When you look at statistics on software development, the success rate is disappointing.  Many factors contribute to this negative trend.  However, scope creep is a stealthy form of derailing even the best-planned projects.  Nevertheless, there is a bright side to this common obstacle.  We can find a silver lining for even this black storm cloud.

Filling a Release

Scope creep can be managed in a way that makes it desirable.  There are opportunities during most projects to slip in a little work here or a tweak there.  These small changes can be accomplished without impacting deadlines and the big picture goals of a project.  When you have these items, they are the best use of scope creep.  You might even plan for it.

We see this situation most often in Agile sprints.  The team puts several tickets into a sprint and includes some that are “nice to have.”  These tickets are the ones that are only tackled if the other items get done ahead of schedule.  Think of it as a form of buffer.  Instead of adding empty time to a plan or estimate, “throw-away” tasks are included that can provide an easy way to adjust the project scope.

Scope Creep Allows For Change

Most, if not all, of the projects I have worked on included discussions where we saw new features, uses, or needs for the solution as we worked through the creation process.  There is just too much that can be missed when you look at a solution on paper.  Hands-on experience can lead us to find new needs for even an MVP or almost beg us to make some UX related improvements.  If we refuse to allow for scope creep, then we effectively block ourselves from learning as we go.  An Agile approach will usually make this a non-issue.  However, a waterfall methodology can force scope creep items into a new version.

Instant Feedback

Whether we implement items requested as scope creep or not, this shows that we received feedback.  If no one uses or cares about our project, then we will never see scope creep.  When users care and use our application heavily during the development phase, then new feature requests should be expected.  It may be a headache.  Nevertheless, this is a headache you should be happy to have.

Episode Challenge: What did you learn from your recent experience with a creeping scope?

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Rob Broadhead

Rob is a founder of, and frequent contributor to, Develpreneur. This includes the Building Better Developers podcast. He is also a longtime student of technology as a developer, designer, and manager of software solutions. Rob is a founder and principle of RB Consulting and has managed to author a book about his family experiences. In his free time, he stays busy raising five children (although a few have grown into adults). When he has a chance to breathe, he is on the ice playing hockey to relax.

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