Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Abraham Ortelius, Antwerp, 1570.
October 26, 2019

Slaying Feature Creep

“Wouldn’t it be cool if … “ That’s how it usually starts.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if we had this. Oh, yeah and that, we gotta have the latest in that other thing.”

Next thing you know the charming idea of adding features has turned your product into a monstrosity. Here are some tools I find help to slay the feature creep before it eats your product alive.

Feature creep is probably one of the most fundamental challenges for a product designer or product manager to contend with. It’s easy as you develop a product to get personally invested in what you believe is the right feature set for a product to successfully be released. Unless you’re part Vulcan, we can’t help but get emotionally attached to what we believe will make or break a feature or product introduction.

I believe there are a handful of tools at our disposal to help counter feature creep:

  1. Personas
  2. Agile development
  3. Usage metrics—both qualitative and quantitative
“A persona is like a stage actor who understands the motivations of their character and can then express them.”

— Alan Cooper

Personas

Alan Cooper, the inventor of design personas, describes design personas as “A persona is like a stage actor who understands the motivations of their character and can then express them.” Making the most out of personas is a great first line of defense to keep the feature creep at bay. Really understanding a user motivation when working with your product or feature will help guide you and the team as to what needs to be included and what doesn’t.

Interaction design luminary Alan Cooper discusses the importance of using personas in designing interfaces that will help your users to achieve their goals in this interview from Cascade SF.

Agile Development

Something teams I’ve worked with have invested in is really embracing the notion of agile development. While I realize it can be challenging to even consider moving to agile development if you’re releasing at longer time periods, but I can’t tell you how much developing and releasing weekly has changed our mindset on product development. While there’s an art of knowing what the minimal viable product (MVP) and/or minimal desirable product (MDP) is to go out with, I really do think having a weekly sprint, provides a comfort level to what these terms really are. I can’t stress this enough, get it out there in the hands of your customers and really measure and learn what is working for them and what isn’t. Feature creep  to me is usually a select set of customers or your internal team imagining what is crucial for a product—not real life users and customers giving you real life feedback.

Usage Metrics

And to complete the circle of life, once you get your MVP out to your users, you have to measure it to see where it’s hitting all the right notes and where it’s failing to meet expectations. Usage metrics are helpful to inform what features you set out to build out next. Qualitative metrics just means to get out of the building and meet with your users. Learn what’s working for them and what’s not. You can then back this up with quantitative metrics. Quantitative just means that you’ve added in analytics into your feature set to see if the data points line up with what the users are telling you. If you’re releasing weekly or in an agile manner, you can quickly bring back the learnings from your users to the product team and make small but carefully measured iterations. What’s great about all this is the team feels really good about the learnings and know they’re building a product users are actually using and finding value.

By using these processes and tools, you remove the emotional components to shine a light on the actual features your users really can make use of. The guesswork and debates of whether a features needs to get into the product right away slides by the wayside as real data aids in making the best possible product prevail.