Why You Should Stop Saying “Scope Creep” in Agile

Graffiti image of a child with a monster on a leash.

We’ve all heard it: scope creep. It sounds a little bit like a made-up term from a video game, but for some teams, the threat of scope creep feels very real. 

But, I’m here to tell you that the concept of “scope creep” as most teams use it has no place in an Agile environment.

What Do Teams Think “Scope Creep” Is?

Typically, when folks say that they’re dealing with a bad case of scope creep, they mean that the Product is demanding more work than they planned. 

Say a team is developing a search function for a website. They write a list of Acceptance Criteria and a Definition of Done that allow them to deliver a usable Increment. In this case, that means that the search feature returns a list of results when a user enters a keyword into the search bar.

The team handles this basic level of functionality with ease and delivers an Increment that makes the search feature on the website fully functional (or so they think). When a user enters a keyword into the search bar, a page of search results is returned.

The team may think that this feature for the site is now “done.”

But — like always — there is feedback to be reckoned with. End-users report that it’s hard to sort through the search results when they all appear on one page. The team is asked to return to the search feature and add a pagination functionality for the search results.

Is this scope creep?

Spoiler Alert: It’s Not Scope Creep, It’s Agile

Your gut impulse might be to say yes (and then pull out some of your hair in frustration). While I completely understand the desire to write off the search feature as done, it’s not. 

Yes, it returns a list of search results. But it does so in a way that detracts from its value for the end-user. The results are tough to sort through and make sense of because of how they’re organized.

Even though the team may argue that the search feature of the site is “functioning,” an Agile team would recognize that they’re not delivering as much value as they could. And if the feature they created isn’t optimized for value, is it really functioning as it should?

Agile Means Optimization

Elements of a feature that make it more efficient or improve the end-user experience should never be considered scope creep. Scope creep implies that teams are doing more work than they should on a project, based on the original plans.

But that’s kind of the point of Agile. Part of the core value of Agile is to welcome changing requirements, even late in development. 

It’s never too late – and it’s never outside the scope of the team’s work – to deliver the right value to the client.

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