by Leon Rosenshein


Creep is not just a really bad acronym for political fundraising group. It’s also moving slowly forward, or in development terms, Scope/Feature Creep is when the requirements expand beyond the initial definition. The question is not if it’s going to happen, but what you’re going to do about it and if it’s a good thing or not.

Invariably, when you’re trying to do something you, and possibly no-one, has ever done before you’ll find that the work needed does not exactly match the work you expected. Some things you expected to need won’t be needed, and some things you never thought of (those unknown unknowns) will show up. You’ll often hear that called scope or feature creep.

But more likely, that’s not what’s happening. What’s really happening is that as you work on the project, you discover things that you didn’t know when you started. Or, as @jeffpatton said,

“Scope doesn’t creep, understanding grows“

And that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

First of all, if your understanding grows, that’s a good thing. The better you understand a problem the better you can make the correct tradeoffs needed to add customer value soonest. Sure, when you started you thought you needed to deliver feature A to the customer to add value. But that was before you really understood the problem. Along the way you learned that before you can do A, you need to do B, but guess what, B is valuable in its own right. So go ahead and deliver B as soon as you can.

Looking at it as understanding growing also has the benefit of making it more likely someone will say something. If you’re not punished for recognizing the additional work, or even better, rewarded for learning a new truth, think how much more likely people will be to tell you. If there’s more work to be done the schedule is going to change, whether you find out sooner or later. It’s better to find out sooner, so you can do something about it. If nothing else, you can be transparent. Best case, as I noted above, you find a way to deliver value earlier and everyone is happy.

So next time your understanding grows, don’t look at it as scope creep, look at it as an opportunity to add value sooner.