By Gary Willmott, Co-founder and Managing Partner of Urbian

Ready… Set… Wait! Your new digital innovation promises to delight your customer and unlock real returns for your brand, but as your innovation team hurtles out the gate, an enemy is lying in wait to unseat your project’s success. That enemy is the need to try and pack every possible feature you can into your digital project, and to take every single stakeholder suggestion on board, on the road to getting your digital innovation to market.

Called ‘scope creep’ or ‘feature creep’ or ‘featuritis’, before your innovation team leaves the starting blocks it’s critical to understand what adding too many features does to innovation projects. Research by market intelligence company, International Data Corporation (IDC), indicates that by 2018 some 70% of digital transformation projects will fail. Global technology researchers, Forrester, state that over 60 percent of digital projects fail. Scope creep is a major contributor to the failure of digital projects.

Urbian’s experience with digital transformation and digital innovation bears this out. When there are a lot of stakeholders involved in the project process, almost everyone has amazing feedback. And everyone wants their ideas represented. But ultimately, this ongoing expansion of the project scope and the drive to add features contributes so much bloat to a project that it undermines it.

Featuritis is a very real enemy to innovation because scope creep slows innovation down and confounds lean, agile development. The more features that are added to a new tool or digital innovation, the longer the build takes, the more testing it requires, the greater resources it needs, and the more time it takes to get it in the hands of the customer.

When the scope becomes thick, projects get delayed and the morale of the team goes down. And when innovations don’t meet deadlines and go over budget without delivering, they end up getting axed. That’s why, at Urbian, we’re very front-footed with clients, and our mantra is promoting lean, agile developments that are quick to market and that address the core challenge a brand or business is facing.

Like Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the authors of Rework – Change The Way You Work Forever, Urbian favours fierce, beneficial focus. In the book, Fried writes: “If you’re opening a hot dog stand, you could worry about the condiments, the cart, the name, the decoration. But the first thing you should worry about is the hot dog. The hot dogs are the epicenter. Everything else is secondary.”

When we work on digitally transformative projects and must engage some ten or more stakeholders, we make sure they appreciate this hot dog analogy. What’s critical when baking new digital tools is to test the market for them, and this means quickly building a mobile prototype [because SA is mobile first.] Then we put the prototype in front of the user so we can discover if they like it. If they like it enough to tell their friends. If they like the tool enough to buy it.

When you’re creating digital tools for your customer it is obvious, but important, to remember that these are not being made for your stakeholders or innovation team. Besides, once the prototype is in the market it becomes more important to listen to the users and to iterate based on their feedback.

Here are some pointers to help keep your innovation team focused, nimble, agile and lean, which will help stack the odds in favour of a successful digital innovation.

When conceiving the tool or project, identify what adds real value to the business and customer. And understand what’s extraneous.

Don’t try to do everything in the first bake — do what’s best for your customers and what’s most likely to make the tool more useful.

Similarly, if you’re managing your brand’s digital transformation, don’t try to do everything at once. Do what will have the biggest business or market impact, and do it phenomenally well. Once that’s done, learn from the experience and focus on the next win.

Weigh up effort versus impact carefully. Consider how much time or money it costs to include a feature based on the anticipated impact or return.

Remember that at times it is more important to say “no” than it is to say “yes”.

Finally your innovation team needs to become friends with failure, and your company’s management needs to be okay with this. By failure, I don’t mean failing at the big things, but rather being agile and learning quickly from smaller experiments on the journey to making that big disruption, or customer revolution happen.

If you manage digital projects well, you’re more likely to be quicker to market, and you’re more likely create services your customers love, and enjoy success. This becomes a virtuous learning cycle for your innovation team and business — which will bode well for an agile digital transformation.

About Gary Willmott:

Managing Partner of Urbian Gary Willmott helped co-found the digital product studio with his partner Anton Moulder, to forge a firm where digital is used to better business, deliver new markets, and unlock new revenue streams.

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