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How to Avoid Extra Costs and Delays When Changing Your Product Scope

Despite its reputation for rapid innovation and constant change, the software development industry today is a mature and established market. For decades, tech giants have been creating and maintaining large-scale software products, while newer companies typically follow a defined process for funding and team growth.


As a result of this stability, software buyers and sellers have developed a shared understanding of how app development should proceed. Before development even begins, engineering teams typically have a clear understanding of what they must deliver, and software buyers have clear expectations about the results they can expect.


Project Scope

Product scope is the key concept that allows software buyers and sellers to establish a shared understanding. It encompasses all the features and characteristics that the final product should have.


Typically, a product requirements document (PRD) is used to define a product's scope. When a buyer approves a PRD, it becomes the development team's contractual obligation to deliver the specified scope of work.


If you're new to software development, you may not be familiar with product scope or PRDs. When commissioning an application for the first time, it's important to understand why product scope is agreed upon in advance, what changing it entails, whether it's possible to change it once development has begun, and whether there are any additional costs associated with changing it. These are all crucial questions to ask before beginning a software project.





The Product Scope Specifies the Purchased Deliverables

At first glance, a software development transaction may appear straightforward: you pay developers to create an app, and they create it for you. However, describing the specifics of the transaction can quickly become complicated.


For example, suppose you want to build a food delivery app similar to DoorDash or GrubHub. Initially, it may seem simple: the app should enable customers to order food from restaurants and allow the restaurants to fulfill those orders.


However, there are many details to consider. What devices will the app support? iOS, Android, or both? Supporting both platforms will increase costs, and adding a web app will increase them further. Will restaurants upload menus, including pictures? Does the app accept credit card payments? How should customers create accounts? Should social media logins be integrated, and if so, which platforms?


Each of these considerations has an impact on the time and labor required to develop your application, and the list goes on.


Developers are not mind readers It's crucial to explicitly define every desired feature for your development team. Failure to do so may result in the team building a product that does not meet your requirements. While some basic features may be assumed, there is too much risk involved in making assumptions about a client's needs.


For instance, if the team assumes you want certain features that you never mentioned, they may add unnecessary features to the app, leading to cost overruns. Conversely, if they include too few features, the final product may be inadequate from your perspective.


Every feature specified in your product scope affects the overall cost and timeline for building the application. This is why development teams and clients agree on the product scope beforehand: to ensure the correct product is built, and the appropriate price is paid for it.


Additional Features Result in Increased Cost and Time

Consider a scenario where you have hired a construction crew to build a 2,000 square foot house with 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. However, after the crew has completed the foundation, walls, insulation, and siding, you decide to add an extra bedroom and bathroom, increasing the house's size by 400 square feet.


The construction crew will inevitably charge you extra for the additional labor required to construct the new section. Moreover, your move-in date will be delayed due to the increased workload. Additionally, since your new addition necessitates a rearrangement of the existing plumbing and wiring, the crew may charge you more per hour to account for the added complexity and planning.


Software development works similarly. Altering the product's scope implies changing the agreed-upon features at the time of purchase, essentially modifying the product under construction. Adding or modifying features necessitates additional labor expenses, and writing new code that was not part of the original plan takes more time. Depending on how far along the build is, refactoring the existing codebase with new features may require significant labor and testing.


This is why modifying the overall cost and delivery date of an application in response to scope changes is standard practice – usually resulting in a more expensive app delivered at a later date.


Changes are common

Despite the potential costs and delays involved in scope changes, they are still a common occurrence in software development. Agile development teams are experienced in adapting to unforeseen changes in project requirements.


If you want to request a scope change, it's best to discuss it with the product manager or project manager overseeing the development of your app. You should clearly articulate the new feature(s) that you require, and confirm that these are not already included in the current build plan. The PM can then assess the feasibility of the changes and the impact they will have on the project timeline and budget.


Once the PM has consulted with their development team, they will provide you with a revised project scope for your approval. It is important that the PM explains the anticipated impact on cost and timeline in detail so that you can make an informed decision.


While scope changes can add work for the development team, most PMs prefer formal scope changes to scope creep. Scope creep occurs when project requirements are informally expanded due to repeated customer requests, which can lead to unnecessary delays and increased costs without a clear agreement in place.





How to Avoid Product Scope Changes

When working with a limited budget or tight timeline, it can be challenging to accommodate changes to your product scope. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for first-time app buyers to pause development due to increased costs following scope changes. Here are three steps you can take to minimize the risk of rising costs and delayed development:


Plan your app comprehensively from the outset.

Before approaching a development agency, think through as many aspects of your application as possible, such as visual design, data requirements, workflows, third-party integrations, and launch platforms. The more planning you do upfront, the more effectively your team can capture your app's required features in the PRD. If you're unsure where to start, you can refer to online resources that explain how to create clear, actionable tech specifications.


Prioritize features based on their importance.

Before and during development, prioritize the features within your app from most important to least important. Generally, the most critical features are those required for the app to function in its most basic form. Be honest with yourself about what is necessary versus what you're most excited about – you can always add cool features to a simple application, but a non-functioning application will be useless. As development progresses, add any new feature ideas to the list and assess their importance. If they're not crucial, consider storing them in a backlog for a future release.


Review your PRD in its entirety.

It is common for clients to misunderstand their PRD or overlook missing features, which can lead to unexpected changes in scope. Reviewing your PRD in its entirety and asking questions about anything that seems to be missing or inaccurate can help you avoid these issues. Your PM relies on you to catch any missing features and ask questions before development begins, so take your time to go through your build plan and ensure you have a clear understanding of what's included.


Summary

Prepare before taking action. This advice is particularly relevant in fields where mistakes can be costly or difficult to undo, such as carpentry, surgery, or software development. Taking the time to double-check measurements, specifications, or code before implementing them can save time, money, and frustration in the long run. By doing so, you can avoid costly errors, delays, and rework that could have been prevented with a little extra attention to detail at the outset. In short, the old adage is a valuable reminder that careful planning and preparation can help ensure a successful outcome.


TL;DR: Changes to your product scope can cost you more money and take longer to develop. To prevent this, plan your app thoroughly from the start, prioritize features, and review your product requirements document carefully. It's important to communicate any desired changes to your product manager and be aware of the potential timeline and cost impacts. Ultimately, a clear understanding of your product scope can save you time and money in the long run.


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