Avoid Unnecessary Features When Building a Website
In an era of minimalist websites with clean design, it’s easy to overcomplicate page layouts and feature requirements when building or redesigning a website. We all have the best of intentions to meet consumers where they are, but a slow and bloated site diminishes your company’s opportunities and frustrates users.
Let’s talk about what feature creep is, why it happens, and how to avoid it without anyone punching anyone else’s face(s), even your own.
What is Feature Creep?
Feature creep is the continual adding of features and functions.
Your team has set out to redesign your company website, and it is a simple and straightforward process, but the company owner has randomly decided that not only does she not like blue, the CEO wants that sign-up widget from 2008 to be forced to work on your new site, and the HR Director says the “About Us” page needs to be divided into two pages to separate staff from leadership. Or you’re redesigning your own site, and you can’t decide between having a feature on the left or right, and you’re losing sleep over it.
Sometimes it’s well-meaning, sometimes it’s nitpicky, but feature creep includes all of the additions that keep getting piled on over time. Imagine baking a simple chocolate cake that a customer asked for—but by the end of it all, it’s a four-foot tall chocolate dragon sculpture covered in rainbow sprinkles. Sure, it’s still cake, but it’s overkill, and it cost a lot more and took a lot more time to bake. And it wasn’t what the customer wanted.
The same works for websites. Overwhelm website visitors with too many options, and they will leave. Fill a site with conflicting programming languages (or old widgets), and it will slow down, and they will leave.
Why Does Feature Creep Happen?
We’re all well-meaning. Even the companies that engage in deeply researching their customers’ wants and needs have to make that jive with what the company’s leadership wants.
Some team member reads an article about how orange buttons convert the best (never mind that it was regarding “contact us” buttons in the medical industry, not yours), another went to a conference a few years ago that said all websites must be mobile-ready and therefore so should yours (duh—your site has long been on WordPress, using a responsive theme). An investor said in passing to the CFO that they didn’t like the site’s font, so it must change forever. A potential client once said they’d like the site better if it had more links to resources, so a library must be established, right stat now. You saw that your competitor got rid of all blog comments, so you’re thinking you should follow suit.
Feature creep happens not because there are too many cooks in the kitchen, but because of poor planning, and in the case of team projects, poor communication in the execution phase.
It happens because it is easier to be all things to all people than to actually do the hard work of paring down what works and what’s actually needed. (And believe it or not, there is an entire industry dedicated to this practice!)
How Can Feature Creep Be Avoided?
There are a number of steps you can take to make sure your website design process goes smoothly.
1. Determine who is involved in the redesign, and what their roles are. Is the sales team involved or not? Who has veto power? Who can swoop in mid-project and derail everything with a random request? Who is tasked with which portion of the redesign? Commit to this before getting started, and many potholes can be avoided along the way.
2. Commit to defining what the project is (and what it is not). This will save endless time. Defining the scope of the project before you begin work will be a lifesaver. If you’re working alone on your own site, this is the absolutely most important step.
Your CEO wants a “new website,” but make sure everyone knows what that means—is it just an aesthetic overhaul to modernize and match the new logo? Or is it to integrate more interactive features on the site to keep consumers engaged? Is there a target date for completion? Get on the same page regarding what technologies everyone believes should be utilized.
3. Communication is critical. Prior to getting started, establish what communication tools will be used. (Pro tip: email should be strictly for announcements, not action items.)
Some teams enjoy Trello because it’s basically online post-it notes that you can privately comment on and organize as you wish (most set it up to be columns of “to do,” “doing,” and “done”), but is also a brilliant tool for keeping solopreneurs organized. Others use Slack to avoid the endless email threads and have a bit more versatility.
That said, it’s best to use tools dedicated to project management to keep everyone on track, like Jira or Basecamp. There is a little more of a learning curve, but search YouTube for “Intro to Jira,” for example, and a few minutes later, you’re a Jira powerhouse.
4. It’s not enough to just have the tools. Agree in advance to the frequency of in-person meetings, and keep them to either weekly or bi-weekly. In the interim, you can use your chosen communication channels to keep everyone updated daily.
At those meetings, when someone proposes a new feature, ask if that addition to the project is critical, if it can it be combined with a different feature, or consider if maybe it’s just bloat. For example, you don’t need three contact pages because you have three offices.
Working alone? Keep yourself accountable with a pre-determined timeline, complete with goals. Lacking motivation? Pretend that you answer to a paying client!
The real secret of avoiding feature creep is asking, “do we absolutely need this?” to each feature. It’s harder than it sounds.
Herding Hyper Hyenas
Starting a website redesign project is like heading to the kitchen to bake that simple chocolate cake, and ending up with a melting, human-sized monstrosity. You already have a minimum viable product, and you’re either updating your existing site, or starting from scratch because what exists is outdated.
Getting all stakeholders on the same page is akin to herding hyper hyenas, but if you do so in advance, and consistently throughout the project, you will save endless headaches.
There will be team members who are insistent, and conflict resolution might be challenging, but if you’re leading the redesign, here are some tips:
- Avoid “I” statements. Instead of “I don’t think we should add another contact page,” try “the industry standard is to only offer one contact page.”
- Ask clarification questions. Your boss may say all fonts should be blue. Perhaps they just want the header text to be consistent with the navy in the company logo, but weren’t clear.
- Put a pin in it. If someone that doesn’t have the authority to make changes insists that there be an animated visitor counter on the bottom of the page, you all know that’s not going to happen because it’s not 1999—but there’s no need to be disrespectful. “That’s an interesting suggestion, we’ll do some research and see how that fits in,” is better than, “we’re not doing that, put a sock in it, Karen.”
- Consider timing. Will this design suit our customer’s needs tomorrow, or are we only focused on today (or worse, on yesterday)? Asking questions that balance one person’s needs with the needs of the consumer and customer will keep the project on track.
- Blame Vilfredo Pareto. In 1896, he reported that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by only 20% of the population, and thus the 80/20 Rule (or the Pareto Principle) was born. Microsoft realized years ago that by fixing the top 20% of bugs most commonly reported, 80% of errors/crashes were eliminated. Use the 80/20 Rule to justify or nix features.
By avoiding feature creep in your website redesign, you can focus on the excitement of modernizing and the thrill of unveiling new features that will improve your company’s bottom line. It won’t be easy, and there will be road bumps, but it truly is possible to herd hyper hyenas!