the company. It can delay launches and pull resources to R&D that might not be completely necessary. Avoid it at all costs.