Don’t Let “Feature Creep” Kill Your New Product

by Robert Moskowitz on November 20, 2013
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Entrepreneurs working on creating a new product often feel that adding one more feature or capability — like the Spinal Tap amplifiers that “turn up to 11” — will automatically make their offering better. But waiting to release a product until you include an extra feature, or larding a product with useless bells and whistles, can do more harm than good, as even the iconic manufacturer Apple has learned the hard way.

The object is to avoid unnecessary developmental delays that keep your new product off the market despite having all its essential features in place. Here are a few tips for preventing “feature creep” from suffocating your new product before it ever gets a fair chance to succeed:

1. Justify the need for every feature. The most successful products are designed and managed to meet the needs of your customers and prospects. It’s a mistake to add, upgrade, or change new features at random. Each element must pull its own weight and add to the overall utility and appeal of the final offering. The more closely you adhere to this concept during development, the more likely your new product will thrive in the marketplace.

2. Limit who may add features. It’s important that the authority to modify planned features be tightly restricted. The person or team responsible for approving changes to a product in development should be well-versed not only in business management, but also in product usage. This helps ensure that decisions regarding whether or not to add, upgrade, or change features reflect all of the business’s considerations (costs, supply-chain concerns, manufacturing issues, time to market, etc.) and all of the end-users’ considerations (functionality, ease of use, competitive posture, etc.). It’s usually better when this final authority is predisposed to say “no” to feature changes unless there are extremely compelling and incontrovertible reasons.

3. Set milestones for product development. Support every new product with a plan that details its anticipated development process, complete with cut-off dates for key turning points, such as choosing target specifications, specifying feature details, gearing up for production, and rolling out the final product. Retain some flexibility to allow for correcting errors and coping with any fast-changing conditions in the marketplace, customer expectations, or relevant technologies.

4. Create and follow a fixed feature-change process. Few products ever move from final specifications to market without some necessary last-minute changes. But every change to product features should be thoroughly justified and totally worthwhile. What shouldn’t collapse under pressure is a sensible change process that involves:

  • Documenting the need for a feature upgrade, addition, or change;
  • Considering the trade-offs available and their bottom-line implications; and
  • Calculating the potential impact of feature changes on everything from costs to market rollout.

5. Split products into production and development channels. Strategically, at a certain point it’s just not feasible to continue tweaking a product prior to its rollout. Instead, it’s better to separate features that are still under development from what’s locked down for delivery to customers. After this split, you can continue development and let the improvements — when they’re ready — be reflected in the next version you manufacture. This way, you won’t discourage creativity, but you will prevent new ideas and expanded possibilities from hampering the cost-effective and timely delivery of a viable product to market.

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