More and More Features: 4 Tips to Avoid Scope Creep in your Web Development Project

web development tips

Keeping my thoughts on a straight line has always been a personal problem when it comes to writing. I once set out to write a simple piece on the latest album from American rock band Deerhunter before it evolves into a mammoth 3,000-word opinion piece on how gratifying it is to see proper representation of the disenfranchised in popular culture thanks to the likes of Adam Rippon and Crazy Rich Asians. I tend to write whatever comes into my mind and since my mind tends to jump from one train of thought to another even with the flimsiest of connections, trying to keep my writing contained to a single topic has always been a problem me.

This scope creep isn’t just a problem in writing; this is also an especially common issue in software and web development. You start off with a single goal but while in the process of working towards that goal, you keep finding new things that you think could improve the overall project and this is never going to end because there’s never going to be any shortage on things that you could improve. Left unchecked, scope creep could lead to wasted time and a ballooning of cost and/or resource spent in any kind of project, which is definitely something you’d want to avoid.

Contending with the price of ambition

For those of you who are familiar with the video game industry, the name Star Citizen, the poster child for scope (or feature) creep, should definitely ring a bell. Star Citizen is the brainchild of Chris Roberts, the man who was also responsible for the Wing Commander series of video games. In the current state of video game industry, video games matching the production quality of a blockbuster films are dime a dozen. The likes of Uncharted, God of War and Red Dead Redemption constantly pushes the bar on the quality of a video game and we have Wing Commander to thank for that.

Wing Commander was the first video game I’ve ever played that blew me away, with looks and sounds and a sheer attention to detail that I’ve never seen in a video game before and Star Citizen was meant to pick up that baton. Star Citizen was first announced in 2012 as the crowdfunding campaign for the video game began in Kickstarter, which was done to ensure creative freedom compared to Wing Commander which was made under the auspices of Electronic Arts (EA). The game was supposed to be released in 2014 but even now in 2019 and with over US$200 million pumped into the game; it’s still far from seeing the light of day thanks to scope creep and Chris Roberts’ ambitious and perfectionist nature.

Star Citizen employs a modular form of development so parts of the game are actually playable as I’m typing this but that’s like being able to sit in a car and play around with the controls without the ability to actually drive the car. The problem of scope creep has far-reaching implications and while Star Citizen and Chris Roberts is lucky to have passionate, and dare I say slightly delusional, fans in his team, most of us don’t have that kind of luxury. To help combat scope creep in your web development project, here are 4 things you could try.

Get a manager to directly oversees the project

Most creative and engineer types usually scoff at having a ‘suit’ (code for a business executive in a bureaucratic position that usually has little-to-no knowledge of what he’s managing) at the top but their presence can actually be necessary. Here’s a tidbit that you should find interesting. During the time when Chris Roberts was still working under EA, 4 Wing Commander games were released in a six-year timespan from 1990 to 1996 compared to the last seven years during which Star Citizen is still being worked on. Creative freedom can be a boon but even I know that sometimes, it’s important to have someone to say enough is enough.

The simplest way of avoiding scope creep is to not allow them to happen. By having a manager that directly oversees the project, any additional features would have to be cleared first and if the manager decides that those features are beyond the scope of the project and/or would take too long to implement, the manager could just say no. It’s important to have this manager to be someone that is unbiased however, which is why getting someone with a strictly management background might be preferable.

Have the scope of the project detailed in writing

Sometimes, it is possible that scope creep happens because clients keep asking for new things to be added to the project. In cases like these, it is important to hash out the details of the project before it starts so that later on, when the clients asks for things that aren’t covered, you could simply point to the contract and refuse to do them without a renegotiation of sorts. By asking for an extension of the deadline or additional compensation, the extent of the scope creep can at least be properly managed.

Consider using project management software

If you’re looking for a better way to keep track of how the project is going and how your team is doing, use project management software that are widely available online. This is especially useful in projects of a larger scale as the software can help you manage individual members of your team by dividing the project in several smaller tasks. By keeping the tasks smaller and more specific, scope creeps can be avoided as there would be less wiggle room with the project.

Use stretch goals

An alternative way would be to make scope creeps actually baked into the project itself. First, define the base requirement of the project but also add additional features that you or the client would like to have but isn’t actually necessary, which will be referred to as stretch goals, similar to the one in Kickstarter. This way, when your team managed to finish their part of the project way before the deadline, they can refer to these stretch goals instead of setting their own tasks and goals.